Crying and Laughing: Dreamers

Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of…that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace…A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths…unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 25, 76)

Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor…Ill humor is no sign of holiness. “Remove vexation from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. (Gaud et Exul., 126)

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Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Abraham and a March-on-Washington Partnership

us-capitolGod established His alliance with Abraham and promised a wonderful future. Abraham’s faith in that future makes him our father in faith. He willingly left behind everything that was familiar to him, in order to obey God.

Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ. The Messiah fulfilled the promises God had made so many centuries before.

So: On the one hand, Abraham’s all-consuming faith, which freed him to pursue the mysterious future God had prepared. On the other hand, the reward of that faith.

Now, what is it? The reward of faith? What can we call it, other than life? The day of Christ = the day of Life. Not toilsome life as we know it now—ephemeral, fleeting, dangerous, burdened by one anxious care after another. No. The life of Christ crucified and risen is life liberated from all these diminishments. Life primordial; life full of promise; endlessly youthful life.

Which brings us to: the youthful spokespeople for this Saturday’s “March for Our Lives.” They paint an evocative picture in their speeches. Where would the lost friends and classmates be now, had they lived?

The students killed in Florida last month would be preparing for mid-term exams. The little children killed in Connecticut in 2012 would be in middle-school. The high-schoolers killed in Colorado back in 1999 would be parents themselves, with their own children in elementary or middle school.

unbornLife. A future. Doesn’t it seem utterly obvious that this March-for-Our-Lives rhetoric could also take into account the other young victims of unjust violence—the little ones who never lived to see the light of day at all?

I myself am just old enough not to have to number the classmates and confreres that I might have had. I was already 1½ by the time Roe v. Wade came down.

But everyone younger than me has to live with the Roe-v.-Wade ghosts. The victims of violence who might have been childhood friends, or co-workers in the first job, or the Mr. or Mrs. Right that you could never find.

Christ came to reward faith with life. Our Gospel is the Gospel of Life. Can’t we imagine a better day, if all the true advocates of life could unite? If we could stand up together for all the innocent victims of violence that could have–and should have–lived to see the sun rise this morning?

To the Dreamers, from 1822 Charleston

This is the fasting that I wish: Setting free the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)

Almighty God liberated His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Passover. Our Christian religion rests squarely on that event. We can consider our religion from a million different angles. But from all of them, our Christian understanding of reality arises from God liberating slaves.

Denmark Vesey

Last week I spent a few days of precious vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I wound up doing some extensive reading on the 1822 Denmark Vesey Rebellion, a secretly planned slave uprising, which got thwarted by the authorities at the last minute.

Historians do not agree on the potential extent, or likelihood of success, that the rebellion might have had, if it had proceeded as planned. But this much seems perfectly clear: In the spring of 1822, the city of Charleston and its surrounding environs had two completely unconnected universes of communication.

The white universe regarded the enslavement of Africans as a normal, unobjectionable part of everyday life. The black universe—at least that part of it involved in planning the rebellion—regarded the wholesale killing of whites in a sudden, decisive military enterprise as altogether justified, for the sake of taking political control of the city and establishing a legitimate social order, free of slavery.

What Charleston did not have was a bridge of communication between these two universes. No one cleared the air by declaring openly: “Slavery is wrong, and killing is wrong. Let’s peacefully re-organize everything on the basis of the dignity of the human individual.”

Maybe a common agreement on that principle could have provided a starting-point for ending the incredible, unendurable tension in the Charleston air that spring. It could have saved many lives and immeasurable misery. And no genuinely sane and reasonable person could disagree with such a principle.

But such was the fog of mind that clouded the town that no one enunciated the principle openly, and no one agreed with it, and no one co-operated with others based on it.

west-fraser-charleston-harbor
Charleston, SC

Now… Yes, this is Trump Country, southwest Virginia is. But, dear fellow Catholics of southwest Virginia, we have many, many Dreamers among us. Many DACA recipients, and many more DACA-eligible. Many Americans, who were born in Mexico, but who have lived here through all or most of their upbringing. They speak English better than they speak Spanish; they understand math and the internet better than you or me; this is their home, this land.

Does the government of the state of Virginia, or of the USA, have any right to treat these friends and neighbors of ours any differently than everyone else? To deprive these young people of the right to drive a car, to study, to work, to go to the doctor—to even live here?

We are talking about young people in our parishes, people whom we all know. Altar servers, religious-ed teachers, members of the choir, high-school classmates. The idea that any of these people have less of a right to live and thrive here; the idea that Providence or Fate wills for them to inhabit a lower tier of society, with fewer rights—that idea is patently and obviously not admissible to a Christian mind. It is a profoundly objectionable idea; we execrate it.

And yet it is the reality with which the Dreamers among us must live every day. Can’t plan for the future. Can’t join the army. Can’t safely take out student loans. Can’t obtain professional certifications to be a beautician or a nurse. Can’t know for sure if I’ll be able to live in the same country as my younger brother or sister, who was born here.

Ain’t right. We as a people will not get to a better future this way.

Dear Dreamers, We, the American electorate—We acknowledge that we bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that you find yourselves in this situation in mid-February, 2018. We are sorry. We want something better for you, and for us.

Cardinal Dolan on Why We Against Deporting Innocent People + Senate Judiciary Dems Against the Bedrock

…But let’s not imagine that one political party or another has the market cornered on nonsense.

Apparently the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee consider fidelity to Catholic doctrine an obstacle to a judge’s impartiality.

Say what?

Just what body of doctrine should a judge base her opinions on? What body of doctrine holds together more solidly, reflects reality more profoundly, and guides us more humanely than the principles our Church teaches?

Seriously. That’s an honest question, Senators Durbin and Feinstein. Name it. Name the solid foundation for law other than the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We defy you to come up with anything better. We defy you to come up with anything even remotely as good. We defy you to produce anything anywhere near as coherent, rational, sensible, decent, and fair as the social doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.

 

Explaining the Photo

Trump Little Sisters Cardinal Wuerl White House religious freedom

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, Mother Loraine Maguire and another Little Sister of the Poor, and President Trump. In the Rose Garden of the White House at a ceremony last week, for an executive order on “Religious Freedom.”

Someday we will have to explain this photograph to our grandchildren. That is: the Catholic Church shaking hands in this manner for this reason with this man.

I want to meditate with you on this. But first, some local color. Both my parochial vicars have enjoyed their post-Easter vacations. Now they’re back home, so I get to take a few days off. I got in the car and drove west.

Vanderburgh County, Indiana, has a splendidly stylish courthouse in Evansville:

evansville vanderburgh county indiana courthouse

I have driven through southwest Indiana and southeast Illinois before. But there weren’t so many inland seas then. Every creek and runoff has swelled and overflowed into acre after acre of cornfield. Indeed, half of the riverfront plaza in Evansville lies submerged beneath the Ohio. The Wabash lurches big and brown.

flooded field in southern Illinois

…Back to the matter at hand. I have examined our Catholic place in the “religious freedom” debate before. [Click HERE for a compendium.] I had decided to focus my mind on other things. But then the picture above–with the Cardinal, the nuns, and the president–got taken.

Who’s against religious freedom? In his speech at the ceremony last week, the president insisted that the free exercise of religion by the black church gave us the Civil Rights Movement. Amen. The president went on to conclude from this: Therefore, we had better not enforce the Johnson Amendment, the federal law which prohibits preachers from endorsing particular candidates for political office.

Dr. Martin Luther KingThis reasoning seems awful shaky to me, because: The Johnson Amendment prohibited all the black preachers who participated in the Civil Rights Movement from endorsing any candidates. The law held sway the whole time. But it didn’t seem to cramp Dr. King’s style at all.

Insofar as the Lord Jesus need not run for any office–reigning supreme, as He does, as King Eternal in heaven–I for one cannot imagine ever wanting to endorse a particular political candidate from the pulpit on Sunday morning. After all, politics involves many imperfect compromises, even on a good day.

Now, of course we cannot compromise on the dignity of human life. We cannot compromise on everyone’s right to life–not to mention liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And who among us would want to compromise on this idea: Using artificial contraception makes no sense. Nothing good comes from mutual masturbation. Honest people find better pastimes.

But: Did we, the Church, really want to stand in the Rose Garden and shake President Donald Trump’s hand on the very day when he gloated in triumph over the passage of a law that would cost a lot of people their health insurance? Or do we want to shake his hand on any other day, for that matter? People shake hands because they trust each other. How could anyone trust Donald J. Trump? About anything?

In his statement about the executive order, another attendee of the ceremony, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, noted that Americans with “deeply held religious beliefs” should never have to pay for anyone else’s birth-control pills. Therefore, we need some system by which to keep our money in clean, kosher bank accounts. Rather than in unclean bank accounts that pay for objectionable pills and procedures.

The Pill is a No NoMeanwhile, no Catholic leader simply stands up and says: Dear fellow Americans, it is much better to live without the pill! Whether you’re Catholic or not. Whether you have “deeply held religious beliefs” (whatever those are) or not.

No Catholic leader stands up and says: This is not about money. It’s about sexual honesty. And true happiness. And friendship with the Creator Who made us all and loves us all.

What is this precious “religious freedom?” In the person of our leaders, we stood in the Rose Garden and clapped about it last week. But what is it?

Did the Apostles have a harder time preaching the Gospel because no one had yet written the U.S. Constitution?

Speaking of the Gospel, seems to me like, in the Rose Garden last week, we boiled it down to: “As long as our bank accounts don’t disburse any money whatsoever to Anti-Life, Inc., then we’re good.”

Now, I beg you, dear reader, not to think that I am for giving money to Anti-Life, Inc. (by which I mean a corporation, wholly owned by Satan, that includes, but is not limited to, Planned Parenthood.)

But it seems to me that our greatest weapon against the destruction of life and the degradation of sex is not: begging for legal exemptions in a labyrinthine bureaucracy, in which our purity comes at the price of looking utterly self-interested.

Don’t we have a better hope of winning souls by simply preaching and living out what we believe? The Church of Christ is not an interest group. If we could convince people that artificial contraception does not really qualify as health care, then the USA would painlessly solve our entire healthcare financing problem. But even that doesn’t really touch the reason why we evangelize. We evangelize about chastity and true friendship and marriage and family because that’s how you get to heaven.

I think that the phrase “religious freedom” no longer amounts to anything. If bearing witness to the Gospel under the regime of the U.S. Constitution requires shaking hands in the Rose Garden with this notoriously dishonest man, then I for one would rather go back to risking the catacombs.

An Open E-Mail to Cardinal Dolan

Your Eminence,

I’m sure you won’t remember me; we met for two seconds at the North American College in Rome in the spring of AD 2000, when you kindly expressed your wishes that we seminarian visitors from Washington, D.C., had enjoyed our spaghetti. But I have admired you for two decades; I devoured your rector conferences when they were published in Priests for the Third Millennium.

priests-for-the-third-millenniumAnyway, yesterday I found myself crying for joy from one eye, and for sorrow from the other.

There I stood, at the rally beginning my 19th March for Life, having just greeted an old friend from a former parish with his 13-year-old son, who was born between my sixth and seventh Marches—and here was the Vice-President of the United States speaking to us in person. The vice-president of the United States is one of us. And another one of us is “Counselor to the President!” Tears of euphoria. We can reasonably hope for an end to Roe v. Wade!

On the other hand, right beside me stood, among the fifty people on the bus from my parish, a little group of undocumented Mexican immigrants, marching for life here with me, with us—dedicated pro-lifers whose fruitful presence in our blessed land our pro-life president seems hellbent to do away with. Bitter, miserable tears of fear.

Anyway, I just want to tell you that, having admired you for two decades, I have never admired you more than during your Sanctuary Homily at the Basilica. I thank you for it, dear brother, from the bottom of my heart.

–Fr. Mark White

 

Transition, Inauguration, the New

At Holy Mass today, we read St. Paul quoting from the prophet of Jeremiah. The prophet promised a transition to a new covenant. The Holy Spirit would move the heart of man. In our Gospel reading, we witness the Lord Jesus inaugurating the life of His Church by choosing His twelve Apostles.

St. Paul points out, “what has grown old is close to disappearing.” The world is old. At today’s presidential-inauguration ceremonies, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York read Solomon’s prayer in Wisdom 9; Solomon asks God to give him the wisdom to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Our new president swore to uphold the covenant by which we live in this land, the U.S. Constitution. We pray for justice and peace on earth. But all the things of this world are very old; they’re all on their way out; our life on earth ends in the blink of an eye.

Every day, however, the Lord pours out His Spirit. That is always new. Our life with God, by the grace of Jesus Christ, is always new.

In his inaugural address, our new president emphasized the significance of the transition taking place today. His slogans rang hollow, like politicians’ slogans usually do. But this particular gentleman solemnized his presidential inauguration with chilling, tone-deaf messianic pretensions.

…Today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another…For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost…That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you…January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again…

…Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

I tried to think of oratorical parallels. The gentleman who stood in the same place eight years ago had more than his fair share of messianic delusions of grandeur, too. But as President Trump spoke, this speech echoed in my mind:

Of whom ought we to think today?

The innocent and defenseless unborn children in the womb?

Tomorrow a lot of people will march in Washington, a Million-Woman counter-inaugural parade. They will stand up for a certain number of things I certainly believe in, like: this president is a shameless bastard and an obtuse dumbass. But pro-lifers received a dis-invitation to tomorrow’s Woman’s March.

Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway regards herself, like I do, as “a member of the pro-life rank and file.” The pro-life rank and file will march on Washington a week from today, as we annually do.

I think we should rejoice that pro-lifers will finally have some real political power. May they use it to build the culture of life.

*

Should we think today of the poor people who have to live in fear of losing their healthcare? Or the undocumented who have to live in fear of deportation?

Should we think of the dogged journalists who really don’t appreciate the way our president brazenly lies to them?

*

We have been here before, and the USA has lived to tell the tale. We have had ill-equipped presidents who didn’t know much of anything. One of them served from 1856 to 1860. But not all of them handed off to their successors a nation on the verge of Civil War…

In his speech today, the president painted the picture of a blighted, bleeding nation. Thank God that’s not really the state our nation is in. We know how to love our neighbor. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

Comment, if You Please, re: Undocumented Persons

We reach out in love to the poor and the needy and most vulnerable. –New Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, Michael Burbidge, in his installation homily yesterday.

Dear Reader, I find myself stressed and distressed. I would like to explain this to you by way of a series of multiple choice questions.*

1. Which large group of people in the U.S. is more vulnerable?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented immigrants

2. Who less deserve to have their survival put in jeopardy?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented residents of the US who were brought here as infants or children

3. Whose basic human rights should the Church stand up for with more zeal?

a. Innocent and defenseless unborn children
b. Law-abiding undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation

Let me flesh out my distress some more by offering you the following subtle antitheses:

1. Undocumented immigrants have broken our U.S. laws de facto,

but

These include our neighbors, friends, and the school classmates of our children. And we whiteys can hardly claim to “own” these lands by divine right.

2. According to current rules, immigration-enforcement agents do not inquire at churches, schools, and hospitals to look for undocumented aliens,

and

The law-enforcement professionals I have spoken with do not foresee any significant change in procedure, even with a new presidential administration,

but

These rules could change rather suddenly,

and

Mr. Trump began his campaign with a a promise to deport all the undocumented (see above).

3. The Church has a spiritual role to play, never an overtly political role. She offers Herself as a mother to all people (including all ‘liberals’ and all ‘conservatives’),

but

Parishes have administrative assets–ie., data–just like all other human organizations, and I’m responsible for it all, at the pleasure of our bishop. So I feel obliged to say:

I, unworthy shepherd that I am, would prefer to go to jail myself rather than

a. co-operate in an abortion
b. me, or anyone on my staff, providing information leading to the deportation of any person under my spiritual care**

I welcome your comments, dear reader.

__________________

* questions intentionally posed to provoke reflection; the author acknowledges they cannot be answered

**investigations involving suspected terrorists or dangerous felons, who are also subject to deportation, are a separate matter

The Mercy of God and the Election

american-flag

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

We rightly fear the omnipotent One.  He made everything out of nothing.  His power dwarfs our capacity to conceive it.  Everything exists solely by His pleasure.  Without His will sustaining us–and sustaining the sky, and the earth, and the air–without His constant gift of existence, everything would crumble, collapse, disintegrate, vanish.

Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone…Awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21:6)

The one thing that separates us from chaos and ultimate nothingness is: the divine good pleasure.  True wisdom involves acknowledging this fact.  If we find ourselves enjoying good things in life, it’s because God has made them and keeps them in existence, to give as gifts to us.

The wise person fears the awesomeness of the great Giver of all, Who is truly, wonderfully, magnificently good.  His power dwarfs us, and so does His goodness.  We do not measure up to it.  Rather, we receive from His largesse as unworthy beneficiaries.  He blesses us so abundantly because His love flows so freely.  Not because we have any claim on Him or any “rights” before Him.

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priestWe fear Him. But, in spite of all this, He makes amazingly friendly and intimate promises to us.  “Fear nothing,” He says, “because I myself will give you wisdom.”

The God we rightly fear does not choose to tower above us.  Rather, in the midst of all the great flux of events over which He exercises sovereign control, He moves toward us and embraces us.  By uniting Himself with us in Christ, God Almighty has Personally entered into His own creation, fragile as it all is.  He meets us right here, and clasps us to His bosom.  He makes us His friends, the friends of the King.

By the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we participate in His sovereignty over all things. We share His permanent solidity, His serene transcendence.  Created things pass.  We human beings, too, are created things that naturally pass.  But, by His grace, God has joined us to His permanent Self. So we do not pass, but rather we endure forever, with Him.

Divine Mercy.  Pope Francis gave a book-length interview, published under the title The Name of God is Mercy. The Holy Father puts it like this: “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces; it is God giving Himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive.”

Next Sunday, the Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to an end. But of course the end of the Year of Mercy doesn’t mean that, starting a week from Monday, a Year of Strict and Severe Judgment will begin.  No. God’s mercy endures forever.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyNow, we Americans have elected as our president a man who, by any reasonable estimation, is simply not a good person.  I don’t mean that, had the outcome on Tuesday been different, we would then have elected a good person. I’m not saying that.  But that’s all moot now anyway.

The man who will assume our presidency in January has lived the life of a sybarite, a liar, and a braggart. That’s not all.  There’s another two-syllable word that begins with ‘b’ which suits him perfectly.  But I won’t use that word in pulpit oratory.  I guess we have had unsteady, lying braggarts for presidents before.  And we somehow survived.

But the whole business of government involves co-operation.  And the whole business of co-operation requires trust.  And we have a president who I, for one, wouldn’t trust with five dollars of my own money for even fifteen minutes.

Christ is king.  Prayer works.  It just doesn’t always work in the way that we, with our small minds, expect.  We have, as a country, gotten ourselves into a very serious mess.  Getting out of it will cost us a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Let’s have the humility to admit that we got the president we deserve.  We elected a man of no character; therefore, we must have serious character flaws ourselves.

Let’s close the Year of Mercy by humbly acknowledging this.  Taking collective responsibility for the great act of irresponsibility that America as a whole has induldged in, with the year-and-a-half-long mess of a presidential election that landed us in the uncharted territory where we are now.

If we put our foreheads to the ground before God and admit, Yes, Lord, this is our fault!  We find ourselves lost in the woods, and we got lost by our own nonsense!  –If we do that, then we can hope for divine mercy and gracious assistance from heaven.  Gracious assistance to help this body politic through the entire weird, unpredictable ordeal that we now face.