Sunday, December 20, 2015

Religious Freedom

Our parish priest includes inserts in our weekly bulletins, usually something he finds on the Internet.  Last week, it was a slightly updated version of a poem titled, T’was the month before Christmas that appeared several years ago on Facebook.  The author, at least to me, is unknown.  An adaptation of the well-known Christmas poem, the piece takes a poke at the politically correct crowd that would have us eliminate any reference to Christmas from our stores, schools, and government.

One of our parishioners was so moved as to have the poem printed on a full-page ad in a local weekly publication.  According to the owner of the paper who also happens to be a friend and fellow parishioner, this caused an unprecedented outpouring of responses, mostly positive, but also a couple of negatives.  One caller in particular threatened to get a lawyer and sue the paper, on what grounds I cannot imagine.  After it was explained to him that the ad was not an editorial, but a paid advertisement, and that he was free to pay the nearly $400 cost of his own full-page rebuttal, the caller backed off. 

For anyone interested in the content of the ad, I would recommend following the link in the first paragraph above to read it for yourself.  I have chosen not to reprint it here.  Suffice to say, it is critical of the politically motivated administrators, politicians and businesses who replace the word Christmas with Holiday.

While I am in full agreement that we have become way too worried about offending some non-Christian’s feelings, I am also uncomfortable with such public postings that cast a pall over companies and individuals that may or may not be warranted.  The Facebook poem is dated 2009.  While some companies did at one time discourage employees from wishing customers a Merry Christmas, a backlash caused many of them to rethink the directive.  Christians ought not act on an unhealthy desire to constantly portray themselves as victims of a Godless society, even when doing so may be justified.  Personally, I have no concern over a clerk saying “Happy Holidays” as the complimentary close of a transaction.  After all, the holiday season consists of multiple celebrations making a more encompassing wish sensible.  It doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is anti-Christian.

In a case where the government did try to suppress religious freedom, an area public high school recently drew the attention of PC police by including a live nativity scene in their annual Christmas concert.  The school district was sued on behalf of a student and his father by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.  A federal court judge granted an injunction forbidding the school from organizing, rehearsing, or presenting a live Nativity as part of their program.  The school district complied with the order, sort of.  The Nativity portion of the program went on with mannequins in place of the students while the choir sang O Holy Night.  I’m sure whoever did not wish to participate had that option.  Kudos to the school district for allowing the program to go on.

The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  When did freedom OF religion become freedom FROM religion?  Perhaps the answer is found in a recent experiment performed on the Yale campus where a filmmaker asked students to sign a petition revoking the first amendment.  Within an hour, fifty students signed the petition that would in effect take away their right to petition.  Yale is where many of our judges and politicians are educated.  How many of them with this mentality are already in power?  Makes me wonder.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Using GW on a JW

Last August, another parishioner and I began a weekly dialogue with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  (See my September blog)  Now twelve ninety-minute sessions later, we are still going strong.  Are we making any progress?  Well, they are still JWs and we are still Catholic! 

You might think even a mediocre Catholic apologist should be able to win this argument handily, and that is true, but the best team doesn’t always win the match.  In football terms, we are spending much of our time playing defense, while the other team is controlling the ball.   Scoring points without the ball is difficult.  Should we be more aggressive?  Probably, but discussion with Jehovah’s Witnesses is different from that of mainstream Protestants.  Their view is so foreign to us that we often find ourselves bewildered for a reply.  I often wonder what point they are trying to make, and why they find it relevant to their belief.  Even though they are willing to use a Catholic bible in our discussions, they can draw very questionable conclusions from various passages.  We haven’t even touched on the problems with their New World Translation yet.

Most non-Catholic Christian faiths, including the Witnesses, justify their existence by believing an apostasy occurred where the Church went off the rails, and they got it back on track.  This week, I asked them if they believe they have the same faith as the apostles.  They said they did.  I brought up the old story of George Washington’s axe, or my Grandfather’s axe, as it is sometimes told.  Do you still have George Washington’s axe if both the handle and the head have been replaced at different times throughout its history?  Similarly, do you still have the faith of the apostles if say Martin Luther removed the head, and the JW Bible translators put a new handle on the Scriptures?  I think not.

The question of George Washington’s axe is a somewhat simplified version of Theseus’s Paradox, proposed by Plutarch, a Greek writer in the late first century.  He asked whether a ship that eventually had every single plank replaced as they deteriorated over time was still the same ship.  If so, what if someone gathered all of the old planks and reassembled them as they were originally?  Now you have two ships.  Are they both the same ship?

In applying this thought to the Church, the answer is quite simple.  Once essential elements are removed or changed, you no longer have the same Church.  Once the papal head is eliminated, the canon of Scripture altered, and Traditional teaching ignored, the original identity is lost.  If someone tries to re-form the original without the original parts, the result is two churches, or even twenty-eight thousand churches over the centuries.  The only way to claim true possession of George Washington’s axe is to find the original handle and the original head.  The same principle applies for finding the true Church.     

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Cry for Help

Denzil was a troubled man.  Looking much older than his sixty years, obsessive worry made each day an obstacle.  He lived alone in a small apartment, no friends, no phone, no hope.  Severe anxiety made him tremble as someone overcome with fear.  A doctor prescribed medication to reduce his anxiety, but side effects made him feel worse.  He felt confused, panicky, and helpless.

In desperate moments, he would take to the streets, perhaps asking a local merchant or a familiar face for help.  To some, he was a nuisance, constantly seeking advice but refusing to take it.  He was occasionally seen collecting aluminum cans from trash bins or dumpsters, until that activity got him arrested behind a local drug store.  Fearful of missing court dates miles away with no form of transportation compounded his angst.

Our Saint Vincent DePaul members tried to help him numerous times.  We visited his apartment when he would let us in.  He would always be fretting over what to him was some insurmountable problem.  He missed an insurance payment, he lost some papers he needed, his medication wasn’t working, his doctor wouldn’t listen to him, nobody understands, all the time shivering incessantly as he spoke.  He would read us the side effects of his medication over and over again, insisting he experienced all of them.  We asked him for the names of any family members we could contact, but he would not tell us.

This past summer, his condition worsened.  Not knowing where to turn, we called Adult Protective Services to get help.  They sent two caseworkers out who met with us at his apartment.  They agreed he needed to get to a hospital, but he refused to go.  Police and paramedics were called, but they said they could not force him unless he was a danger to himself or others.  APS said they would get him an appointment with his doctor in a few days, but there was nothing more they could do.  We tried to calm his fears, brought him some food, and left him.

In the days that followed, members of our Saint Vincent DePaul group spent time with him, looking for ways to get the help he needed.  We made another appointment with his doctor and practically forced him into a car to get him there.  The doctor told us there was nothing more he could do for him.  At our insistence, the doctor called numerous institutions looking for place that would take him for a mental evaluation before finding one that would accept his basic insurance.  He was committed for ten days and released. 

Two weeks ago, four of our members spent two days trying to help him to no avail.  He told us he couldn’t make it through another night.  Yet, he refused our attempts to take him to the hospital.  We went back to check on him in the evening but he would not let us enter the apartment.  He said he had no more answers for us and closed the door.

Last Friday in the cold darkness of another sleepless night, Denzil stepped out of his apartment, shut the door, and cut himself.  An upstairs tenant on his way to work at 4 AM found him lifeless on the landing where we had spoken with him so many times. 

Stunned but not necessarily surprised, we were left to ponder what more we could have done.  What should we have done that we did not do?  In this land where health care is supposedly now available to everyone, why could we not get this man the care he so desperately needed?  Within hours, authorities were able to notify a relative.  His obituary listed a son, a daughter, a brother and three sisters, none of which we knew.

I was able to share this story with our Bishop at a meeting sponsored by Catholic Charities the following day.   My hope is that we might somehow better serve those with mental illnesses who may be living a life of torment, especially those who may pose a danger to themselves or others.  At the end of the meeting, the Bishop led us in a prayer for Denzil and all those who may find themselves in similar distress.  I would like to think the suffering Denzil endured on this earth is sufficiently redemptive for any sins for which he may be culpable.  May his soul rest in peace, and may God have mercy on us all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On the Witness Stand

I promise to share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God!

The Watchtower society is active in our little town.  Jehovah’s Witnesses periodically come around to share their faith by reading a few Scripture verses and offering their literature.  I admire the effort.  Door-to-door evangelization is not easy when most people do not want to be bothered by religious zealots. 

A few weeks ago, I arrived home to find a strange car parked near my driveway.  Soon the front doorbell rang and a well-dressed man holding a bible asked if I had a few minutes for him to share some Scripture with me.  I smiled and said, “Certainly!”  One of the verses he read was 1 Corinthians 1:10 where Paul expresses concern over divisions that have arisen in the Church.

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  (1 Cor 1:10, RSVCE)  

His New World Translation altered the text somewhat, but the message was the same.    I thought it funny that he would choose that particular verse since we Catholics sometime use it to lament the many Protestant denominations that have separated themselves from the true Church, and I told him so.   Realizing I was Catholic, he mentioned the word Purgatory, saying it was nowhere to be found in the Bible.  I said it was implied and a conversation ensued.

After about thirty minutes of spirited, but friendly discussion, during which my open front door allowed numerous flies to enter the house, I asked if he would like to continue our talk sometime.  He said, “If you have the truth, I would like to hear it,” and we agreed to meet at my house the following Wednesday at 10:30 AM.  We exchanged contact information, and he went on his way. 

I am not so naïve to think he was really interested in learning about Catholicism.  Undoubtedly he still viewed me as a potential convert.  After all, a great percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses are purportedly former Catholics.  Being firm in my Faith, I had no qualms about meeting with him again.

The following Wednesday, he brought another woman with him.  This time, I tried to make them comfortable by inviting them into my living room.  The gentleman (I’ll call him Rik) did most of the talking, asking me to read certain Scripture passages.  His selection had me a bit puzzled, as I could not figure out what point he was trying to make.  I was able to share a few Catholic viewpoints, but it was becoming obvious to me that I needed to develop a better understanding of Jehovah's Witness beliefs.

We agreed to meet a third time, allowing me a chance to do some research.  I found Trent Horn’s guest appearance on Catholic Answers Live (August 3,2015) where he discussed the faith of the Witnesses.  I listened to the podcast several times, and also ordered his booklet, Twenty Answers, that was advertised on the program.  Another invaluable resource is Jason Evert’s book, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I purchased and read cover to cover.  

So many of the JW beliefs are foreign to mainline Christianity.  While apologetic discussions with our Protestant brothers and sisters can be trying, we at least share a certain commonality in our Trinitarian understanding of Christ’s divinity.  Not so with the Jehovahs.  They believe Jesus Christ is actually Michael the Archangel,.  They believe only 144,000 can be in heaven, the rest of us will live in a paradise here on earth.  They also try to use Scripture as evidence for their beliefs.  Now, one would think it should be easy for a good Catholic to refute these claims, and it is, but doing so is complicated when arguing against a skewed interpretation taken from an already skewed New World Translation.

As in most apologetic discussions, the question boils down to authority.  Unlike some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, the Jehovahs at least agree on the necessity of an authority.  Theirs is the Watchtower Society, founded around 1872 by Charles Taze Russel, while ours is the Magisterial authority of the Pope in union with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, founded around 33 AD by Jesus Christ.  Here is where much discussion time must be spent.

To date, we have met five times, with session six scheduled for next week.  The past three weeks have been with Rik and another JW gentleman on one side of the dining room table, and Donna, a knowledgeable Catholic partner I recruited to assist me, on my side.  We typically have coffee and donuts while talking about our differing beliefs.  Coincidentally, Donna knew Rik’s family some fifty years ago when they lived next door to each another.  This has helped make the conversation more personable.  We are all becoming friends and the talks are always respectful, enjoyable, and stimulating.  We all claim to want the truth, wherever it takes us.

Now for my confession.   The first day, when I came home to see their car by my driveway, my initial reaction was to avoid them.  I drove past my house and turned down the next street.  After doing so, I felt guilty of missing an opportunity to evangelize.  I hurried around the block and pulled into my driveway so they would see me coming home.  It was only a few minutes later when the doorbell rang.  That initial contact has blossomed into an ongoing relationship. Where will this all lead?  Stay tuned!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Christus Nobiscum; State!

From time to time, our pastor asks me to change the message on the sign in front of our church.  We have the type where individual black letters are backlit on a frosted plexiglass panel.  The letters are quite large and we have only two lines, so messages must be short.  Father usually expresses a spiritual thought that does not fit our limited space, so I have become adept at truncating the message, which sometimes makes for an awkward compression, but I do the best I can.

When we have an event happening at the parish, the message will be informational rather than spiritual.  Such was the case a few weeks ago when our Saint Vincent DePaul group sponsored a fundraiser.  The sign simply said, “PORK CHOP DINNER, SUNDAY 11A – 1P.”  Our pastor was gone on retreat the following week, so I was given the task of changing the sign before the next Sunday to avoid any confusion.  With his input unavailable, the new message would be of my own choosing.  This would take some serious thought!

Considering the turmoil going on in the world with Christian persecution, abortion, and the general decay of moral standards, I wanted to say something foreboding, yet hopeful.   The inspiration came from a booklet I often ponder during weekly adoration.  The Holy Eucharist Our All was written by Father Lukas Etlin. O.S.B.  (Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois,  61105).   Father Etlin’s booklet opens with the following two paragraphs:

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian, A.D. 527, the city of Antioch was repeatedly shaken by violent earthquakes.  People found no other means of safety than that of inscribing on the doors the words which were revealed to a faithful servant of God:  Christus nobiscum; state! – “Christ is with us; stand firm.  All the houses whose doors bore this inscription are said to have been preserved from the ruin which threatened them, while the others were shattered and crushed.

It is similar with those souls who love and serve God.  In the midst of a Godless world there is but one means of preservation from eternal ruin, ones means of perseverance in the great tribulation of life – faithful adherence to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the God-man concealed beneath the form of bread and wine.  The words, “Jesus Christ is with me; stand firm,” should be engraven in the heart of every Christian. Protected by this shield, the servants of God will remain firm in the Faith, even though all about them totter and fall.

Friday, July 24, 2015

When Opportunity Knocks

Wednesday evenings usually find me attending the 6 PM Mass at our local parish, but last week my wife and I were out of town.  Got a phone call the next day from a friend who said she was conversing on the church steps after Mass when approached by a small group of evangelical Protestants who inquired about her spiritual status, and offered to pray for her.  I relish such casual meetings as opportunities to offer some Catholic evangelization to someone already engaged in the Christian mission, so I was disappointed that I was not there.

Having had such experiences in the past, I came to realize the importance of being prepared for these opportunities.  Unfortunately, I am one of those whose brain locks up under the slightest pressure.  Then, I spend the rest of the day thinking of all the things I should have said when I had the chance.   While no two encounters ever follow the same script, some forethought can help us make the most of these opportunities when they arise.

First of all, relax.  These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we have much in common.  Smile and listen to what they have to say, but don’t let them walk away without engaging in some friendly conversation.   Tell them you admire their courage in openly spreading the gospel message.  And then, ask them some questions to keep them engaged.  Here are just a few possibilities.  Some are ice-breakers and some are food for thought.

What kind of reception do you get from most people you encounter in your mission?
What church do you attend?
Who is your pastor?
Is your church affiliated with a governing body or just non-denominational?
How long has it been around?
Who started it?
Were you always in this church or why did you join it?
Do you believe in the Bible as the only rule of faith?  
Have you read a lot of church history?
Who determined which of the early Christian writings would be put in the Bible?
How do you know they were correct?
Have you read the early Christian writers of the first few centuries, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Cyril of Jerusalem, to name a few?
If not, search Church Fathers online, very interesting.
If yes, then I am curious, why are you not Catholic?

Such conversation can help in several ways.  If they haven’t considered some of the questions before, it might pique their curiosity.  If they have given these things some prior thought, it may lead the conversation down a certain path to fruition.  And, if nothing else, it may introduce them to a friendly Catholic who they would enjoy meeting again.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reality Czech

Rachel Dolezal has been in the news recently.  She is the NAACP head in Spokane Washington who was outed by her family for being Caucasian rather than African-American as she proclaimed.  The story was of particular interest to me because my mother’s maiden name is Dolezal and our ancestors share the same Czechoslovakian heritage.  I suppose there is a good chance Rachel and I are related.  As one of my Dolezal cousins quipped, “Every family has a black sheep somewhere.”

Her story comes on the heels of Bruce Jenner appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair as a woman.  His attempt to change genders made all the papers and newscasts.  Political correctness meant that all reports should now refer to Jenner with feminine pronouns, and they did.  The mainstream media however did not seem ready to refer to Rachel Dolezal as black.  What is the difference I wondered?

Both of them made similar statements.  Jenner thought of himself as a woman.  Dolezal thought of herself as African-American.  If Jenner could be accepted as something he really isn’t, why can’t Dolezal be similarly accepted as black?  Maybe Jenner had his body surgically altered.  What if Dolezal did the same, a black skin graft perhaps? 

I sensed that progressive liberals were not sure how to react to the Dolezal revelation initially.   Seeing a parallel to the Jenner story, articles began to appear supporting Dolezal’s right to be any race she wanted to be.  An article appearing on CNN by CamilleGear Rich, professor of law and sociology at USC Gould School of Law, says Dolezal “forces us to consider whether our biology or our action is more important to identity, and should we act in ways that honor our chosen identity in meaningful ways.”  Continuing, she says, “We should not have to be slaves to the biological definition of identity, and we should not use race or gender identities as weapons to punish one another.”

Secular relativism continues to overtake our society.  Facts no longer matter.  Reality seems to be whatever anyone wants it to be.  If I feel like a woman, I am a woman.  If I feel like I'm black, I'm black.  If I feel like a Martian, I'm a Martian.  The fact is, chromosomes determine the sex of a person.  Feelings or surgery cannot change the chromosomes.  Feelings cannot change our ethnicity or cosmic origin.   

Are we doing a disservice to people with these mental challenges if we acquiesce to their delusional feelings?  Assuming Bruce Jenner was born with X and Y chromosomes, are we compounding his confusion by calling him Caitlyn and referring to him as "she"?  Would not the humane action be to help him get back to reality through proper treatment?  Having an African-American preside over a chapter of the NAACP is probably desirable, but Rachel, you are not African-American.  You do not have a black father.  Why do you not accept who you really are?

When we were young, our parents told us we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be.  I don't think this is what they had in mind.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sign Language

At a rather sparsely attended Ascension Vigil Mass, our parish priest asked us to remain standing after the petitions. He then asked those over eighty years of age to sit down. Several parishioners sat. He proceeded to do the same for those over seventy and then sixty. After asking those over fifty to sit, only two people remained standing. This is the future of your parish, he said. The message to us is clear. Our Lord commands in today’s gospel to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Obviously, our efforts to do so have been lacking.

The gospel message should be easy to proclaim in this age of mass media, and it is. But the message often falls on deaf ears. Today, we are so immersed in secular self-absorption that God’s message is drowned out. Most people do not want to hear it for it flies counter to their own personal inclinations. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic declined from 23.9% to 20.8% between 2007 and 2014.

The point our pastor was making should not be taken lightly. Fact is, our pews are mostly empty, and certainly devoid of young people. We have failed to share and propagate our Catholic Faith in our once thriving community. As in many small towns, family-owned businesses have failed to compete with the big box stores, and very few remain. A few years ago, we could buy most anything within walking distance on Main Street. Now people must drive thirty miles to shop for basic needs. The most precious staple in the world, Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, is still readily available here, and yet, very few people take advantage. If we do not do something soon, He too may leave our town.

Desperate times require desperate measures. We Catholics too often keep the light of Christ under the bushel basket. We are afraid to boldly proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church for fear of offending our Protestant brothers and sisters. Sharing the faith can be done with charity and humility, and with confidence.

Last week, our pastor asked me to take down the “Happy Mother’s Day” sign from the parish marquee, and replace it with something of my own choosing. The letters for our sign are quite large and very limiting as to what will fit. I wanted to promote the Holy Eucharist, the one gift we have to offer that no one else in our community has. After trying several different wordings, I settled on, “JOHN 6: 51-58, HERE 4 U EVERY DAY”. The Bible passage comes from the Bread of Life Discourse.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (RSV-CE)

I am hoping our Protestant friends (who often glaze over that passage) will look it up and think about it, especially verse 53. In addition to the sign, we are planning to do some street corner evangelizing next month during our town festival. Please pray for a positive result.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Discrimination or Conscientious Objection?

Our Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, started a media stir when he recently signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The law was intended to limit government interference in the practice of one’s faith. The federal government under President Bill Clinton passed a similar law in 1993, and some nineteen other states also have such a law on the books. So why is Indiana taking such a firestorm of criticism from celebrities and on social media?

The timing is probably the main factor. When the federal law was passed twenty-two years ago, same-sex unions were not the hot button issue as they are now. Today, those of us who believe in natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman, are quickly labeled as bigots. Those who have no religious objection to same-sex unions see the law as discriminatory.

I have explained the reasons for standing firm for natural marriage in a previous post, so I won’t go into detail again. Suffice to say, God’s created natural design has provided complementary parts in a man and woman that come together to form a union. There is a natural reason why it takes a man and a woman to produce a child. Any attempt to subjugate that design is unnatural, that is, inconsistent with nature. The objection is to the observable incompatibility with the physical design, and becomes religious through acknowledgement of the Creator of that design.

The same-sex proponent says, what right do you have to impose your discriminatory religious beliefs on me or anyone else? I would answer this way. While morals are constant, mores change. What society views as morally acceptable today is not the same as it was a few years ago, and that is not a good thing. Our moral backbone has degenerated over the past few decades. This has taken a toll on the traditional family unit, the effects of which are evident in our society today, especially in the inner cities. We have lost respect for human life.

A couple of weeks ago, a Colorado District Attorney could not file murder charges against someone who cut the unborn baby from a woman seven months pregnant. Under Colorado law, a baby still in the mother’s womb is a fetus, and they could not confirm the baby’s viability by proving it took a breath after it was removed. The mother survived, but the baby did not. No murder charge? How have mores in our society become so perverted? We have allowed it to happen.

Secular media repeatedly produces entertainment promoting the progressive agenda attempting to portray it in the mainstream, and their efforts have been effective. Over time, behavior once considered abhorrent becomes normalized and acceptable. Marriage is no longer seen as a covenant made between a man and a woman. Now it can be any pairing that makes the couple happy. Seeing such arrangements appear normal on a daily basis affects our point of view. We can easily become numbed into indifference, and the structural foundation of our society gradually weakens.

For those of us trying to stay the course, we need to distance ourselves from the frenzy. We have a responsibility to avoid the scandal created by appearing to go along with the changing tide. Doing so is difficult because of the appearance of intolerance. We want to be intolerant of the sin, but not the sinner, and that makes us easily misunderstood and often misrepresented. The religious person cannot in good conscience appear to support something he views as sinful. To do so involves us in the sin of scandal, that is, conduct that may encourage a lapse of faith or religious obedience in another by making our involvement appear as approval.

If a couple comes into my bakery for a loaf of bread, I have an obligation to serve them regardless of their sexual orientation. No sin is involved and I would have no problem selling them a loaf of bread. But if they ask me to use my talent to create a wedding cake with two little plastic men on top, I cannot do so without projecting some tacit approval contrary to my religious beliefs. My conscious would not allow me to cooperate in an event I view as invalid.

The exemption from complicity does not target only same-sex marriage. A heterosexual wedding where the impossibility of consummation exists could also raise a religious objection. A Catholic baker may not want to cater the wedding of one of his fellow Catholics were it to take place outside of the Church due to an impediment to the marriage, such as a prior divorce. A pharmacist living his faith could not distribute abortive birth control, such as the morning-after pill. The American Pharmacists Association delegates at their annual meeting held in San Diego this year said the practice of providing lethal-injection drugs is contrary to the role of pharmacists as health care providers, and urged their members not to do so. No one should be forced to go against his good-faith conscience.

Most difficult for the religious person is convincing others that our non-participation is rooted in love, not hate. We have a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of those we believe to be in violation of God’s natural plan, and we have a concern for own spiritual health as well. We are to love everyone., but we do not have to condone everyone’s behavior. A few years ago, I did not attend my niece’s wedding because she was a Catholic choosing to marry outside the guidelines of Catholic Canon Law. I don’t hate my niece. I love her. We get along fine even though we have differing points of view.

The proprietor of a pizzeria in a nearby town was interviewed by a local television reporter concerning the newly passed Indiana law. She innocently indicated she would serve anyone who came into her shop for pizza, but would not cater a same-sex wedding reception. After the story aired, she was inundated with hate messages, and threats to burn down her business. The pizzeria was forced to close temporarily. The same people who seem to think you and I need to support everyone and every action are the same ones who often spew hatred toward anyone professing a different point of view. Who are the really intolerant ones here?

The band Wilco cancelled their Indianapolis concert date in protest of the Indiana Religious Freedom law. Think about this. They have a conscientious objection to playing in Indiana and have exercised their right not to do business here. Yet, they think I should give up my right not to do business where I have a conscientious objection.

I find a certain irony in observing the current agenda of the politically correct. We are not to do anything to violate our nature’s environment – no pipelines, no drilling, no coal, no pesticides, no genetically engineered vegetables, no artificial preservatives, and the list goes on. We must keep rain forests and wet lands in their natural state. Yet, those same folks think nothing of manipulating our reproductive nature with artificial birth control, in vitro-fertilization, abortion, genetically modified babies, and unnatural sexual relations.

The leftist outcry against the Indiana RFRA has been so intense that the Governor asked for changes to be made to insure it does not allow discrimination toward homosexuals. New language limits the extent of Religious Freedom to religious organizations and non-profits. Religious freedom for individuals could end up being more restricted than ever. I am glad the owners of the pizzeria have a stronger spine than our legislators. All should realize that man-made law has no power over a properly formed conscience.

I have been reading The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, The April 10 entry is about the 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, based on the life of Saint Thomas More, and his refusal to betray his conscience regarding the marriage of King Henry VIII. The almanac quotes the following exchange between Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk:

Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship?

More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

I would say this to the LBGT community of sympathizers. Good Christians do not hate you. In fact, we love you. Those portraying Christians as bigots are wrong. And if some fundamentalist Christians do hate you just because of your orientation, they are sinning. Here is the gist of the issue from my Catholic point of view. It is not that good Christians do not want to serve you because you are homosexual. There is no sin in having same-sex attraction. The problem arises when that attraction leads to unnatural behavior. That is the point where complicity on our part risks implicit approval of your actions, which can cause us to commit a sin of scandal.

God gave us free will. You can do what you want to do with your body. That is between you and God. But once the boundary is crossed, we cannot cooperate in behavior we view as unhealthy. You should not be able to force me to provide you with cigarettes because you choose to smoke. If I believe I could be causing harm to your lungs, I cannot cooperate in your habit with a clear conscience. Doing so could be sinful for me even though you are the one choosing to smoke. It is the same situation with a same-sex wedding. You can legally do what the law says, but you should have no right to force my involvement. My approval cannot be legislated. And why would you want services from someone reluctant to provide them? Just to prove a point?

Religious freedom restoration is not about discrimination. It is about protecting the right of every person to act in accord with his or her conscience. Calming the waters on this issue requires understanding on both sides. While religious approval of same-sex marriage cannot be legislated, neither can the feelings of those with same-sex attraction. A properly formed Christian conscience says they must be treated with love, respect, kindness and compassion.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Being Politically Catholic

Our diocesan newspaper carried a Catholic News Service report stating that “Catholic organizations welcomed President Barack Obama’s Feb 24 veto” of the Keystone pipeline bill. The article cites only one organization, the Franciscan Action Network, quoting its executive director Patrick Carolan as saying “The Keystone pipeline would be very damaging to the environment.” The CNS report brings to mind a number of questions.

The article implies that more than one Catholic organization opposes construction of the pipeline. Who are the other Catholic groups standing in opposition, or was use of the plural reflecting a reporter’s political view? Does something about construction of the pipeline violate Catholic moral teaching? Is this particular project inherently dangerous to the environment? How are attitudes toward the Catholic Faith affected when Catholic organizations take a public stance on issues that are not necessarily faith related? Unless I am missing something, nothing in Church teaching would prevent us Catholics from favoring a pipeline.

Yes, we are morally obligated to protect our environment, but constructing a properly designed pipeline to transport a God-given resource is not an intrinsic evil. According to the American Petroleum Institute, more than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines traverse the United States. Most are underground and go largely unnoticed. Could something bad happen? Perhaps, but most human endeavors involve some environmental impact, not necessarily significant or irreparable. The question here is not whether the pipeline should be constructed, but rather should the laity or clergy take a public stance on a morally neutral issue under a Catholic banner? And, does doing so diminish the public impact of Catholic teaching on the real moral issues facing us today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Calming the Storm

Why are people so angry? Fuses seem to be short these days. Everywhere you look, someone is lashing out at someone else. What is it in the human psyche that makes folks want to attack others, even over the most trivial of matters? Social media has exacerbated the problem by providing the ability to assault people without looking them in the eye. We call it cyber-bullying and it is prolific in its spread.

Some people have been dealt a bad hand. Things go wrong beyond their control. The frustration can manifest itself in a sour disposition that affects those around them. That is to be expected. What I don’t understand is why so many others enjoy taking advantage of their misery. Is self-esteem is such short supply that some must belittle all others in order to feel superior?

A former coworker often talked about all of the bad experiences he had at restaurants. Almost every time he took his family out to eat, there was a problem. He would deliberately look for an excuse to get a meal discounted, and in the process, makes trouble for an often innocent waitress. Some people seek their happiness by inflicting misery on others. Years ago, another man I knew liked to say things to stun or belittle associates during meetings. He tried to validate his own perceived superiority by casting dispersions on any competing ideas.

We have all felt that little rush of rage that suddenly surges through the body when someone says or does something we do not like. Do we explode, or take a breath and remain calm? True discipline means taking this as an opportunity to diffuse a volatile situation by distancing ourselves from the dramatic component, being a peacemaker when a situation could turn ugly.

I was listening to one of Bishop Sheen’s talks on the Anxiety of Life where he spoke of many people lacking a meaning and purpose of life that prevents them from ever finding happiness. He calls it an existential neurosis, an anxiety of living they experience because they only live for themselves. Bishop Sheen says even telling them to pray will not help those who have an existential neurosis because they are presently too far away from prayer for it to be effective. The cure? He tells them to go out and help their neighbors. Love people who they see. Visit the sick. Help the poor.

We ordinarily interact with a number of people in our daily routine. Each time is an opportunity to spread a little love. It might be a smile, or a cheerful hello. It might be offering encouragement to someone who is having a bad day. We seldom know what may be going on in the lives of those we meet. What we perceive as rude indifference might be caused by a painful distraction. Even when dealing with someone who is incompetent, kindness is more likely to improve the experience than a rude retort. Be understanding. Show restraint.

Go the extra mile by actually seeking out those who need a break. Do something to brighten the day of someone who is struggling. Welcome situations where you may be wronged as opportunities to show forgiveness. Treat others mercifully when they fall short of your expectations. Meet conflict with calm, patience, and a kind word. St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience.” (1Tim 1:15-16) Let that be a Lenten model for us all.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Boyhood Hero

In 1959, I was a third grader at Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School. Some of the boys in my class were trading baseball cards at recess. I didn’t have any, but I talked my mother into buying me a pack at the local grocery. The Chicago Cubs were the favorite team of my closest friends and Cub cards were the most cherished. In addition to the bubble gum packs, one could also purchase cards in a cellophane wrap that displayed the top card in clear view.

I found a pack with a Cub on top, Bobby Adams, third baseman. I didn’t know Adams from Adam, but he was a Cub and that’s all that mattered to me. The next day, I proudly took my Cub card to the playground, only to be told that Adams was no longer a Cub. In ’59, he played only three games and his career was over. Undeterred, I decided I needed to learn more about the Cubs.

Most of my friends had a favorite player, so I needed one too. That weekend my dad was watching a ballgame on our old black and white Philco. Passing through the living room I noticed the game and decided to take the opportunity to choose my favorite player. I was in a hurry to go back outside, so the first Cub I could identify was going to be it. So happened that number 14, Ernie Banks was coming up to bat. I quickly memorized the name and went about my way.
When playground conversation eventually turned to favorite players, I interjected that mine was Ernie Banks. Turns out, he was the favorite of most of my more knowledgeable friends too. Fortunately for me, I picked someone whose ’59 season faired far better than that of Mr. Adams. According to, Ernie played in 155 games in 1959 (not bad for a 154 game schedule), hit over .300, 45 home runs, and 143 runs batted in. And, he was named Most Valuable Player in the National League for the second year in a row, unusual for a team with losing records.

As my interest in baseball grew, Ernie Banks became my boyhood hero, even to the point of dressing up as him for Halloween. My mother found an old maroon softball uniform that she tried to dye white with Rit. It came out a rather dark gray, but close enough. She sewed a Cub insignia on front and a blue number fourteen on the back. Of course, a boy can’t be recognized on Halloween, so I wore a mask like the Lone Ranger. I wish I had kept a picture!

Playing summer baseball in our town league, I tried to imitate Ernie’s batting stance. He appeared to hold the bat vertically to my nine year-old eyes, so I stood at the plate holding my bat much like Mary Poppins held her umbrella. Suffice to say it didn’t work too well for me.

I grew up following Ernie’s career. He played until 1971, the year I turned twenty-one. He was always my favorite, not just for his talent, but mostly because of his always positive attitude which continued to be displayed in his many subsequent public appearances.

Last night, we all learned of Ernie’s death, just eight days short of his eighty-fourth birthday. Today, the tributes, stories and photos abound in all forms of media. Typically, Ernie displays that big smile on nearly every picture. Coming up through the Negro leagues in the early 1950’s, I am sure he faced many difficulties. Just watch the movie 42 on Jackie Robinson’s life if you do not know what it was like. Yet, Ernie was always upbeat, always optimistic, always friendly, and always a gentleman. What a better world this would be if we all had his demeanor.

Imitating Ernie’s batting stance didn’t make me a better ball player, but imitating his outlook on life has made me a better person. He will continue to inspire all the lives he touched. May his soul rest in peace.