At the Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King I Have a Dream

Lord Jesus gave the homily in his hometown church. At first they loved and praised Him. But then He brought up some painful facts. [Spanish]

‘Our prophet Elijah did not save one of our widows from starvation. He saved a pagan widow–a Gentile foreigner. And our prophet Elisha did not cure the leprosy of one of our Jewish generals. He cured a Syrian who didn’t even want to wash himself in our Jordan River. He thought of it as a muddy creek. But our Elisha healed him in those very waters anyway.’

So the Nazarenes got mad at their countryman for pointing out that God loves the Gentiles as much as the Jews. As you will likely get mad at me, before I’m done here.

Most of the world now knows that there’s a Catholic boys school in Covington, Kentucky. At least everyone with a smartphone knows it. And everyone knows that a group of Covington-Catholic boys traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to march for life. To stand up for the innocent and defenseless unborn children—the most vulnerable class of people in contemporary America.

After the March ended, the boys visited the Lincoln Memorial. In hindsight, they now think to themselves—and all those who know and love them think—they should have stayed inside the Memorial, quietly reading and meditating on the Gettysburg Address. It’s chiseled into the marble wall.

MAGA hat.pngInstead, the boys stayed outside. And mixed it up with some strange characters.

A dishonest person made a cellphone video, and accused the boys. ‘They surrounded a Native-American man beating a peace drum! Then mocked him and threatened him! An aggressive racist mob!’

Once the video hit the internet, another aggressive mob took over. The social-media mob. A bandwagon of moral indignation. ‘These boys should be expelled from school! They make us Catholic pro-lifers look bad! They stand for everything racist and unjust in this country!’

I myself first saw the “viral” video late that Saturday evening, when I “checked my Twitter.” I did not at first notice the “Make America Great Again” caps that some of the boys wore. I just saw high-school kids making more noise than they should, as high-school kids often do. And a Native-American man beating a drum endlessly for no immediately apparent reason. And a staring contest that made no sense.

I watched the video with my own particular interest, because I know that spot very well, as I imagine many of us do. One of my college jobs involved giving tours of the National Mall. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech right where the famous video was shot. The east staircase of the Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Reflecting Pool. A uniquely beautiful place, a place for quiet reflection—not for beating drums, or school chants, or staring contests.

But, like I said, when I watched the video, I didn’t notice the MAGA hats at first, because I’m not a particularly observant person. But a lot of people did notice the hats. That’s why they jumped to unreasonable conclusions. As they checked their Twitters and facebooks that Saturday, they saw the caps, and they immediately suspected the boys of harboring ill will towards non-whites.

lincolnNot fair. Not fair to judge the morals of a high-school boy, based solely on his cap. In the ensuing days, the truth emerged, about what happened between the boys and the Native-American with his drum. The boys had not mobbed anyone. The original viral video had a context. Other cellphone videos, recorded at the scene, revealed the full sequence of events. Then some people in the original social-media mob faced up to the truth and admitted their serious mistake. They looked in the mirror and realized that they had done to the boys what they had accused the boys of doing. Forming a cruel mob.

But, we’re not done here yet, fellow Israelites. We cannot simply say: Vindication for the good, pro-life boys; episode over. No.

The political life of our president began years ago. That is, it began when he claimed that our previous president, the first non-white President of the United States, actually came from Africa, not the USA.

Then Donald Trump began his campaign for president with a particular premise: Namely, that Mexicans steal, rape, and murder.

The social-media mob saw MAGA hats and over-reacted. Over-reacted big time. But: Had someone given them cause to over-react? Had someone given the MAGA hat a particular meaning? Namely: This country is primarily for white people. Yes, someone did give the hat that meaning. Donald J. Trump gave the hat that meaning.

Ok. The whole business at the Lincoln Memorial upset a lot of people. And I probably upset you, by even bringing it up. Do what’s the antidote?

Guess what? Ain’t hard. The antidote is: Going to Mass.

Some people think the internet is pure evil. Some people think it’s where we can finally find true democracy. One thing is for sure: Everything on the internet gets put in perspective when we come to Mass.

Yes, we can learn beautiful things that we never knew, over the internet. And we can join cruel, irrational mobs from our own couches, over the internet.

But the fundamental social network—it’s not on the internet. It’s at the holy altar of Jesus Christ. Where people actually know each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, and recognize each other not as “legals” and “illegals” but as: fellow sinners in need of God’s loving mercy.

I have probably said something that makes you mad. But I’m just trying to do my job as a priest–whose main job is: to say Mass. Holy Mass is the opposite of a viral video causing a “Twitter storm.” At the altar of Jesus Christ, dear reader, we can actually find peace with each other.

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Higher Loyalty

Comey Trump

The rule of law. Former FBI Director James Comey has dedicated his life to it. He became a lawyer and a prosecutor. He followed a calling to pursue justice.

We Americans love tv shows about law-enforcement and criminal prosecution. We rightly respect the vocation of people like James Comey. Public servants dedicated to the rule of law: they keep our country from descending into a chaos in which bullies rule.

My dear mom lent me her copy of Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty. I tore through it. I feel a kind of brotherhood with the man, since we have two things in common: A tendency to bang our heads on door lintels, and an unexpected job transition at the same time last year.

As a US Attorney, Comey worked to convict gangsters and stock-market cheats, like Martha Stewart. Then he ascended to the highest echelons of the Justice Department. When the practice of torturing terror suspects became public in 2004, Comey took a stand against the George W. Bush White House. Because the law is the law, and it prohibits torture.

Comey A Higher Loyalty bookIn 2013, President Obama made Comey the head of the FBI. Comey writes about how he undertook to make the organization more open and communicative, a place where everyone could believe in the cause.

Meanwhile, some other things happened.

Former President Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary traded on her political connections and became a Senator from a state to which she had no real ties. Then she became Secretary of State. Finally, she ran for president and secured the nomination of the Democratic party.

A sober body politic would have recognized this nomination for what it was: A triumph of cronyism, insider-ism. Not a feminist breakthrough.

But the body politic proved itself far from sober. The other major party nominated a notorious liar–a shameless publicity hound, a wounded ego without any real accomplishments to his name.

It is no wonder, then, that a such a devotee of American ideals like James Comey would find himself at a loss during the summer and fall of 2016. In his book, he recounts how his mind jibbed and gybed, trying to figure out how to handle FBI public relations.

The agency had to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “careless” e-mailing as Secretary of State. Also: the Bureau had suspicions of Russian attempts to influence the American presidential election by stealing private e-mail exchanges and hijacking facebook feeds.

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ‘rude mechanicals’ (a group of Athenian working men) aspire to please the Duke with a stage play. They intend to present the tragic love story of ancient myth, Pyramus and Thisbe.

The Mechanicals meet by night, in the woods outside the city, to determine their roles and begin rehearsing. But Nick Bottom, the weaver, wants to play all the parts. He wants to play both Pyramus and Thisbe. When he learns that a lion comes on stage, he wants to play the lion, too.

During 2016, James Comey became a kind of Nick Bottom. He had the part of FBI Director, a low-profile part, with very few lines. His role involved speaking only to his superiors in the Department of Justice and the Oval Office. And only about hard evidence, not political exigencies.

But Comey decided that Attorney General Loretta Lynch did not have enough credibility to tell the public about “Hillary’s damn e-mails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). Comey concluded that the troubled nation would not believe that the e-mailing didn’t involve any crimes, unless he delivered the message.

So Comey took the stage to speak the lines of someone else’s part. Then, three months later, he had to take it back. Then, ten days after that, he had to take back the taking back.

Comey also wanted personally to go to the press about the suspected Russian election hacking. But President Obama managed to talk him out of doing that, just like Peter Quince managed to talk Bottom the weaver out of playing the lion, and Pyramus, and Thisbe, all at the same time.

shakespeareTestifying before Congress in early 2017, Comey said that he felt “nauseated” at the thought that his public statements of 2016 somehow affected the outcome of the presidential election.

Problem is: He nauseated himself. He could have just kept his mouth shut, speaking only in the private fora where he had a duty to speak. But that option appears not to have occurred to him.

The fundamental idea of Comey’s book is: We Americans owe our loyalty to something higher than any political leader. Not to “partisan interests” but “to the pillars of democracy.” Comey enumerates those pillars as: “restraint and integrity and balance and transparency and truth.”

Speaking of the virtue of restraint: This past Thursday, the Inspector General released a report. They agreed with me. It’s official: Comey put himself in front of a microphone too often in 2016. (In the book, Comey mocks Rudy Guiliani for the same offense, ironically enough.)

Comey, as is his wont, immediately took to Thursday’s The New York Times to welcome the criticism, even though he disagrees with it. The work of an Inspector General involves the pursuit of the rule of law, the very thing he wrote his book to vindicate, etc.

Amen to all that. We all have egos that should be smaller, not just James Comey. And all our egos will indeed get a lot smaller when the Inspector General, Who sees and knows all, and Who weighs everything with perfect justice, makes His findings public, on the great and final Day.

Comey deserves a lot of credit for writing a fundamentally honest book. And he wrote a page-turner. The passages about his dealings with President Trump during the winter and spring of 2017 read like a movie. If the Trump administration were a movie, Comey would name it: “The Forest Fire Presidency.”

Trump secretly asked for Comey’s “loyalty” (hence the book title.) Comey didn’t know what to say. So the president soon fired him. Now, Trump calls Comey “the worst FBI Director ever.” Which means worse than J. Edgar Hoover, who suspected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of being a secret communist, and had his phones bugged.

Comey characterizes the president as a kind of Mafia don. But Mafia dons have good organizational skills. To me, Trump looks a lot more like: a clueless, desperately unhappy fourteen-year-old boy maniacally masquerading as a grown man.

Comey almost certainly wrote his book to try and fulfill the teachings of his intellectual hero, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Neibuhr spoke and wrote repeatedly on 20th-century political questions. Neibuhr insisted that a Christian must seek to further the cause of justice in the world by talking part in public life.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Niebuhr would undoubtedly find Comey’s book blindly self-serving. The deeper problem is this: Neibuhr and Comey both share a false presupposition. Namely that “loyalty to truth” occurs in some pure realm where you can leave practical questions about religion unanswered. Basic questions of Christian practice, like: Did God write the Scriptures? Or: Is Jesus Christ alive right now? But that’s a topic for another day.

Comey and I agree on this: In November 2016, we, as a nation, found ourselves choosing between two candidates for president, neither of whom could claim with any real honesty to be worthy of the office.

How did we get there? We have had plenty of unworthy presidents before, to be sure. But we also had a Civil War before.

The post-World-War II “consensus” about the American presidency had serious flaws. Including the kind of megalomania that led us into unnecessary bloodbaths in Vietnam and Iraq. Or a self-righteous “solution” to our domestic race problems that didn’t really solve them at all.

But now we have totally wrecked that 20th-century consensus about who we are as a nation. We elected an unqualified, immature, dishonest president. We find ourselves barrelling down a blind alley.

Reinhold Neibuhr would be the first to point out that: In this fallen world, blind alleys usually harbor very dangerous, unhappy things in their unexplored shadows. I for one think that James Comey is absolutely right to speak out.

Not Being Like the Gadarenes + Charlie Gard

thomas merton

The Gadarenes foolishly begged the Son of God to leave their district. They begged the Savior and Light of the World, the revelation of the love of the Father–they begged Him to go away.

We might say to ourselves: We would never make such a colossal spiritual mistake! But before we do, let’s remember these words of Father Thomas Merton:

We all tend to be pagans at heart, and this blinds us to the true meaning of our Christian faith. There is a great difference between seeking God as a Christian, or as unconscious pagans. The pagan has no Christ, no Holy Spirit, perhaps even no personal God at all. He has to struggle upward to union with the ‘Supreme Being’–the ‘Absolute’–by sheer force of his own will and by his own fortitude, relying on his own battery of religious practices. His task is one of almost unbelievable difficulty…

Christian holiness is not a Promethean exploit. We do not have to storm the halls of heaven and bring down the fire of God, we do not have to raid his treasure rooms in order to obtain the good things He has reserved for us… Christ really descended from heaven, taking our flesh, re-uniting the human race in Himself, giving all men light in His light, sending us His Spirit to unite us to the Father.

Seeing that we would never come to Him, He came to us. Seeing that we could never attain Him, He surrendered Himself to us… He has shown us how to comprehend Him not by knowing, but by loving.

So let’s say to the Lord Jesus:

Don’t leave our district, Lord–no matter what! Stay with us, O incarnate Mercy of God! We prefer having Your company to anything else, especially our own pretenses of spiritual expertise. Our pretenses only reveal the extent to which we have failed to believe in You.

We know that You love us not because we have attained great things, but precisely because we stumble along like little toddlers, relying totally on You to guide and support us.

Please, Lord, banish forever from our minds any temptation to think that we could ever offer the Father anything worthy–except You!

We will read about the Gadarenes at Holy Mass tomorrow. In the meantime, a couple notes…

1. El Pais published an editorial about the president of the United States, every word of which bears reading. One word in particular appears to be an ingenious neologism. Tuitorreada for “tower of tweets” or “twitter-geyser.”

2. Speaking of tuitorreadas… That part of the world not currently busy making hamburgers and hot dogs finds itself concerned about young Charlie Gard, an infant in Great Britain suffering from an apparently fatal genetic disease.

If you have followed the case, you know that Charlie’s parents and the doctors treating him could not agree on the answer to this question: Could Charlie benefit from any further therapies?

A court convened and followed an established procedure for adjudicating such disputes. An American doctor had proposed a possible therapy. But the doctor admitted to the court that the proposed therapy had never before been tried on a human being. The judge concluded that Charlie should not be taken to the U.S. solely to serve as an experiment.

Charlie’s parents have appealed this decision. They have exhausted all legal options, apparently. But now the case has become a subject of papal and presidential tweets.

I just want to make this point:

When doctors and a patient (or the patient’s next of kin) cannot agree, the regrettable need for an impartial judge can arise. Advocates for “parents’ rights” in this case have tried to portray the judicial process here as an act of immoral euthanasia, which the parents now valiantly resist.

But: No one has an absolute right, in such a situation, to make the decisions. Because prudence must bow, ultimately, to the medical facts. We believe in God, and in His omnipotent power to work miracles, to be sure. But never has He shown greater, more miraculous health-giving power than when He endowed us with the skills that have led to modern medicine, practiced in a scientific manner.

I certainly don’t hold myself out as an expert in the medical questions involved in this heartbreaking case, which has now become an international sensation. Much less do I call myself an expert bioethicist.

But I think we all know that sometimes even babies get sick and die. Acknowledging that fact does not, in and of itself, mean that you favor euthanasia.

Of course we Catholics stand for the right to life, from conception to natural death. We also stand for everyone’s right to die in a holy and dignified way, when the hour of death arrives–as it will arrive for us all.

Facts can come at you cold and hard. The subtleties of genetic therapy involve facts that neither twitter nor facebook will ever be able to convey. I think we fail in charity if we conclude, without good reason, that this whole situation has obvious good guys and bad guys.

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

Voting in a Pool of Nonsense

clinton-trump

That we have the right to kill babies in the womb.  That two people of the same sex can marry.  That the Pill or implant or I.U.D.’s count as “health care.” That the rules apply to everyone except us enlightened crusaders for the pet causes of the Hollywood gentry.  That I obviously have the feminist prowess that it takes, because of my long record of faking it till I made it (all of which began by being married to a former president):  Hillary Clinton’s endless nonsense.

That we should break up Mexican-American families and turn our backs on desperate refugees.  That we should burn more greenhouse gases.  That we have the international clout to benefit from imposing trade barriers.  That the world will just roll over whenever I bark.  That I have any idea whatsoever, really, about how to lead the executive branch of the federal government.  That I have any idea what I’m talking about pretty much ever:  Donald Trump’s endless nonsense.

niagara_fallsThe nonsense cascades over us like Niagara Falls.  But that does not give us an excuse to bathe in nonsense ourselves.

We must watch carefully tonight; we must listen carefully.  Thinking of the poor and defenseless as we listen. Thinking of facts, as many facts as we know–rather than wallowing in our own sometimes-vituperative prejudices.

Thinking: fraternal charity will oblige me to vote for one of these candidates. Thinking:  I must stand as a bulwark against the tidal-wave-size tendency in this country to see this as a sideshow that we can play for cheap laughs.

Charity towards my neighbor and my fellowman will oblige me to vote for one of these candidates.  Which ought it to be?  This choice, and no other, will face me.  The Lord will not hold me responsible for everything that could have been, but wasn’t.

What He will hold me responsible for, once everything is said and done:  When I voted in the fall of 2016, did I make a serious, thoughtful choice, based on facts?

And did I pray, pray, pray that His will be done, that the innocent and defenseless be protected, and that we would live together in peace and fraternity as a nation?

Evangelical Trump Letter + Herod or Pilate?

Trump-Taco-BowlI won’t have any grandchildren of my own, of course.

But when your grandchildren ask, “What did Father White say when they nominated Trump for president?” I want there to be an answer…

Pro-life, pro-immigrant, not Trump, August 19, 2015

Dark-skinned babies north of the Rio Grande, September 5, 2016

E-mails, September 10, 2015

Church first, America second, February 23, 2016

Voters’ Guide, February 27, 2016

Pro-life? March 30,2016

Some of our brother and sister Christians, from both sides of the political aisle, have published a letter. I would have signed it, if anyone had asked me–though I can’t call it the most well-written document I have read this morning. The letter concludes with a helpful, concise resume of Mr. Trump’s “offenses.”

Some passages of the letter:

The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion. This is no longer politics as usual, but rather a moral and theological crisis, and thus we are compelled to speak out as faith leaders….

This is not merely an electoral debate in which Christians hold legitimately differing policy views from one another. Rather, it is a public test of Christian truth and discipleship. History records other moments that beckoned churches to publicly confess the truths of faith in order to confront political movements that represented a deceitful and dangerous attack on the gospel—-to try to clarify faithful Christian witness in a time of crisis.

Crisis, indeed. Like I said, I would have signed the letter. Tell your grandchildren.

But I am hardly endorsing the other candidate. Washington Post quoted one pro-life evangelical lady: “Who would Jesus have voted for, Herod or Pilate?” Such a situation confronts the pro-life voter.

Washington Times Jan 17 1991Now, while we find ourselves on the subject of humble boasts I could make to your grandchildren:

On January 14, 1991, I participated–with at least one of the signatories of the above letter–in a march protesting the war in Iraq.

Yes, I protested not only the second Iraq war, but the first one, too (known as the Gulf War). I can remember the welcome taste of the hot black coffee some left-wing organization offered us marchers at the corner of 22nd St. and Massachusetts Ave. on that damp, chilly night.

Anyway, I bring this up because, if you ask me, the real problem we have is: “the cult of the presidency.” Mr. Gene Healy wrote a book with that title, and a sequel.

Here’s a concatenation of quotes:

Americans have looked to the presidency for far too much. The hopes and dreams we’ve invested in the office have transformed it into a constitutional monstrosity, too powerful to be trusted and too weak to deliver the miracles we crave…

Most of the complaints dominating the airwaves and the op-ed pages [insisting that the federal government stop the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak in spring 2010] smacked of a quasi-religious conception of the presidency…[emphasis added]

Our government has become a runaway train–and presidential elections increasingly look like a struggle to determine who gets to sit in the front cab and pretend he’s driving.

Some Pro-Life Clarity?

Chris Matthews Donald Trump

A confusing afternoon for pro-life news junkies. If I might point out a few things…

A “ban” on abortion?

Everyone finds him- or herself bound by the fundamental moral law, “do good; avoid evil.”

Doctors and other healthcare workers can and do get confused about how this law applies sometimes. Like when a pregnant woman asks for an abortion. But honest moral reflection leads you to recognize that abortion is certainly an evil prohibited by the fundamental moral law, since it involves killing an innocent person.

The first punishment for breaking the moral law is the pangs of conscience. No punishment devised by man could ever really be worse. We can only escape the punishment of a troubled conscience by 1. repenting and seeking truth and reconciliation, or 2. engaging in acts of self-destruction which serve to deaden conscience.

Civil law cannot really “permit” killing an innocent person, since man does not have the power to render the light of conscience null and void.  So, even now, abortion is only “legal” in a limited sense–just like slavery was once “legal,” but never truly so, because no one’s conscience could fully make peace with it.

Criminal punishment for abortion?

Every pregnant woman, just like every human soul, must grapple with her conscience. Some pregnant woman have, by act or omission, precipitated a miscarriage. Conscience will punish such an act or omission, according to the truth of the situation. But of course no civil law could ever touch this realm, since it is altogether private.

“Abortion,” meaning a surgical procedure, however, involves a third party–someone with some kind of technique and expertise.

Again, because it involves killing an innocent person, there actually isn’t any way to make performing an abortion altogether ‘legal.’ It is prohibited by the inner law that governs the conscience of anyone who possesses the technique and expertise to do it.

That performing abortions is ‘legal’ in the Roe v. Wade regime means:  the law of the land contributes to the confusion and distortion of many consciences, especially the consciences of healthcare workers who perform or participate in abortions.

I think it’s fair to say that any true pro-lifer would advocate something like this:

1. A period of five or ten years of some kind of public penance, where government officials help to purify the nation of the lies about abortion by regular ceremonies acknowledging how the Roe v. Wade regime has been a horrible mistake.  We as a nation have the blood of many innocents on our hands.  (May the Lord have mercy on us!)

2. Simultaneously, we work to re-organize the healthcare system, to remove abortion and artificial contraception.

3. Then, after this five or ten year period, once the air has been cleared about what abortion is, allowing everyone to reach a state of tranquil conscience on this matter, then we could re-open the political debate about appropriate criminal penalties for abortionists.  (Which would not involve re-inventing the wheel, since these debates occurred all over the country prior to Roe v. Wade.)

An Exchange of E-mails

Dear Fr. White – Last Saturday evening I was a visitor at your 5:30 PM Mass. I was appalled and disappointed on several levels at your remarks regarding Margaret Sanger and Donald Trump.

I feel that bringing a current candidate for public office into your homily to illustrate a point was unnecessary and did nothing to add to your lesson.

Furthermore, your inference that Mr. Trump is against the birth of babies with colored skin was patently untrue. Although I’m not necessarily a follower of Mr. Trump I understand that his objection is to giving U. S. citizenship to any child born of aliens who are in the country illegally. Your equation of Sanger and Trump was, in my opinion, both offensive and untrue.

I am a lifelong practicing Catholic and will probably attend Mass from time to time at St. Andrew’s. I’m certain that I will hear uplifting and wonderful homilies during my future visits!

[name withheld]

**********

Dear —,

I appreciate your writing. I apologize for offending you.

As far as analyzing whether or not what I had to say at Mass is untrue, I would ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a teenage or young-adult child of undocumented parents, hearing Mr. Trump’s proposals. As the shepherd of many such individuals, I feel an obligation to reassure them that their church family stands with them, not against them. Also, as I suggested in my homily, I ask everyone to imagine what would actually happen if Mr. Trump’s entire immigration “plan” were put into effect. The amount of human suffering would be of catastrophic proportions.

Our first obligation as Christians is to love our neighbors as our own brothers and sisters. Whether our neighbor has immigration documents is a secondary matter. I stand by my conclusion that it is impossible for a Christian to endorse Mr. Trump’s immigration proposals. If I am wrong about his being a racist of the same stamp as Margaret Sanger, I will do penance in this life, or in purgatory, for my error, once it is demonstrated. At this point in time, the evidence I see supports my conclusion.

I agree with you that generally speaking it is unwise for a preacher to refer by name to any current candidate for office. Given the immense inhumanity of what Mr. Trump has proposed, however, I do not hesitate, as a shepherd of the flock, to warn you or anyone else that supporting Mr. Trump is spiritually dangerous, just as supporting any candidate who agrees with Margaret Sanger’s doctrines is spiritually dangerous.

Love, Fr. Mark

Christ’s Groan

Christ looked up to heaven. And groaned. Then He commanded the ears and lips of the man to open.

Usually, when we hear the word ‘groan,’ we think of an expression of exasperated displeasure. “Accident on 81. Traffic backed-up twelve miles.” Groan. “Robert Griffin III injured again.” Groan. “Honey, Junior has a soccer tournament in the morning. In western Pennsylvania. The bus leaves the school parking lot at 5:15. Can you drop him?” Groan.

RGIII sign of the crossBut the groan of our Lord’s, during His intimate moment with the deaf-mute, and with the Father above—Christ’s groan indicated no exasperation. I think we can safely say that Christ never groaned over spilt milk in His life. Christ’s groan communicated something much more profound.

We read in the book of the prophet Ezekiel how the Lord commanded that the prophet groan. Groan, in order to teach the people that the day of the Lord is coming. Justice will be done.

Also, St. Paul says that we Christians groan within. We groan in this earthly tent of ours, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling. We groan, along with all creation itself groaning under the burden of sin, as we await our full adoption as God’s children.

And how about other times when Christ Himself groaned? He groaned when He found the people weeping over his friend Lazarus’ corpse. Then Christ groaned a second time, shortly after—right before He ordered Lazarus to get up and walk out of his tomb.

The groan of Christ does not express peevish displeasure with any trifling matter. It is a groan of longing. It is a groan, instead of a canticle, because God has united Himself in Christ with all of humanity’s suffering, all of the agony we bear. But Christ’s is not a groan of despair. Because, by groaning, Jesus, the new Adam, calls out with sovereign confidence for aid from above. Christ knows both our suffering and the Father’s kind will to comfort us. The Father does will to comfort us. Christ, and His own triumph over suffering and death, teaches us this fundamental truth: We were not made to suffer, we human beings. Not forever, anyway. We were made to exult.

Now, I have blithely skipped over perhaps the pre-eminent use of the word ‘groan’—pre-eminent both in Scripture and in general.

Of all those who groan, who groans with the most wrenching depth? Who groans with the most convincing eagerness? Gasping and panting…. Who is the champion of all who groan? Of course, the woman in labor. No one groans like her. We’re going to focus on mothers birthing babies for our ‘Labor’-Day-weekend sermon this year.

babyI don’t think it is an accident that the mother in labor shares with Christ in His great groan of longing, the groan He groans to the Father on behalf of our whole race. The groan that opened the ears of the deaf, that loosened the tongue of the mute, the groan that brought Lazarus back from the dead.

Some of us will never have children of our own. But that’s not the point exactly. We heard St. James exhort us, “Do not show partiality to those with rings and fine clothes. Do not despise the shabby ones, the poor child and the dark-skinned immigrant. God has promised the Kingdom to the ones with no extra cash.”

Forgive me, but I have to say this. Everyone know who Margaret Sanger is? Founded Planned Parenthood. And Donald Trump? I think everyone knows who he is. Anyway, what do they have in common? Rings and fine clothes? Maybe. But what they definitely have in common is: don’t like dark-skinned babies being born north of the Rio Grande.

My point is: Union with God in Christ means rejoicing at the birth of the poorest child. It means seeing with clear eyes that any newborn baby is worth a thousand Lexuses and a million rings. Because, through all the strife of mothers giving birth, through all the groaning, the Lord is giving us the future He wills for us. Through all this groaning, the Lord is opening up the only real door to the Kingdom of heaven. In the eyes of a poor child, the smile of a little child—a child who has nothing to his or her name, except his admiration for the shininess of the world.

We Christians cannot help but groan when we encounter the un-kept promises of Eden. The human race turned away from the Garden of God, just to build our own dingy castles the way we want them to be, according to all our supposed brilliance and awesomeness, on our own masterful terms. Why bother me to gaze at the dappled light on the mountainside? Can’t you see I’m checking my facebook! Pray? Who has time for such nonsense these days?

GROAN.

Christ’s groan says these two things at the same time: To the Father He cries, “See how my brethren suffer under the burden of having themselves shattered the paradise You made for them?” To us, Christ’s groan declares, “Groan with Me, my chosen ones, full-throated and unsparingly! Do not fall silent in despair. No. Groan and groan with me to the Father. Because He has plans for welfare, not for woe. This moment of trial and strife will pass. A beautiful future will soon be born.”