Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thoughts from the battle over Communion for the divorced and remarried

Primer: In the run-up to the preparatory and actual synod on the family, Pope Francis was rumored to prefer extending the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried who had not received an annulment from the Church.

That preference was pretty well stifled and shot down by those at the Synod.  The Pope's synod wrap-up document, however, left the door open, and, last week, a letter was leaked whereby the Pope told some bishops that they were right to interpret his document as indeed affirming the distribution of Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried who did not get their first marriage annulled even though their first spouse is still living.

Okay.  That's out of the way.

A couple observations, then, over this battle within the Church

1) I do not have a doctorate in moral theology, but based on what I've read in the seminary and afterwards in my own personal study, I believe it is wrong to extend the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried who have not received an annulment even though their first spouse is still living.

My opinion is of no real consequence here, I just want to divulge my position up front

The following are my three main points:

2) We can disagree with the Pope, and we can debate these issues, and we can do this publicly.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Peter was leaning towards requiring all those joining the Church to get circumcised and follow Jewish dietary laws.  He was rebuked by Paul.  Was Paul wrong to go confront Peter?  If he hadn't, the Easter Vigil would be MUCH more painful for men joining the Church, and no Christian would be eating bacon.

3) I can disagree with the Pope while not having to think he is the anti-Christ.  Some in the Church seem to see the Pope and his pretty obvious preference for how this question should be settled as proof that he is a horrible person in general.

If we commit this error, however, then we are just as guilty of committing the crime we charge secular atheists with in our culture - the crime of equating a person's belief TO that person.  I can disagree very passionately with the Holy Father's stance, particularly since it has not been formally promulgated in any way, but I don't have to walk around thinking poorly of the man Pope Francis.

Peter and Paul disputed over central teachings of the Church.  That doesn't mean St. Paul went around grumbling and hating Pope Peter I.

GK Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw could not have been at two more opposite ends, theologically.  Chesterton was a committed Catholic and Shaw a committed secular atheist.  They went back and forth in the papers regularly arguing and debating each other through their columns...and yet they would get a beer together and were friends.

So many in our own day will take our position on homosexual "marriage" and equate it to us.  They hate our argument (obviously) but they ALSO HATE US.  We're asking them to start by not hating us.

It seems only fair, then, that those who disagree with the Holy Father should start by not hating him, even when they disagree on this issue that is still, nonetheless, extremely important.

4)  We should also avoid the cataclysmic talk about how this is a sign that the Church is getting ready to get ripped in half, its the apocalypse, etc.  The Church has been here countless times before, and was in this position almost right from the start.

We've been here before, and we shouldn't lose our minds over this.

This question of "Communion for the divorced and remarried who have not received an annulment even though their first spouse is still alive" is an important argument, it is an important discussion, but we should learn from our past with regards to how to handle this moment in the Church's history, and start acting more like we've been here before, because we have been.  Many times

Monday, September 19, 2016

Homily on Subsidiarity

In regards to the struggles we see in our nation, some today advocate for big government to fix problems and injustices of our world. Others believe that corporations and businesses, if left essentially alone, will fix the injustices of our world.  But what is the Church for?   Does the Church recommend bigger governmental structures?   The Catholic Church advocate for large corporations fixing our social ills?  In short – the answer is neither.

One of the most refreshing and interesting concepts for me as I began to teach CST – subsidiarity.  Subsidiarity, briefly, is the idea that things in our society should be left to the lowest level possible.  Buying and selling should be done as locally as possible, politics should be done as locally as possible, schools should be run as locally as possible, etc. etc. 

First of all, let’s look at subsidiarity defined as what it is against.  “Subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the state” Compendium

So, let’s first look at the problem with big things.  Big government.  Big corporations.

1)      First of all big things tend to see people as objects because people are not being dealt with as individuals.  Many of the most heinous acts in the history of civilization, the Communist Regime, The Nazi Regime, the proliferation of abortion etc. are/were done under the thought of “helping save the world” on a large scale – lots of people have tried to help humanity and in the process harmed humanity.  As a villain in The Brothers Karamozov put it, “I love mankind.  But I find to my amazement the more I love mankind, the less I love individual people.”  How true.  When we view human beings as a whole, and when someone comes with a man made plan or program to “help humanity” history shows us you better run!

2)      It leads to the mistreatment of individuals by putting distance between various people that are part of the system.  For example: – I have never met the person who makes my shoes, who makes my clothes, nor have I met the person who picks my fruit nor the person who helps in any phase of the food I eat besides the person at Kroger who swipes my purchases.  Nothing I own have I ever met the person who made it or grew it.  And so we hear in the first reading: Hear this, you who trample upon the needyand destroy the poor of the land!”the scale at which things are done allows others to trample on the needy for me and for me to plead that I had nothing to do with it. 

But I’m much less likely to watch my neighbor work in a sweatshop.  I’m much less likely to watch my neighbor go hungry from poverty if I can’t tell myself that there is some massive government structure that is supposed to take care of them so that I can excuse myself – like Ebeneezer Scrooge – are there no workhouses?  In our day, we might ask – aren’t there government programs to help you?  But the social doctrine of the Church says the permanent welfare state robs me and the poor.  It robs me of the dignity that I would have obtained from helping my neighbor and it robs the poor of their dignity by treating them more as a statistic

3)      In the economic sense, the larger corporations get, the more we view our consumption in scientific terms and less in moral terms.  For example, we are taught, in order to be good Americans, we must buy as much stuff as possible and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS buy the cheapest option.  In fact, we were told that in order to help our economy flourish, we ought to buy as much as we can for as cheap as we can

So we work overtime, we scrape and kick and leave our family behind and miss out on family dinners and a walk in the woods and taking some time to breath and relax and read a book or talk to a neighbor because we want to own 50 dresses or 20 suits and 5 watches and a television and a computer – we are always on the edge of a nervous breakdown because as long as we buy the logic that people are telling us we will never be happy – we will just keep throwing stuff at our problems – more stuff, more food, more consumption, and we’ll never be happy because we can never have everything

4)      Impact on environment – larger corporations are less likely to be concerned with the local environment

We also see a problem with all of the shipping/packaging/production that comes from large corporations in our consumeristicly dominated way of doing things.  Looking at food as an example, instead of local food, Most food is harvested by people I’ll never meet in a way that I will never know in a place that is far away.  It will then be shipped a great distance, using up fuel, packaged somewhere, using energy and material, and then shipped again a great distance to me.  Vs. my neighbor picking corn, walking across the street, and selling it to me.

So we see lots of problems from large systems – whether they are corporate or governmental, and the Church has long recognized and spoken out about this

Although there are lots of issues when things in our society get too big, there is a lot of reasons for hope.

1)      It is something that our larger society has awoken to, and so we have this big moment to stand up and say “Hey, this whole grass fed local beef thing, this whole organic food movement, this whole shop local thing, this whole find someone local to do the job thing, our Church has been talking about this since 1892!!!!  Not only is it just a social fad, we have a theological reasoning behind why it is so important. 

Some of our greatest writers and thinkers over the last 120 years have championed this as THE issue of our time.

Hillaire Belloc’s book on the topic “THE CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION”!!!

GK Chesterton was a jolly and witty English writer whose writings are loved still today for their humor and levity – I’ve read most of his stuff and he has a huge following.  His tone changes completely when talking about two things – birth control and subsidiarity.   He describes this attempt to dig out from under large governmental and corporate structures as THE BATTLE of our time.

Another pivotal Catholic, JRR Tolkien, said that this concept was precisely the reason he  write his Lord of the Rings trilogy, with the simple hobbits as the ideal society under the Catholic world view, and those who were evil seeing only more things to produce, build, pollute, and dominate. 

So a culture that is hostile to many things in our Church, I think we are missing this great opportunity to point out this one great moment.  Even those that don’t profess Christ to be their savior have recognized the importance of this key Catholic teaching.  And so we have a perfect illustration of what we hear in our Gospel - “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light”  We’re the ones that should be talking about subsidiarity as a key issue, but it is those who often don’t profess to follow Christ who are leading the charge here.

2)      People are recognizing that the pace, size, materialism, consumerism etc. are not making people more sane, they are driving people insane. 

3)      Economists and even the average person in America today is recognizing that even from purely economic science, people recognize the impact of the different ways in which we purchase things.  I can buy something for 8 dollars on Amazon and maybe the person in Greencastle or Brazil is selling it for $12.  If I buy it off of Amazon, though, those 8 dollars are gone from our community, and they’re never coming back.  If I buy the item for 12 dollars locally, it costs more, but now my neighbor has that money, and he/she can spend it locally and it begins to snowball locally as opposed to having money shipped out of the local economy never to come back.  This is understanding of the value of keeping money locally as much as possible is something more people are becoming aware of

So, in thinking about subsidiarity, how do we put it into action?  How do we catch up to those who have already begun to make this a priority, how do we work to ensure that the needy are NOT trampled on, whether they are my neighbor or working in Thailand?

1)      Some before making this leap, want real specifics.  What will it look like, how will it work, etc. etc. 

St. John Paul II - “The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another. For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation,

We put forward not a definitive system but new principals to think about our government, our assistance to the poor, how we purchase things, how we interact in our local communities

2)      Start asking myself, as Pope Francis has been challenging us, am I guilty of a consumerist mindset?  Do I believe that to be patriotic, I must buy as much as I can, as conveniently as I can for as cheap as I can?  Or can I get by with less stuff?  Is the amount of stuff I have, is the way I consume things actually making me MORE miserable, stressed, etc.

3)      As we think about purchases and our local economy, Hillaire Belloc, a great Catholic thinker, pointed out that “No mononpoly comes into existence save by the acceptation of those who submit to it.” – CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION.  G.K. Chesterton said “The rush to the big shops is the thing that can most easily be stopped, by the people who rush there”

4)      We believe if things are freed, they will begin to recover – if we put subsidiarity into practice, things will begin to heal.  Chesterton was once asked about all this “so you don’t think our form of capitalism nor communism nor socialism will save England but you think subsidiarity will?”  His response.  No.  I think English men and women will save England

We will answer for the treatment of the poor.  We have a great concept that our Catholic Faith holds out to us as a path out of this cultural moment we are in.  May we recognize what those around us seem to be recognizing – that subsidiarity – leaving governance, decision making, economies, etc. at the lowest level possible – will immediately begin to help heal our culture from many of the things that make it sick at the moment

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Theological Musings of Popes

The first Pope in the history of the world, Saint Peter, had his own personal opinions about how the Church should approach both circumcision and dietary laws.

WHILE he was serving as Pope, he was rebuked by others in the Church

"Pete, I love you like a brother, and you are the Pope, but you are wrong on this one" - St. Paul

When it came time to issue definitive statements on the topics, the first pope did not end up teaching what he had personally held to be best before he was rebuked by his fellow leaders in the Church.

Pope Benedict also made it quite clear in the introduction to his Jesus of Nazareth series - these are the personal thoughts and musings of mine...not the definitive statements of the Pope.

Until they are blue in the face people can tell me the personal beliefs that Pope Francis holds, the personal opinions he has shared on airplanes, the personal opinions he has shared in private letters.  I don't care.

When something is taught definitively and unambiguously as the teaching of the Church.  Let me know.  Until then, I don't care.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Archbishop Lori Nukes the Civil Rights Commission's "Report"

WASHINGTON—Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, responded to a statement issued last week by the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights upon the issuance of its report on "Peaceful Coexistence."

Archbishop Lori's statement follows:

Faith and the Full Promise of America

For the current Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, religious liberty is reduced to "nothing except hypocrisy," and religion is being used as a "weapon… by those seeking to deny others equality." He makes the shocking suggestion that Catholic, evangelical, orthodox Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities are comparable to fringe segregationists from the civil rights era. These statements painting those who support religious freedom with the broad brush of bigotry are reckless and reveal a profound disregard for the religious foundations of his own work.

People of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly. Men and women of faith were many in number during the most powerful marches of the civil rights era. Can we imagine the civil rights movement without Rev. Martin Luther King, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel? In places like St. Louis, Catholic schools were integrated seven years before the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Jesus taught us to serve and not to count the cost.

Our record is not perfect. We could have always done more. Nevertheless, we have long taught that the one God, maker of heaven and earth, calls each and every individual into being, loves every individual, and commands believers to love and show mercy to every individual. The idea of equality, which the Chairman treats as a kind of talisman, is incomprehensible apart from the very faith that he seeks to cut off from mainstream society.

Today, Catholic priests, religious and laity can be found walking the neighborhood streets of our most struggling communities in places abandoned by a "throwaway culture" that has too often determined that quick profits matter more than communities. We are there offering education, health care, social services, and hope, working to serve as the "field hospital" Pope Francis has called us to be. We wish we were there in even greater numbers, but we are there to humbly offer the full promise of America to all. Rest assured, if people of faith continue to be marginalized, it is the poor and vulnerable, not the Chairman and his friends, who will suffer.

Catholic social service workers, volunteers and pastors don't count the cost in financial terms or even in personal safety. But, we must count the cost to our own faith and morality. We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our own lives and work. The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us. We ask that the work of our institutions be carried out by people who believe in our mission and respect a Christian witness. This is no different from a tobacco control organization not wishing to hire an advocate for smoking or a civil rights organization not wanting to hire someone with a history of racism or an animal rights group wishing to hire only vegetarians.

In a pluralistic society, there will be institutions with views at odds with popular opinion. The Chairman's statement suggests that the USCCR does not see the United States as a pluralistic society. We respect those who disagree with what we teach. Can they respect us? We advocate for the dignity of all persons, a dignity that includes a life free from violence and persecution and that includes fair access to good jobs and safe housing. People of faith are a source of American strength. An inclusive and religiously diverse society should make room for them.

A Song for Sunday

A beautiful song from the soundtrack of Brooklyn.  A little Irish brogue for your Sunday

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"I left the Catholic Church because of science"

A sociological study was released last week that I’ve been reading.  The study looked at people who were raised in a religion but now don’t practice it anymore.

Interestingly a very small % left over doctrine – things like contraception, teachings on marriage between a man and a woman, abortion, etc.

By far the largest category said they left the Faith they were raised in because of science.

One sample response from the study, “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

This study confirms, once again, that many see a great contest taking place in our world between science and religion, particularly science and Catholicism.  Of course people point here to the Galileo controversy as proof that the Church hates science and hopes to wipe it out.  Of course what most don’t realize is that it was a personal rift between the Pope and Galileo that caused the controversy, nor do many know that, scientifically speaking, we now know that both the Church AND Galileo were wrong, nor can anyone point to any OTHER instance of the Church coming after a scientist…but none the less there we have it…the Church hates science and Galileo is proof of it.

Maybe you know people who are like the majority in the study – people who say “I left my Catholic Faith behind because I believe in what I can measure and test and study – I believe in the observable.”  Maybe part of YOU wrestles with that?  I know at times growing up Catholic I wrestled with that question

And so as I was reading through some of this report, it came across my Twitter feed that Pope Francis addressed scientists this week.  I’m sure this address of the Holy Father was lined up months ago, but for me the timing was providential.

One of the things Pope Francis said was “Openness to the Grace of God, an openness which comes through Faith, does not weaken human science, but rather leads it to move forwards”

His point is one that has been made many times – Our Catholic Faith does not COMPETE with science.  Science, when done without an agenda, seeks to know what is true.  Faith, when pursued without an agenda, also seeks to know what is true. 

Of course a problem arises here: Faith and science can both be done WITH an agenda.  The Catholic Faith has been practiced with an agenda and a pretext for advancing personal interests.  We can also hopefully recognize that sometimes science is practiced with an agenda and a bias as well.  I am reading a book right now on Cyberpsychology, and it amazes me how quickly the author switches back and forth between science and personal opinion, but in the mind of the author – she views her opinions as science, and that is very dangerous.

Pope Francis also addressed this challenge with scientists this week saying “Every scientist needs to be watchful for the toxins which poison the mind’s pursuit of truth and certainty, and admit that every scientist has their own history, their own way of being and thinking, their own background, their own beliefs which can spill into their work.

Here I think we get some help from our readings. The first reading today tells us: “scarcely do we guess the things on earth” – this is a beautiful and true admission – THERE’S SO MUCH WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT WHAT WE SEE ON EARTH!  That is not a taunt to science, it is simply stating something very true.  There’s a lot in our world that we can’t explain just with science.  I love science shows, I loved studying math, I love sociological studies, I love studying psychology, physics and electricity still boggle my mind but I love trying to understand it.  Biology and the study of plants is so exciting to me, as a person who hikes and spends my free time outdoors.  I’m still completely humbled/amazed thankful for the science that led to my brother being able to survive cancer and the chemotherapy ---- I love science and the study of the observable.  It has given us so much!  Water purification, the ability to connect with people all over the world, surgery, healing, the ability to increase the productivity of our land 1,000 times more productive than land was a few hundred years ago.  The list goes on.  While saying that we love science, we still should be able, at the end of listing all that great stuff, say exactly what our first reading says – scarcely do we guess the things on earth!  There’s so much we still don’t understand, that we will never be able to observe.

Are all the things we see in the world – war, violence, abuse, terrorism, slavery, bullying, suicide, greed, destruction of the environment, aborting children and even killing them after they’re born…is it all explainable by chemistry?  Is it all explainable through psychology?  Is it all explainable by the theory of Relativity?  And the other side of that coin – is all the goodness that we see, the acts of kindness, the sacrifices people make for others, the charity, the love..can Mother Teresa, who is canonized a saint this weekend – can all the goodness we see be explained using electrons, photons, or behavioral psychology or a brain study?

Pope Francis answered this question yet again this week when he reminded scientists: “the sciences alone, however, are not sufficient to understand the mystery contained within each person”.  We all can admit that, I think, with just a wee bit of humility.  There’s a lot going on in the world that we will never be able to explain no matter how far science progresses.  The first reading notes that the wisdom that God gives through the Spirit completes the picture of what we see when we look around the world.  The things we learn about the world through our Faith fill in the gaps, the rather LARGE gaps, of all the things that we can’t measure nor study in a test tube.

Scarcely do we understand the things on Earth – this raises a great point as well.  What is your estimate for the things of the world that science CAN explain?  Again, if we think about all the things we experience in a day – how much of it does science explain?  I think the word from the reading is very accurate – Scarcely do we understand.

Some say, of course, “well, science hasn’t given us an answer to everything just yet, but it will eventually.”  But here it is really important to note something – this statement is a complete act of Faith and is as unscientific as saying there are three persons in one God.  To say that science will eventually explain everything is completely unscientific, because science HASN’T explained everything yet, so that person is putting their hope in something that no one has ever observed, thus committing the very crime they accuse the person of Faith of – believing something can be true that hasn’t been observed.

As a person who loves and is amazed by science, biology, math, physics, astronomy, psychology, oceanography, etc. my experience has been one in which the study of science has been the exact opposite of a THREAT to my Faith.  The more I’ve learned about science, the more I observe trees growing, the more I observe children growing in the womb through the power of ultrasounds, the more I learn about the universe, and the stars and the northern lights and the human body the CLOSER it has brought me to my Catholic Faith and to God – science has deepened my Faith, not drawn me away from it.

As St. John Paul II noted, Faith and Science are two wings by which we come to know the Truth.  May all those who see a conflict between the study of the observable and the pursuit of the Truth through Faith once again recognize that for all those pursuing the truth of the world, studying the observable truths of our world shouldn’t lead us away from the Faith.  Faith and science, if both are pursued in honesty and humility, help us see and appreciate the entirety of what we see when we look around our lives.

May we never lose sight of the infinite number of miracles that we see each day.