Co-operating and Co-operating (Part II)

God gave us minds and the power to make good choices. He put us on the earth, in the rough-and-tumble of this time in history, in all the particular circumstances of our particular lives. He put us here for one reason: so that we can grow into the saints He made us to be. We grow by learning and by making choices—learning the truth and choosing good over evil.

We human beings have a wonderful power: we have the power to act. Not “act” as in Charleton Heston, Eddie Murphy, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep. I mean “act” as in: to do something, like shaking someone’s hand or making a pizza.

We do have an audience: God. He sees it all, and He knows all. He pulls for us always to do what is right. He sends us countless helps to avoid doing evil. He longs to reward us in the end for serving Him faithfully. But He respects our freedom enough that He will let us destroy ourselves forever by sin—if we so choose.

So we do not act alone: God sees, helps, loves. Also, we generally do not act alone as individual human beings, either. We participate in undertakings that involve groups large and small. Undertakings like: choosing friends in school, or working for a company, or supporting a candidate for public office, or investing our money.

This means that we bear ultimate responsibility not just for what we do individually, but also for what we choose to co-operate with.

Continue reading “Co-operating and Co-operating (Part II)”

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Background to a Little Epiphany

If you have been following my musings over the “Religious Freedom Crisis,” then you know my sorrows:

I of course wholeheartedly believe the moral teaching of the Church. But I don’t really see how asserting our First-Amendment rights advances our cause.

For instance, when I read “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” I thought…

This document includes a paragraph making the distinction between conscientiously objecting to a just law and refusing to obey an unjust law. One may conscientiously refuse to serve when drafted, but the draft is not unjust.

Okay. But isn’t a law requiring abortions unjust? Unjust to the unborn? None of the unborn are Catholics, but they all have the right not to be killed. Isn’t a law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship before receiving medical care–isn’t the law unjust to the medical patient, regardless of his or her religion?

ERGO: Religious freedom for Catholics is not the central issue. The central issue is justice for defenseless human beings.

Then I read some moral-theological proposals about how to conceive of the problem.

I recognized myself as a hopeless “act-based” moralist. Hopeless because I can’t really see what we will be judged on in the end, other than our acts and omissions. Will we be judged on the “symbolic power” of the t.v. shows we watch? Only insofar as we chose or did not choose to watch them.

So I am hopelessly act-based in my moral analysis. And I am irredeemably individualistic about it. I can’t quite figure how I could be judged for something I unknowingly co-operate with in a remote manner, especially if the law binds me to do so. And how could I fail to be judged for intending to co-operate with something evil, even if I simultaneously engaged in symbolic gestures supporting the good people I know?

But then something dawned on me.

The Church must be considered a proper moral agent, in Her fulfillment of Her mission. The Church does good and avoids evil. Those who guide Her make decisions regarding what She does. Because of this, when She is mis-guided and errs culpably, She bears a corporate responsibility.

(Obviously, she never errs in teaching faith and morals as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But She can act immorally as, for instance, as the Archdiocese of Boston, or as Father So-and-so, or as St. Such-and-such School.)

The Catholic Church in the U.s. exists as a moral agent. She acts in all Her official “Catholic” institutions. And everyone who calls him or herself Catholic co-operates with Her.

Thinking along these lines, an irredeemable act-based, hopelessly individualistic moralist can assert, with a clear mind, that we cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.

Still not sure about First-Amendment litigation. But at least now I can conceive of who exactly the plaintiff would be.

Full Message of the OT: Niagara Falls

Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken,
My love shall never fall away from you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD;
great shall be the peace of your children.
In justice shall you be established, far from oppression,
you shall not fear, from destruction, it cannot come near.
If there be an attack, it is not my doing;
whoever attacks shall fall before you. (Isaiah 54)

This is the full passage to which the Lord Jesus refers in our gospel reading today.

Let’s propose the following: The full summary of the Old Testament could be made with one sentence. Thus saith the Lord, “My children, you have made a terrible mess of things, but the infinite power of My tender love is coming your way—in an overwhelming cascade of gentle mercy.”

They shall all be taught by God that He loves, no matter what. The bread that I will give is my Flesh, for the life of the world. Whoever believes has eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, let’s take a trip to the Niagara Falls of Divine Love by celebrating the Mass as the Lamb of God has commanded.

Encomium for a Good Friend I Mistreat

I have such a thoroughly excellent baptismal patron, I often feel unworthy of him. I guess we could all say the same.

The New Testament makes it clear that St. Mark served the original leaders of the Church with unassuming, faithful friendship. Mark himself had no interest in the spotlight. He delighted in accompanying St. Paul, and then St. Peter, helping them in their work. Mark synthesized Peter’s teaching about Christ, and gave us the shortest and most to-the-point gospel.

Then St. Peter sent St. Mark to Egypt. The evangelist repeatedly risked life and limb to proclaim the kingdom of Christ. Eventually, the pagans got the better of him. They tied him behind a team of oxen and dragged him through jagged rocks on April 24, in the year 68. On April 25, St. Mark succumbed to his wounds.

St. Mark has been a faithful friend to me, like he was to Peter and Paul—through thick and thin, ever since my parents took me to the baptismal font and made me St. Mark’s client.

On the days that I have prayed to my patron, he has prayed for me before God’s throne on high. On the countless other days when I haven’t given St. Mark a moment’s thought, he has prayed for me then, too.

That’s what our patrons up in heaven do. They watch over us, no matter what, loving us like our mothers do. If we ignore them or treat them badly, they patiently endure it, waiting and hoping for the day when we will wake up and smell the coffee. When we finally make even the slightest gesture of appreciation, they rejoice, forgiving and forgetting all the slights.

Thank you, St. Mark. Please keep helping me, even though I don’t deserve it.

The We of Catholic Conscience

You are witnesses to these things.

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.

I appointed you to go and fear fruit that will remain.

Between now and Ascension Day, we hear the Lord Jesus say all these things to us. You are my chosen witnesses.

We are. We. The sons and daughters of the Church. We. You and I, dear brothers and sisters, are a we. A family.

We are united not by natural birth, but by divine choice. Not by flukish circumstances, or by personal preferences, or by common interests in sports, playing cards, politics, or music. No, we are united by the free gift of God’s grace.

We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us, and made us us, made us a family of faith.

He made a universal communion that spans every human frontier. To be Catholic is to be a brother or sister to other people of every race. We have the right, we have the duty, we have the solemn and holy privilege to call the black, the yellow, the white, the red—to call everyone brother and sister.

God made us a universal human family with the living—and with the dead. Who are my best friends? My best friends are the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese, St. Ignatius, and St. John Vianney. I don’t need a bleeding special cellphone plan to holler at my peeps all day, every day. All I have to do is pray.

Continue reading “The We of Catholic Conscience”

Mandate and Religious Freedom Compendium

The day has arrived when your humble servant will do my duty. Namely, I will begin a four-part series of homilies aimed at preparing us to pray and fast through the “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4.

First, though, if I may:

Dr. David Schindler has published an essay about human nature, freedom, and rights.

He distinguishes the ideal of a modern ‘liberal’ regime from the regime envisioned in the Church’s articulation of Her doctrine of religious freedom.

Dr. Schindler exposes the paradox at the heart of the liberal ideal of a religion-neutral state. If the law/the courts/the goverment say that freedom means anything other than openness to God and truth, then the content of what freedom is will always be supplied by the strong–at the expense of the weak.

The independent man who determines for himself what life means will inevitably do so at the expense of a weaker person. The only man who never infringes on the genuine “rights” of others is the one who acknowledges that he depends on God for his freedom, and he must use his freedom to seek goodness and truth.

In other words, if man is not for God, then he is for himself–at the expense of someone else, sooner or later.

I bring this up because: Obviously, Dr. Shindler has been reading my posts on the HHS-Mandate controversy and decided to supply the philosophical argumentation for why I make so much daggone sense.

Seriously, though…

We present a collection of the ramblings on this subject from the past few months, years:

Warming up for action: Answering the atheist…

1. What is Life?

2. Who’s the Mysterymonger?

To set the stage: Theology ≠ Esoterica

Kathleen Sibelius, Bishops Dolan and Lori, and me:

1. B.S. Alarms on Both Sides

2. I Will Give You Bacon, but Not a Contraceptive (2b. Let us Reason)

3. Define ‘Health’ for Me [See ‘What is Life?’ above for an answer.]

4. Abstinence More Healthy than Sex

5. Chastity, Conscience, and the Real Problem is that Too Many Doctors Suck

6. Should we have Faith in the First Amendment?

7. The real problem: When Goverment Oversteps Gamaliel’s Limit

8. Aha! The Church is a moral agent!

9. No Slogans (Pope St. Gregory VII)

10. Which is our Best Hand?

11. The Businessman’s Co-operation with Evil

12. Cathleen Kaveny’s Good Distinctions (January 2013)

13. Kaveny Again; Running Like Ray Rice

Four Sermons on “We cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.”

1. We, the Catholic Church of Christ

2. Co-operating and co-operating

3. Divine Law of Unconditional Love

4. Where Civil Laws Come From

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies

1. Hamlet and the Martyrs of Mexico

2. Fasting

3. Elijah’s God

4. St. Thomas More’s First Choice

5. Inconvenient and Uneasy in the Canticle of Zechariah

6. King Josiah and Prophetess Huldah (II Kings 22)

7. The Apostolic See

8. Believing Like the Martyrs

9. Backyard-barbecue, Catholic American

Theme Song: A Catholic Boy Can Survive

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies, 2013

Basic Marriage

The Looming Flashpoints

The Marriage-Law Titanic

Welcome Here

Hard Penance

2014:

Which of the two will land me in jail?

Cant’ be Happy about Hobby Lobby

Gamaliel Speaks

Today we read from the Acts of the Apostles the wise words of Gamaliel the Pharisee. Perhaps we could say that this episode illuminates an aspect of our current situation as Catholics today.

The Apostles’ insistence on proclaiming the Gospel had infuriated the members of the Sanhedrin. This ruling body had ordered the Apostles to keep quiet, but St. Peter and Co. flouted the order. Up in arms over this open disobedience, the Sanhedrin wanted to execute the Apostles.

Then Gamaliel spoke with calm humility.

We do not read here that Gamaliel believed the Apostles’ message. Nonetheless, the rabbi insisted on acknowledging the fundamental fact that God is, after all, a higher authority than the Sanhedrin is.

God—not the Sanhedrin—guides the course of history. The Sanhedrin has the duty to preserve order and the public good. But the ruling body does not sit in judgment over the mysterious plan of God. No human legislature can claim to understand fully the counsels of the Almighty.

We Catholics look around us for friends, not enemies. We have countless neighbors who do not share our faith. Our nation has plenty of leaders who do not believe in Christ or in His Church.

But anyone who has the humility to acknowledge the sovereign authority of God, like Gamaliel did; anyone who sees that human government has a highly limited scope and strictly circumscribed responsibilities; any God-fearing American, in other words—such a person is our friend, our ally in the cause of seeking the common good by open discussion and debate.

On the other hand, God forbid that we find ourselves in the other possible situation. God forbid that the reins of our nation be taken completely into the hands of blind guides who do not see that God alone rules history.

As Gamaliel put it, arrogant human authorities can and do run the grave risk of fighting against God. We Catholics are prepared to suffer persecution, if it comes to it, because our hope lies in heaven, not here on earth. But we love everyone around us too much ever to want such a thing to happen. May it please God to keep our nation at peace and spare us the hard lot of being a country at war with Providence Himself.

Seven Years, Season of John

No French cuffs. But an unforgettable moment nonetheless. Ad multos annos, Holiness.

…Everyone knows that we read from the Bible according to a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass? Year A, Year B, Year C. And, for the most part, the gospel readings come from either Matthew, or Mark, or Luke—depending on which year of the cycle we are in.

Great system. We thoroughly read all three gospels. All three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Wait. What? Of course. The gospel of the eagle.

St. John’s gospel gets its props every year during Lent and Easter.

This is the week of John 3. We were here back on the fourth Sunday of Lent also. During Lent we had weeks for John 5 and John 8. Next week is John 6. Then we roll into John 14, 15, 16, 17—which recount all the amazing things the Lord Jesus said at the Last Supper.

…One way or another, everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has known God. Everyone has had a relationship with God—a relationship of some kind. God gives existence to all existing things. So: to exist is to have a relationship with Him, and to know about existing is to know God.

So we all know God. Except we don’t. God gives existence. But the way that God Himself exists? His infinite being? Totally beyond us.

Totally beyond all of us. Except one. One man knows God from the inside, knows Him like a fish knows water. Jesus.

All the gospels present this fact to us—the fact that the mind of Jesus truly knows God, that Jesus’ knowledge of God is utterly unique among all those ever born of a woman. All the gospels teach us this fact.

But we have St. John to thank for recording all the intimate and sublime ways in which the Lord Himself explained it. And we have the Easter season to luxuriate in reading it all.

Keystone Cops in Jerusalem

The Sanhedrin officiously dispatched their court officers. The armed guards made their sword-jangling way to the jail—only to find that the incarcerated Apostles had mysteriously gone missing from behind locked gates. They marched back to the chamber and bumbled through their report.

A Keystone Cops episode in ancient Jerusalem. The angel of God managed to turn the jealous and hateful Sadducees into the Three Stooges.

Meanwhile the intrepid Apostles took their place to tell people about this life. The angel told them to. “Take your place, and tell people everything about this life.” The Lord gives us the same instruction. Take your place. Tell people everything about this life.

Okay. Take my place. Do I know what my place is? The place where God wants me to be?

Sometimes this question can get tricky. But if I start with: He wants me right here, right now; He wants me in His Church; He wants me to be faithful to the duties I have undertaken; He wants me doing good and avoiding evil—if I start with these immediate basics, then the question of where I belong can become less intimidating.

This question has crucial importance of course—the place I am to take. After all, telling people everything about this life is not an easy job.

First of all, we need to know which people to tell. With seven billion people in this world, neither you nor I can tell them all. When each of us takes his or her place, though—then we find the people we are supposed to focus on. At which point we then proceed to tell them everything about this life.

This life with God. This life of hope and love. This life of giving ourselves over to help others.

This life aimed at something greater than the world offers. This life that demands self-sacrifice and mortification of the flesh. This life that promises the only real blessedness—the blessedness of virtue, holiness, and eternal life.

How could we possibly tell people everything about this? After all, St. John reports in his gospel that the world could not contain all the books that could be written about the glorious works of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But we can make a start. Maybe we can obey the angel’s instruction by telling all the people we know that the best place for them to take would be a seat in church with us. We don’t claim to know God’s will for everyone. But we know this much: We love everybody, and we want everybody in our Church with us.

Puvis de Chavannes + St. Thomas’ Recovery

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes: interesting painter

How did St. Thomas manage to miss the Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday?

“Gosh, I would love to hang out with you brother Apostles in the Upper Room and pray the afternoon away, but—wouldn’t you know it!—I have a conflict. Catch up with you next Sunday!”

Okay. Thomas had a lot of friends and associates. Kept busy. Always on the go. No harm in that.

But: when Thomas refused to believe his old friends when they said the Lord had risen from the dead—should we fault him for that?

“He came here. Flesh and blood. And He gave us the Holy Spirit.”

“No He didn’t.”

“Yes. He did.”

“No He didn’t.”

“Yes. He did.”

“No He didn’t.”

“Thomas, you’re hopeless.”

Continue reading “Puvis de Chavannes + St. Thomas’ Recovery”