Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You Like Me, You Really Like Me!...or maybe not

It has not always been easy being Catholic in this country.  From the early settlements of the colonies, English settlers took a very hostile view of those papists joining them in the new world.  It would take over 170 years before a Catholic would be elected to the presidency.  Otherwise, Catholics were to keep to themselves, shoulder outright hate, bigotry, and intolerance.  Then with the age of media, we were treated to some positive images of priests and sisters...singing and kindly.  We saw a Catholic Bishop, Fulton Sheen, have a hit TV show.  Then we elected Kennedy and something changed.  In a speech before Evangelicals in Texas, Kennedy basically promised that would not use his faith in the way he led, he would be a good little protestant dhimmi and be just like them.  No wonder the speech made Sen. Santorum want to puke.  He got elected and Catholics had an epiphany...all we have to do is chuck our faith if we want to be popular.  We could still retain the cultural identification as Catholic, we just didn't have to live any of it or publicly profess any of it.

Then, just off the heels of this epiphany came the sexual revolution.  We might have had problems with this or that teaching of the Church, but now we were free to just let loose.  What better way than to fornicate like bunnies and feel no tinge to that nasty old conscience! We could contracept our way into a new and freeing existence of  all the benefits of marriage without having to marry.  Women were told that marriage and family life weighed them down anyway, but why chuck that ball and chain and have to miss sex?!  When that stodgy old Pope Paul VI put out Humanae Vitae..well we just had in black and white just how out of it the Church was.  It wasn't just lay people either.  Many of those priests and sisters who stayed, after so many left, adopted this new 'freeing' mentality and , well, woo-hoo,  just went to town.  In fact the less that you could act or even look like one of those nasty old relics, the better.  Sure, some people got bent out of shape, but they were humorless puritans.

So we bolted from our faith, dumbed down...I'm sorry...breathed new life into the practices, and acculturated so much worldly wisdom,  that assuredly now they would like us!  65% quit going to Church much at all or completely.  It became fashionable to be a cafeteria Catholic, picking and choosing what teachings we liked or didn't challenge our favored sins.  Surely, the world would love us now!  Of course, the clergy decided that this would be a wonderful time to hand our detractors boatloads of ammunition (not to mention boatloads of money as well) and break their vows of celibacy with children, women, and men.  Okay, it was a small percentage of the clergy...a really small percent...but we bought the narrative that most priests had all the sexual restraint of a teenage boy in a brothel with his dad's credit card.  We bought the premise that most priests were gay or just really weird.  Surely, the world will like us now!  Our convents emptied out!  Our seminaries emptied out!  Surely the world would like as now! Yeah, not so much.

 Catholics are learning that you never negotiate with someone who wants you dead.  While those who abandoned their faith were lauded and gave themselves such non-offensive names like 'recovering Catholic" (get it?  Like a recovering alcoholic? because Catholicism is a disease?  Funny !  Oh never mind) and some became official spokesmen for the Church in the mainstream media and were trotted out like prize turkeys whenever a pope dared cross the pond and drop in.  All the better if a former priest of sister..better yet if a current one who just show how worldly they were in trashing the pope.   But for those who decided to stick it out, the attacks have been relentless.  The more faithful we are, the more they hate us, and we  have to happy with this. Really...happy?! The entertainment industry will continue to portray all clergy and religious as either dolts, Huns, gay, or criminals.   The media will continue to portray faithful Catholics as insipid, ignorant, intolerant, hate filled, half breeds, hypocrites, and nitwits.  The oh-so-smart academic types will continue to doubt our intelligence, our teachings, our rituals, and our faithful with little more than derision and scorn.  Maybe even the government will continue to try to strip away our rights.  SO WHAT!?  My attitude is : BRING IT!

History shows that whenever we are persecuted is when we grow.  When we take the moral high ground and stand our ground without returning their attacks with equal aggression, we prevail.  When we are forced to defend our ground, we have risen time and again to the occasion.  If this sounds defiant..well, that is the point! Truth be told, I don't want the world to like me and approve of me.  I don't need their stamp of approval.  I don't want to be the shape-shifting insecure about who I am person that allows the cool kids to dictate their likes and actions.  In Luke, the Beatitudes bless those who are persecuted and curses those who are liked and approved of by the world.  The Catholic who doesn't see their faith as something worth dying for is the Catholic who doesn't see their faith worth living for.  So to Hollywood...bring it on!  Music industry...bring it!  Government officials...hit us with your best shot!  Media...we're not scared of you!  We came before you, we'll be here long after you.  We have outlasted every kingdom, empire, and trend that has tried to destroy us.  We have survived every foolish self-inflicted wound with which we have struck ourselves.  That is because we have Christ promise that you would never prevail and crush us. We have the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know already who wins the war...and it isn't you!  So bring the grace of God, we're ready! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Danger of Free

Perhaps the title is a little off...a better title might be the danger of expecting things for free.  The debacle over whether the Church should pay for the contraception and sterilization of her employees has once again brought this discussion to a head. Even after the 'accommodation' which was nothing of the such, the administration decided that the insurance companies should give out free contraception and sterilization for employees of Catholic institutions.  At least the administration is being consistent.  They are also purporting free education, free college, free food (food stamps), free medical care, and the list goes on and on.  On the surface this seems compassionate, that we provide for those who cannot for themselves.  Seems to be consistent with Church and biblical teaching one could say.  However, it is not nor it is good for the recipient if this deluge of free stuff creates a permanent bond of neediness and helplessness.  Ideally, assistance should lead the receiver to an ability to stand on their own and not to a state of perpetual neediness.  I will say here, that there are some exceptions to this rule; those with severe handicaps for example.

So why is it dangerous?  The answer is on several levels.  First, when a country is divided into a country of providers and a country of takers, it will foment division.  When free things are given to the able bodied without expectation of it being temporary, it robs the person of the reason to get back on one's feet.  Why work when I can receive the necessities of life for free?    However, the help slowly becomes not enough.  The person will inevitably want more and more.  Why?  Because there is something within most people that wants to be in a better position tomorrow than they were today.  If I can get this sum through no effort now, why should I not receive more through no effort tomorrow?  One will look at how those who have worked hard receive and become envious than they can move ahead and thus provide for a better tomorrow.  This provokes envy on the part of the person who receives for free.  Instead of seeing how this happens, the entitlement mentality takes over and the demands increase.  This entitlement mentality will spread like a cancer to all parts of the human person, producing a like effect on on all parts.  The entitlement mentality spawns a learned helplessness and a voracious neediness that cannot be satiated.  No amount of other people's wealth will satisfy the bottomless pit of is no longer a is an expectation.

Along with this expectation and its attendant helplessness comes an absconding of responsibility and accountability for one's life and one's actions.  The favorite question of the entitled is "who are you to judge me?"  This only flows from a person who is first unwilling, then dives into unable, to accept responsibility for the results their lifestyle engendered.  It's not my fault I am poor...the rich man stole it from me.  It's not my fault I don't have a good education, the government didn't spend enough money on me.  It's not my fault I have a child out of wedlock, I didn't get free contraception and personal servant to make sure I used it.  It's not my fault.  Nothing is my fault.  Everything is someone else's fault.  The lasting damage of everything being free is the damage it does to human integrity and dignity.

This goes into the spiritual as well.  As nothing is my fault, I am owed even heaven.  The practice of faith, since it requires effort, is laid aside.  Here is where the phrases that start with "My God... doesn't judge, doesn't make demands, doesn't require, loves me no matter what and will allow me into heaven no matter what and if he doesn't...well then HE is unfair and lacks mercy."  The role of faith, if one is to engage in it is to coddle, stroke the ego, entertain, and make me feel special.  The role of God is much like the role of everyone give me stuff without question, condition, or expectation of results.  Is it any wonder as entitlement has grown in this country, church attendance has plummeted?  There is a direct and logical correlation!

The reception of free stuff, though, is built upon a total deception.  Nothing is free.  All the benefits received, someone else pays for.  In this country, for example, the loads of free things comes out of the pockets of the producers...those who work hard and pay taxes.  The 'free' contraception and sterilization insurers of Catholic institutions comes from the premiums collected from those institutions and their employees.  Even our faith, a free gift from God, came at the cost of the Cross.  Someone pays.  That is life.  Because someone pays means there are people who do accept responsibility and accountability for their actions.  Those are the people who make things work.  When they give, it is not so as to fulfill some mandate or law, it is to give freely from themselves for the sake of another, which is a positive act of love.  This reality needs to be responded to by the receiver.

When I was a child and would receive gifts from my grandparents for either Christmas or my birthday, my parents had the full expectation that a thank you note would be written to the giver of the gift.  My parents wanted me to understand that what was given to me was not tribute brought by subservient grandparents to their royal grandchild who was owed at least whatever they brought, but a gift from a loving grandparent.  I think about, from time to time, how much smoother things would have gone in my youth had I realized all the free stuff I received (food, clothes, housing, etc) I actually had because my parents worked hard and made sure their children were taken care of.  They taught me to be quick with thanks yous.  Whether that thank you is directed at the servers for serving Mass, the multiple volunteers who make this parish work, the friends whose support and friendship I know I have...that thank you helps me to focus on my blessings and not on my lack of luxuries.  Finally my thank yous to God remind me that all I have is pure gift from God, not tribute God gives me because I am such a wonderful person.  In short, thankfulness is the antidote to entitlement.  If you don't think so, watch what happens when an entitled person is told how thankful they should be for what they have.

Entitlement, by its nature, breeds division born from greed , sloth , and envy.  It pits people against people in a bull rush for their piece of the pie.  It breeds class warfare and assuredly crushes any nation that embraces it as a way of life.  It destroys the bond between man and God.  Thankfulness has the opposite effect.  It binds into an intertwined union specifically because it causes the person to move beyond the self.  Finally thankfulness draws us ever closer to God because it opens our eyes not to just what God can do but what God has done.  As God gives all things for free, our hearts should be overwhelmed with thanks and drawn ever closer to God.  If we can start there, then perhaps we could be thankful in the public realm as well. 

This country is a mess.  Our politicians, for years, have garnered votes by promising this or that to voters, making what they promise sound like it is for free.  It isn't.  The government has no monies of its own without the taxes and fees they gather.  Every food stamp, every subsidy, every free to you item was paid for by the taxpayer and the consumer.  I would hope those who are on the take would understand this and quit demanding more free stuff on someone else's dime.  If they want more, then perhaps ( and I know this is a novel idea) get off your butt and person should revel in a parasitical relationship with the world around them.  Nothing is free on this planet,  So buck up and get moving and quit demanding everyone else bring you tribute because you simply are owed it because you happen to breathe in and breathe out.  Now, I will step off my soapbox!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why is the Church sticking to her guns? Behind the reason to fight the HHS mandate.

editor's note: This fight with HHS and the Administration is beyond mere politics or even mere religious strikes at the heart of our beliefs.  Hence, the beliefs themselves must be addressed.

    Over the past year or so, I have studied more and more the teachings of Blessed John Paul II concerning love, marriage, and human sexuality.  They flow from the book “Love and Responsibility’ he wrote long before becoming the pope.  The teachings that flowed from this revolutionary book designed to explain Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and marriage, was an answer to the common acceptance of most Catholics to artificial contraception, and the lesser acceptance of abortion, divorce, and such.  These teachings are the basis of a program called Theology of the Body.  Whereas most Catholics and non-Catholics would characterize incorrectly Catholic sexual moral teachings as a litany of ‘that shall nots’ and a belief that women should be baby factories, Blessed John Paul II comes from a different angle; an angle that wants to see the creative and inherent beauty of human sexuality as something to be treasured and respected as a part of the respect owed to the individual as whole.  For Blessed John Paul II, the mystery of God is written into our very bodies and into the totality of our entire being.  He points out how all Church teaching on sexuality flows from this positive vision of the inherent dignity and integrity of the human person.    Hence, the Church’s teaching on sexuality, now under incredibly heavy fire, flow entirely from the complete respect for the integrity and dignity of each human person; a person to be respected on all levels of their beings, including their sexuality.
    When God commands humanity upon its creation to ‘be fruitful and  multiply’, it is a command flowing from the fact that God wants us to participate in His power to create new life born from love.  The tools of that power are holy and special and to be treated as such.  However, over time two camps developed that got this wrong.  One was a type of puritanical misunderstanding which saw the human body and sexuality as evil, lesser, and ugly…something to be ashamed of and avoided.  The other was one that saw human body and sexuality as a mere means to an end where the individual was served to self-seeking ends.  Both reduced this great and wonderful gift of God to something tawdry and shameful, as if the divine gift to create new life born from mutual self-giving love was a divine mistake.  It is about the nature of love, particularly marital love, that the Bl. John Paul II wanted to recapture.  For him, the body was not an ugly and shameful thing, nor was human sexuality.  Both are gifts from God to be respected and loved.
    Catholic teachings on human sexuality flow from the use of that sexuality in the manner for which it was given; to be an act that is mutually self-giving (not self-taking) love and from which will naturally flow a stronger union and the possibility of new life.  The Church does not believe that sex is solely for ‘baby-making’ but neither is it only for pleasure.  The church sees the human person as an integrated whole: mind, soul, and body.  Anything that takes away from the dignity of that integrated whole is seen as problematic if not outright dangerous.  From this understanding flows our teachings on artificial birth control (which does not respect the integrity of the body, mind, or soul), pre-marital sexuality (which simulates an act for a reason for which it wasn’t given),  pornography ( a complete breakdown of any respect for any part of the human person)and the other teachings about the correct use of human sexuality.  These flow from high ideals to be sure, but does not all of our teachings?  Self-giving love is the very foundation of all actions, words, motivations, teachings, and actions found in our Scriptural teachings and in the teachings that flow with and from them.  The same foundation must be present for all.  This is why the Church cannot back away from her teachings on birth control and other sexual teachings; to do so is to strike at the very foundation of that self-giving love of God from which our common lives flow!  Self- giving love (aka agape) is the rock upon which our faith is built, it is the very nature of God, and hence to be the very foundation of our own human lives.
    This stands in stark contrast to how the world views the human person.  History over the millennia shows that humanity has viewed itself more as a herd animal (albeit a highly developed one) that operates on little more than instinct.  Our culture, especially from the 1960’s and on, has seen sexual expression as a basic right to be followed without any real sense of respect for others and as a function of animal instinct.  This was an over reaction to the equally wrong ‘shame and angst’ version of human sexuality.  We went from ‘if it feels good it must be bad’ to ‘if it feels good, do it’ without stopping anywhere in the sane middle to ask what are the deeper issues.  When the sexual revolution of the 1960’s broke wide open, it brought startling repercussions:  an increase in unwed pregnancies (in some communities the norm), abortion, abortafacients  (the pill, the morning after pill, RU-486,  IUD),  a myriad on new and fatal STD’s (HIV-AIDS being the scariest of these), and helped to contribute to the assault and destruction of the family unit in this country.  This was as Pope Paul VI wrote in his letter on human sexuality, “Humanae Vitae” which was widely panned by secular leaders and even some religious leaders but was all too correct on what would happen if the contraceptive mentality were to take hold.  Both Paul VI and Bl. John Paul II knew that God wanted so much more for His people.  The Church, in her teachings, knows that God does want what is the absolute best for us because of His self-giving love for us!  That does not mean it will be easy. 
    Catholic teaching always wants to flow from the self-giving love of God and challenge us to make that love our own way of doing things.  This is why the Church will not back down from this fight with the administration even if 100% of Catholics disregard the teachings on contraception.  We hold to those high ideals and challenge ourselves to reach them through God’s grace.  I know not all that have used contraception did so with expressed evil in mind, but as a practical solution to a problem they have.  Most people think the church teaches what she does about sexuality because it views sexuality as shameful.  Quite the opposite is true.  Because we view human sexuality as so precious and special, we want to protect its integrity as we would any other part of the human person.  When we fail to treat that sexuality with respect, as happened in the clerical sexual scandals of the last 50 years or so, it brings confusion and pain.  We are capable of better all around!
    For this reason, we have been using the Theology of the Body series in our Middle School, Confirmation Class, and marriage preparation classes.  Because this teaching wants to appeal to our higher, stronger, and better selves, we are using it extensively.  Items on this are also available in our parish library.  Remember, as Catholics we always strive through the grace of God to be the best version of ourselves.  That includes the use of our sexuality as well.