Loving Prudently

alanis-morissette-27121Back in the 90’s, when I was young, I liked a particular female rock singer. She of course had a song bitterly excoriating her boyfriend who had left her for another woman. She sang, “And does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died? But you’re still alive.”

The father in the parable we read at Sunday Mass might have his own version of this song, in which he would sing to his second son, “Son, don’t you know that you told me you’d work in my vineyard today? But you’re still in your room.”

Let your Yes mean yes—anything else is from the evil one, saith the Lord. Eager and well-meaning people can get themselves into a lot of trouble by making beautiful promises, and then not keeping them.

Next month our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will meet in Synod with bishops, theologians, and married people from all over the world. At this Sunday’s Mass we pray especially for the success of the Synod. The Synod will discuss marriage and family life in our times, the age of the New Evangelization.

Continue reading “Loving Prudently”

Friend, Faith, Facts

[PREVIEW PREVIEW: Your unworthy servant gives his final apologia for not being on the Religious-Freedom bandwagon.]

Like any God-fearing person, I consider the red solo cup a friend. But: Can we really count on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

In my book, an idea is reliable as a friend precisely to the degree that the idea is clear. The clearer the idea, the better a friend.

“Stay out of trouble” makes for a good friend. But “keep the needle on the speedometer within 10 mph of the posted speed limit” makes for a better friend, owing to its greater clarity.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that

Congrefs shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

does not make for a respectable friend, as ideas go.

This sentence makes nicer with the Church than a sentence like “La ley, en consecuencia, no permite el establecimiento de ordenes monasticas”—by which the original Mexican Constitution of 1917 forbad religious orders.

But, as a friend, the First Amendment of our Constitution can get prickly. Quickly. Because what it actually means is, well, not clear.

Does the state have the right to bind believers with laws that impede the exercise of religion? Well, yes—when the protection of the common good is at stake. The Supreme Court has so ruled, I believe–as well it should.

But, of course, there is no telling how a court will rule in any given “separation of church and state” case. Because the idea itself is really quite opaque.

Does it mean that the President can’t appoint bishops? Or does it mean that he can’t appropriate money to support the work of Catholic social workers? Does it mean that the government can’t prevent me from praying in public? Or does it mean that no law can prohibit the ritual use of narcotic mushrooms? Or polygamy?

Having read somewhat widely on the subject, I am left with the following impression: The First Amendment is much more an object of faith than Pope Paul VI’s encyclical about artificial contraception is.

I applaud any couple who refrain from using artificial contraception simply because “the Church teaches it’s wrong, and I believe in the Church.” Beautiful exercise of faith.

But I would venture to claim that, for the most part, the great army of people who eschew artificial means of contraception do so because the practice is evidently unnatural, unwholesome, and unbecoming a mature person.

As I have tried to point out before, Pope Paul VI himself never proposed his doctrine on artificial contraception as an object of faith. Spilling semen intentionally is a bad business. We can read about this in Genesis 38. But we do not need to read the Bible to get the drift.

And killing an unborn child? Better to consult a sonogram than Scripture, if you want to know why no one should ever do it.

If it gets boring, please forgive me. But I cannot help but return to one of the great themes of my silly little life:

When it comes to sexual morality, what the Church teaches is a matter of sound science. It is based on a combination of the following: cold, hard biological facts and one simple proposition, “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” (This proposition has been demonstrated repeatedly by psychological and sociological studies.)

The Church teaches many things about supernatural truths that must be accepted on faith—e.g., Christ in heaven, the sacraments, etc. But Her sexual morality is not one of these things.

On the other hand, it seems to me that “the separation of church and state” has become more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously, than a clear idea.

So, here is my little apologia: Continue reading “Friend, Faith, Facts”