Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Upon this Rock!

When I was a teenager in the 1960’s, we listened to all the latest music on our little transistor radios.  I can remember my cousin Greg, sitting innocently at his desk in the 5th grade, appearing to study with his hand covering the earphone and wire running down the sleeve of his shirt.  My favorites were Roy Orbison, Four Seasons, Beach Boys, Dion, and many of the girl groups, Shirelles, Ronettes, Crystals, and more. 

Then the Beatles came along and changed everything!  I was never fortunate to attend one of their concerts, but we all watched them on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The shrieks of young girls in the audience pretty much drowned out the music.  My parents just shook their heads.  To them, it was just a lot of noise.  I loved it, and I still do.

These days, my wife and I take frequent trips to visit our grandchildren some nine hours away.  To pass the time on the long tedious drive, we still listen to some of the same music we grew up with.   While we like the same songs, our disagreement tends to revolve around the level of volume those songs should be played.  I like to hear the music, not to the point of blasting the eardrums, but sufficient to hear the instruments over the road noise.  My wife can be satisfied with just enough volume to tell it’s playing, and maybe identify the song.   We compromise and I crank up my hearing aids. 

Having listened to the Beatles repertoire for more than fifty years now, I thought there was nothing much more to appreciate, but recently I stumbled across several you tube videos of musicians analyzing the Beatles’ instrumentation.  Some of my favorites are by Mike Pachelli who posted instructional videos on the genius of each one of the Beatle’s guitar techniques. 

I am not a musician, so anyone capable of playing an instrument is fascinating to me, but I gained a new appreciation for the Beatles’ music after viewing Pachelli’s analyses.  When he played individually what each guitarist was playing on recordings, I became aware of sounds I had never noticed before, and they were complex, yet simple and beautiful.  Pachelli, a really excellent guitarist himself, marvels at how these young men from Liverpool created these innovative techniques at a very young age.  It must be a God-given talent.  The next time I listen to this music, I will be looking for all the subtle riffs, chord changes, and the stuff to which Pachelli marvels, even though I don’t have enough music theory to always understand what he is talking about! 

And this brings me to what I believe is analogous to the way many of us Catholics view the Mass.  We can attend Mass hundreds, even thousands of times, without ever appreciating all of the elements.  Sometimes it takes another person with greater insight to break it down into its component parts for us.  For example, Dr. Scott Hahn, whose enthusiasm and theological understanding goes way beyond the average Catholic, essentially does the same thing for Catholics that Mike Pachelli does for Beatle fans.  By explaining the intricate structure of our liturgy, we learn to appreciate what we experience with new clarity and excitement.  By hearing someone explain the Mass in historical detail, we can suddenly go from weariness to WOW!

Complacency and indifference can make the Mass seem repetitive, even boring.  The problem is getting folks to dig deeper rather than accept a cursory approach.  It will not happen without some personal initiative.  Too many of us never make the effort.  To do so can be life changing, and it is not difficult.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to watch a video on you tube.  A person does not need to enroll in a weekly study, although one may be inspired to do so later.  Take a little time and broaden your liturgical horizons.  Imagine experiencing Mass in an exciting way you never did before!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Can we still have a Conscientious Objector?

The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop versus the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  At issue is whether a baker can refuse services to a same-sex couple to avoid violating his religious beliefs.  Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, told a same-sex couple that he would not make the wedding cake they were requesting.  Lower courts had sided with the couple which caused Phillips to quit making wedding cakes altogether rather than violate his religious convictions. 

I caught a short audio recording of the oral arguments on the Internet that compelled me to search for the entire transcript.  The line of questioning by some of the justices was somewhat disturbing to me.  Somehow I would have expected them to be more insightful.  To illustrate, allow me to relate an ongoing debate that took place in our small town.

Several years ago, our town council passed an animal ordinance that pretty much eliminated harboring any domesticated animals except dogs and cats, and they had to be licensed and contained.  The ordinance passed at the recommendation of one particular board member without much public debate at the time.   This past year, a family whose daughters were in 4H, kept a few chickens in their backyard pen, barely visible to any of the neighbors.  One particular neighbor who happened to be instrumental in the passing of the original ordinance raised a fuss to have the chickens removed.  Most everyone else in town came to the defense of the girls and their chickens.  A petition with the signatures of more than 300 area residents urged the town council to revise the ordinance, which they eventually did after several months where the chicken debate dominated council meetings.

During the seemingly endless chicken discussions, the few who were opposed came up with some ridiculous scenarios on what could happen if someone in town were allowed to have a few chickens.  One heard of a person who died from some obscure disease supposedly passed by a chicken.  Another envisioned the horrible sanitary conditions that would exist if everyone on her street had chickens.  And what about all the clucking?  The point being that certain people who are stubbornly attached to a personal agenda will create unreasonable arguments to stonewall any opposition.

The questioning by some of the justices appeared to indicate they were looking for an excuse to rule according to their personal belief rather than what the law required.  Justice Sotomeyer brought up racial discrimination or discrimination against the disabled.  She mentioned “the gay couple who was left on the side of the highway on a rainy night, people who have been denied medical treatment or whose children have been denied medical treatment because the doctor didn't believe in same-sex parenthood, et cetera.”

Justice Kennedy was concerned about the dignity of same-sex couples, that the denial of services could be an “affront to the gay community.”  Justice Kagan paints this as a possible exemption from anti-discrimination laws, wondering if it would also apply to jewelers, makeup artists, or hairstylists.  Where do they draw the line?  There seemed a reluctance to acknowledge the reality that lines need to exist.

I have a question for the justices.  What about a baker being asked to create a cake celebrating an incestuous relationship, or a KKK party, or a Planned Parenthood Clinic’s 10,000th abortion?  Shouldn’t a baker have the right to say the message conflicts with my moral code of conduct and I cannot in good conscience provide this service?

The question of where to draw the line would be clearer if the court understood the religious implications of cooperating or being complicit in the actions of another.  Our personal conduct has an impact on the conduct of others.  We lead by our own example.  When our bad behavior leads another to bad behavior, we bear some responsibility for the other person’s bad behavior.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it the sin of scandal.  Morality deteriorates in our society when sordid behaviors become tolerated because normally respected people are seen doing them.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.
2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.  Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible." This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values. 

In the case of a businessman who holds certain behaviors to be immoral, and who also may hold a position of influence in his faith community, he commits the sin of scandal when his apparent approval by cooperation causes others to compromise their own moral conscience based on his complicity.  Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Jack Phillips cannot contribute to the celebration of an action he knows is immoral in violation of his own conscience.  The denial of service is not done out of hatred, but rather love and concern for the spiritual well-being of the faithful, and in this particular case, the two men involved. 

If we are to have true religious freedom protected under the law, the real question in this case would be deciding whether attempting to mate two males could reasonably be considered problematic from a religious viewpoint.  In my mind, the answer is obvious.  Of course it can, and it is.  Laws should never force someone to commit sinful behavior.  One who refuses military service on religious grounds is a conscientious objector.  What baker Jack Phillips is doing is essentially the same thing.  

Now, a federal judge has ruled that the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Transit Authority has the right to ban religious-themed Christmas advertisements.  The Transit Authority rejected an ad sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington promoting its annual “Find the Perfect Gift” program that displayed shepherds and sheep following a star.

So, this is where we find ourselves at the present time.  A baker cannot refuse to serve someone who asks him to do something that offends his religious beliefs, but a transit authority can refuse to serve an advertiser that expresses a religious theme.  Seems like we are on the verge of making any type of religious expression illegal, at least in the eyes of certain judges.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men and Ms Behavior

Ailes, Weinstein, Bush41, Moore, Franken, and the list goes on.  An epidemic of sexual assault allegations continue to permeate the evening news.  Most of these incidents apparently took place years ago, but the accusations have recently boiled to the surface now that the victims feel more comfortable speaking in numbers.  I can only imagine many more celebrities are nervously reexamining their past actions, hoping no accusers comes forward.

What does all of this say about our society, I ask rhetorically?  Are all men just naturally crude?  Maybe most of us think these things, but do not act for fear of rejection or getting out faces slapped.  Is the definition of sexual assault somewhat fluid?  Does current publicity bring to mind past incidents that may have been ignored at one time, but now seem out of line?  With all of the “me too” proclamations on social media, will some women begin to wonder what is wrong with them if they have never been sexually assaulted?  These are just thoughts that cross my mind. 

Gene Simmons, of KISS fame, created some controversy when he suggested that women invite trouble by the way they present themselves.  He is quoted as saying, “Women have a choice.  They can dress in potato sacks, (but) as soon as they pretty themselves up with lipstick, lift and separate them and point them in our general direction, they’re gonna get a response.”  Let me preface this by saying in no way do I excuse sexual assault in any way, but I think Simmons has a valid point.  When women present themselves in a provocative manner, men are going to react, maybe not in action, but certainly in thought. 

The latest accusation against Senator Al Franken comes from a woman whose bio includes modeling for Hooters and Fredericks of Hollywood.  She also appeared nude in Playboy magazine.  This future senator, with whom she was appearing in a USO show, forcibly kissed her eleven years ago.  Now he finds himself the target of a sexual assault allegation by a woman who sexually exploited her own body for attention.  What he did was certainly wrong, but she should not be surprised if a morally depraved man succumbs to her seductive prior behavior.

Women need to understand how men think.  Men with a strong sex drive are easily stimulated by visual images.  Most men exhibit enough self-control to maintain decorum, but morality in our society has deteriorated to the point where crude behavior is more commonplace.  We hear so much about it today because certain individuals in prominent positions have been allowed to get away with it for years.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2521):  Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance.  Modesty protects the intimate center of the person.  It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.  It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness.  It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

More Political Incorrectness

Last month, I wrote about people intentionally looking for ways to be offended.  To illustrate my point, several news reports jumped out at me recently.   One involved the removal of a Dr. Seuss mural because some element of his stories might be considered racist.  Apparently one of his stories has an illustration of a Chinese character with slanted eyes and wearing a coolie hat.   Another report involved a racial stir on the Michigan State campus when someone found a lost shoestring that appeared to be in the shape of a noose.  In Detroit, a firefighter was fired for bringing a “racially insensitive” watermelon to a predominantly black firehouse.

Why are people suddenly so sensitive?  Our society has adopted a victim mentality.  Perhaps it starts with the first exposure to political correctness where no child is allowed to have hurt feelings.  Everyone gets a participation trophy.  In the real world, finishing second, third, even last once in awhile is okay.  True success has its rewards. Occasional disappointment is healthy.  We lose appreciation for what we have without sometimes experiencing loss. 

Today, people look for ways to feel oppressed.  The offender is often sent to sensitivity training.  Instead, many of those feeling oppressed need to be desensitized.  We should not let others control our feelings.  Even if someone intentionally casts disparagement your way, so what?  It doesn’t change who you are.  Responding only gives credence to their negativity.  Whether you are an ethnic minority or the President of the United States (or both), someone will disrespect you.  Don’t feel the need to acknowledge them with a response every time.  Is intentionally displaying racial intolerance ever acceptable?  No, but do accept the fact that some people will always be reprehensible.  Rise above them.  Loud protests appear to them as justification for their bigotry.  I believe true bigots are a few and far between, but you would never know it by the notoriety they get. 

We all fall into certain stereotypes.  Regardless of our ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, occupation, gender, age, size, birthplace, or social status, we will all occasionally find ourselves the object of a disparaging remark.  Some people are just contrary.  No matter what position one takes, others will find fault with it.  Not every person who makes a racist remark is actually a racist.  Some are simply idiots who seek attention by saying something outrageous.  I suspect most idiots who go around painting swastikas never passed a world history exam in their lives, and have no real concept of the hatred it symbolizes.  They only want attention by spewing their venom.  Eliciting a terse reaction is exactly what they want.  Treat them as any other criminal without giving voice to their sick agenda.

Think about why these discriminatory stereotypes exist in the first place.  When it comes to racial profiling, skin pigment has little to do with it.   Diminished respect for human life has permeated our society.  Do not underestimate the toll abortion has taken on the importance of the family unit.  Young African American males often grow up without a good paternal role model in the home.  Without it, they seek belonging elsewhere, often on the streets where violence is rampant.  

When police officers overreact in these neighborhoods, it is prompted by fear, not hatred.  Their fear is real and justifiable.  They have families and want to go home to them when shift is over.  They do not owe anyone a fair fight.  Unfortunately, innocent people sometimes get hurt.  Until we regain respect for human life, for family, for one another, and for God, our polarized society will continue to deteriorate. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Our Street Gang Mentality

Kids in the hood know not to look just anyone in the eye on the streets.  It could get you killed.  That is the world we live in today.  Attack anyone who may confront you whether intentional or not.  People seek out anything they can find offensive in some way to justify attacking the source regardless of original intent.  The offense need not be personal.  It could have affected ancestors living in different times under different circumstances.  What seems odd is the fact that it may take years or centuries before some group decides they are being offended. 

Athletic teams with ethnic mascots have come under fire.  The University of Illinois was pressured to eliminate their long revered American Indiana mascot.  The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins have also been criticized for their names and logos.   Team nicknames are chosen to instill pride rather than ridicule even if logo caricatures may seem exaggerated or stereotypical.  I am not saying some might find them offensive, but are people so insecure that they must make it an issue?  How long before an animal rights group decides the Detroit is insulting Lions and Tigers?

Now we find ourselves removing confederate memorials.  Okay, but the Civil War has been over for quite some time.  Why now?  Removing memorials does not change history or remove hatred.  If we refuse to remember anyone who once held an unpopular belief, few memorials will remain.  Perhaps they should have never been erected in the first place, but they are now a part of history.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma is devastating much of the southeast with damaging winds and flooding.  During such disasters, much is made of people of all races banding together in a show of brotherhood.  In times of crisis, we tend to forget all that divides us.  Could it be that all of our gang-like confrontations come about because we have life too easy?  We wonder sometimes why God allows such tragedies to occur.  Do we need natural disasters to keep us aware of our frail humanity and our dependence on one another regardless of our ethnic circumstances?  Is it possible that as life becomes more laid-back, that tensions among us arise?  What in our nature impels us to seek an enemy whether real or imagined?  We have all heard the old saying, an idle mind is the devils workshop.  How true it seems to be. 

On Sunday, September 17, we hear this reading from Sirach:

Sir 27:30—28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wanting what I need

My first encounter with a gentleman in RCIA class today was interesting.  I told him at the beginning that despite his lack of understanding the Catholic Church, that I would learn as much from him as he would learn from me.  I wanted to encourage him to challenge me, ask me questions, and not to be afraid of insulting me.  I told him that I would not know the answer to every question he asked, but I would find the answer, and thereby have a learning experience myself. 

He expressed the notion that belonging to a specific church was not a necessity for him.  He was there primarily because his wife, a fallen away Catholic, was coming back to the faith and wanted their marriage blessed.  It seemed as though he wanted to be married in a church, not necessarily THE Church. 

We talked some about the apostolic roots of the Catholic Church, but to him, all Christian churches were pretty much the same.  It was just a matter of which style of worship suited the individual person.   In an attempt to get our point across, I showed a DVD called, “Why do I need the Church?” from the Symbolon series, by Doctor Edward Sri.  The segment focuses on why the Church is of Divine origin, necessary to safeguard the message of Jesus Christ while provide a source of grace through the sacraments.

In the discussion that followed, the man said all he heard repeatedly was, “you need, you need, you need.”  He said the Church should be something you WANT, not just something you NEED.   I replied by saying, "I want a cheeseburger.  I don’t necessarily need a cheeseburger, but I do need nourishment.  I can want something not realizing that it may be something I also need."  If we are continually motivated by wants, we may not be aware of our needs.  I don’t know whether he really accepted my explanation, but I hope it made him think.

After the session was over, I continued to ponder our conversation.  If we continuously get what we want, we can lose sight of what we need.  If I get a cheeseburger whenever I want a cheeseburger, and a pizza whenever I want a pizza, I don’t ever think of what I actually need to sustain my life.  The only way to consciously be aware of the necessity of nourishment is when we are hungry.  Isn’t this precisely why we as Catholics are encouraged to fast and abstain at times from what we want?  This hunger makes us aware of our fragility and dependence, and to be honest, I had not thought much about fasting lately. 

I don’t know whether our discussion got through to the gentleman in our RCIA session, but it brought some clarity to my understanding why we need to occasionally deny our wants.  If we never find ourselves wanting, we will lose awareness of our needs.  When we unwittingly ignore our needs, whether they be physical or spiritual, death will eventually follow.  If we are aware of our needs, the wanting will follow.