Monday, July 21, 2014

Same as it ever was (An excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life)

In addition to my duties as lecturer for the Knights of Columbus council at my church, I am also the faithful pilot for the Knights' fourth degree assembly. As lecturer, I write an original talk each month which I subsequently publish on this blog. As the faithful pilot, I am charged with choosing a reading to share with my fellow Sir Knights. While I don't normally reproduce those here, I think this one is worth sharing under the theme of "the more things change, the more the stay the same." And, it will give you something worthwhile to read as I finish up a short story I plan to publish here in the next few days.

This is from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in the early 17th Century. I have made modern some of the language and divided it into shorter paragraphs to make it easier to read.

We must Disregard the Criticisms of the Children of this World (Part 4, Ch. 1).
As soon as your worldly people perceive that you aim at leading a devout life, they will let loose endless shafts of mockery and misrepresentation upon you.The most malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, trickery, or bigotry. They will say that the world you have turned to God only because you have failed in the world. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you are growing depressed; that you will lose your worldly reputation, make yourself unacceptable to the world, grow old before your time, ruin your material prosperity. They will tell you that in the world you must live as the world does; that you can be saved without all this fuss; and much more of the like nature.

My daughter, all this is babbling and foolish talk. These people have no real regard either for your bodily health or your material prosperity. The Savior has said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” 

We have all seen men, and women too, pass the whole night, even several in succession, playing at chess or cards. Is there any more dismal, unwholesome thing than that? But the world has not a word to say against it, and their friends are nowise troubled. But give up an hour to meditation, or get up rather earlier than usual to prepare for Holy Communion, and they will send for the doctor to cure you of hypochondria or jaundice! 

People spend every night for a month dancing, and no one will complain of being the worse; but if they keep the one watch of Christmas Eve, we shall hear of endless colds and maladies the next day! Is it not as plain as possible that the world is an unjust judge; indulgent and kindly to its own children, harsh and uncharitable to the children of God?  We cannot stand well with the world save by renouncing God's approval. It is not possible to satisfy the world’s unreasonable demands: 

“John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say he has a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a drunk, the friend of publicans and sinners.” Even so, my child, if we give in to the world, and laugh, dance, and play as it does, it will act as though it is scandalized at our behavior; if we refuse to do so, it will accuse us of being hypocritical or morbid. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some evil plan that we have; if we go in plain attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. 

Our cheerfulness will be called dissipation and our mortification dullness. Ever casting its evil eye upon us, nothing we can do will please it. It exaggerates our failings and publishes them abroad as sins. It represents our venial sins as mortal, and our sins of weakness int sins of malice. Saint Paul says that charity is kind, but the world is unkind. Charity thinks no evil, but the world thinks evil of every one, and if it cannot find fault with our actions, it is sure at least to impute bad motives to them. Whether the sheep be black or white, horned or not, the wolf will devour them if he can.  

Do what we will, the world must wage war upon us. If we spend any length of time in confession, it will speculate on what we have so much to say about. If we are brief, it will suggest that we are keeping back something. It spies out our every act, and at the most trifling angry word, sets us down as unable to get along with anyone. Attention to business is avarice, meekness mere silliness.  As for the anger of the Children of the World, it is called being blunt, their avarice, economy, their mean deeds, honorable. There are always spiders at hand to spoil the honeybee’s comb.

Let us leave the blind world to make as much noise as it may—like a cat molesting the songbirds of day. Let us be firm in our ways, unchangeable in our resolutions, and perseverance will be the test of our self-surrender to God and deliberate choice of the devout life.

The planets and a wandering comet shine with much the same brightness. But the comet’s is a passing blaze, which does not linger long, while the planets cease not to display their brightness. Even so hypocrisy and real goodness have much outward resemblance. One, though, is easily known from the other, inasmuch as hypocrisy is short-lived, and disperses like a mist, while real goodness is firm and abiding. There is no surer groundwork for the beginnings of a devout life than the endurance of misrepresentation and calumny, since thereby we escape the danger of vainglory and pride, which are like the midwives of Egypt, who were bidden by Pharaoh to kill the male children born to Israel directly after their birth. 

We are crucified to the world, and the world must be as crucified to us. It esteems us as fools, let us esteem it as mad.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Fighting and Building the Temple

On Tuesday, I gave my monthly lecture to the Knights of Columbus at St. Bernard's Church in Tulsa. This post is adapted from that talk.

Brother Knights,
First, tonight, I want to look back in thanksgiving for the Supreme Court decision yesterday that established the right of conscience in the Obamacare health care regime. The victory of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties whose owners are Baptists and Mennonites, respectively, shows the power of God’s people when we put aside our seemingly intractable differences and unite in prayer.

While there remain many flaws in this legislation and its interpretation by President Obama and the federal bureaucrats in charge of implementing it, most egregious to Christians were the efforts of bureaucrats at the direction of the president to entrench both birth control and abortion as not only rights of those who want them but as financial obligations of those who find them, correctly, to be morally repugnant.

Evil, as we have seen over and over again, and very clearly in this episode, will not simply let you acquiesce in its existence, but instead demands that you join it. Thus it was when Jesus refused Satan in the desert and was later crucified by the power of the World. So, also, has it been for every martyr whether in the Roman Empire, the Nazi Reich or Soviet Union. There can never be a truce. Evil wants you to join or be destroyed.

And, so, we must win or lose. If it seems we are in stalemate or have fought the Enemy to a draw, we are, in reality, either about to win the battlefield or be crushed upon it. While we forget this in our day of modern states and constitutions, Peter reminded the early Church, and yet reminds us still to, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour…”

We have not directly felt the persecution that has seen the martyrdom of Christians in our own time in countries around the world. Neither have we, for many decades, felt the persecution that our Catholic forebears in this country did. But, that does not mean we live in a country that is Christian or even hospitable to Christianity. Certainly, parts of our country are more in opposition to open faith and belief than others, and we are fortunate to live in a state and region where open faith is not shunned.

Still, our entire country is reaping the harvest we started sowing long ago but with fervor in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties when we marginalized religion first for free love and later for Wall Street’s version of free enterprise.

We live among pagans. They may call themselves Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or frequently, even Catholics, but they do not share our faith. And, more and more, they don’t call themselves any of these things because they don’t need the cover of a sham social Christianity anymore. They don’t mind calling themselves pagans or wiccans or atheists because these are now marks of honor instead of reasons for disdain in our government, the media, universities and the business world. They also don’t mind being openly vicious or trampling upon those who allow them to or who can’t stop them.

The cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga brought us a momentary victory, a brief respite. But, if like me, you’ve been praying for the enemies of Christ and his Church, now is not the time to stop. Keep praying. Keep fighting. However, also remember, that Christianity is not at its strongest when we pray and fight. It finds its greatest strength instead when we pray and convert those who are enemies into friends and brothers in Christ—when we reach out to them in the love of Christ and draw them into that Great Love which our Savior longs to pour out upon a receptive and responsive humanity.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never fought my way to a friendship nor brought a sister to Our Lord by arguing with her. Quite the contrary, I have probably driven more people from Christ when I crouched as one in a machine gun nest with my books of the decrees of the Church councils or my pre-selected verses from Scripture. In fact, I can only remember one time bringing a man into the Church having engaged in the apologetics popular among Catholics today.

Others I have helped come into the Church did not come because I convinced them I was the bearer of ultimate Truth. They came because they had relationships with Catholics or because they were drawn to the example shown by Catholics both great and ordinary. If I had a part in it, it wasn’t because I gave a speech, it was because I kept quiet and journeyed with them, answering questions for sure, but mostly just giving them someone to go with to the House of the Lord.

A few years ago, I sponsored a man who was coming into the Church because of his wife and kids. He had faith, but he wasn’t steeped in Catholic thought. And, he didn’t get steeped in it coming through our RCIA program either. Although we have a very good RCIA program, he worked long hours to support his family and frequently slept through the classes. When he woke up, I would tell him it was OK, that he hadn’t missed much and that I understood. It was probably my finest moment in Catholic evangelization. I understood him and offered him what he needed to keep going. He was reading the materials and he asked some questions, but mostly he just needed someone to understand the pressure he was under and to be there.

It’s not that we never have to fight or that we should not be fully formed in the truths of our Faith both in apologetics and otherwise. There are times when we need to be able to give an explanation of what we believe to those either friendly or hostile. However, we need to know when to fight and when to be less defensive and let God draw people to the Church through us. I think that is what Pope Francis has been trying to tell us this past year or so. Because, while we can, and sometimes must, fight and hold our ground, only rarely can we, simultaneously, fight and bring people over to our side.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading through the First Book of Kings. I noticed that the daily Mass readings were coming from the Second Book of Kings and thought I’d place the readings in context and do some further reading starting with the first book. First Kings recounts the death of King David and the reign of his son, King Solomon, over Israel nearly ten centuries before Christ. It is Solomon who builds the temple in Jerusalem for the first time. He begins during a time of peace. David, having fought to establish his kingdom, was not allowed, despite his great desire, to build the temple. David had blood on his hands from many wars, the Lord said, and thus would not build God's house. Also, at war, Israel was not in a position to marshal or expend the time and resources needed to build the temple.

Solomon, however, became king during a time of peace and was not guilty of his father’s transgressions. It was given to him to build the temple for the Ark of the Covenant which carried the tablets given to Moses. And, he built a splendid temple. It would not be possible to do justice to this temple in the space of a few sentences, so let it suffice to say that it was large and that no expense was spared. The finest stones were cut and cedars of Lebanon imported to build this temple. Giant olivewood statues of cherubim stood over the altar. Intricate carvings of palm trees and flowers in cypress covered the walls. And, all of it, floors, ceilings, walls and statues were overlaid in gold. From the description in Kings, the first temple would have made St. Peter’s Basilica look poor by comparison.

It was, of course, to give glory to God and it was built as God prescribed. But, it was meant to be a home for God’s people; to attract them to the Lord, for them to dwell with and in his covenant  It was glorious in the way people of the time saw glory—material wealth that reflected the unending bounty and power of God. However, it also went beyond wealth and power to attend to the more mundane needs of the people. When Solomon stood before the altar in the presence of the people to ask the Lord to dwell among them, he asked that when the people turned to Him in His temple that the Lord would hear their prayers; that when they were sick they would be healed; that when there was drought or famine that God would send rain and food; that when defeated because they turned from the Lord, He would bring them back; and that when they sinned and turned to the Lord in repentance that they would find forgiveness.

In a foreshadowing of the New Covenant of Christ, though, the temple was not just for the Jews  In his plea to the Lord, Solomon said “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of thy people Israel, comes from a far country for thy name’s sake (for they shall hear of thy great name, and thy mighty hand, and of thy outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to thee; in order that all the peoples of the earth may know thy name and fear thee, as do thy people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.”

The temple would eventually be destroyed and the Jews led captive into Babylon. It would not be rebuilt until second century before Christ only to be destroyed by the Romans in the year of Our Lord 70. By, then, though, the new temple had been built by Christthe new temple of his body of which we are the building stones. However great and fabulous the first temple or even the second, how much more so the third built with the people of God, with kings and queens, craftsmen and laborers, paupers and slaves, men and women, the young and the old—each more valuable than all of the gold in Solomon’s temple.

Yet, as the temple of God, we still serve the same purpose. In Solomon’s time the people looked to the temple for healing, to be fed, to be brought back from the defeats they suffered in trying to live life without God, for forgiveness and mercy.  Foreign to God because of their sin or foreign because they were not yet of God’s people, they came. No one had come because David conquered. They came because God offered through Solomon the things that every human person and every human heart needs. Healing, feeding, forgiveness, mercy.  They were offered by Solomon and then by his descendant Jesus, the Messiah, in even greater measure.

The history of the Catholic Church is a history of building hospitals, feeding the poor, standing with the marginalized, granting mercy and forgiveness to both friend and foe. But, it has also been a history of military campaigns, political power struggles, and the elevation of appearances over the welfare of the weak and powerless. To those who really pay attention to the story of Israel and Christ’s Church, the New Israel, it really is no surprise that we were stronger and held in higher esteem and drew more converts when Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor in Calcutta than when the pope sat enthroned over the papal states that once stretched across central Italy; that the nuns and priests who served those suffering in the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in the 19th Century at the cost of their own lives gained more converts than the military leaders of the Crusades.

And, for us today, I think you’ll find that while a fight is necessary every now again, we will be much stronger building up the temple through healing, feeding, forgiveness and mercy than we ever will be sitting in a court room with even the best of lawyers. Satan fears us more when we feed the hungry than when we file a legal brief. Let’s savor our victory but get back to building the temple.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Cheers for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga

After what seemed like an epic string of losses for religious freedom, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties pulled out a win at the Supreme Court today. In a split (but good enough) 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that corporations that are closely held by families or small groups have religious freedom and thus cannot be required to provide contraceptives or abortifacients to their employees through company insurance plans mandated under Obamacare.

The constitutional question seemed obvious from the beginning, but obviousness and the plain text of the Constitution or an act of Congress don't necessarily work in your favor when you go to the Supreme Court. Sometimes, they just get it wrong. Sometimes, you get betrayed by craven justices who know better but have given their vote over to political or personal concerns.

So, how refreshing it is when the obvious and just win. Sweeter still, neither Hobby Lobby nor Conestoga are owned by Catholics. The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is Baptist, while the owners of Conestoga are Mennonites. The major media, who are largely the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party, weren't able to pit Christians against each other by claiming this was only a Catholic issue as they did in the early days of the abortion debate. 

Even better, though, American Christians who take the Faith seriously were able to clearly see the consequences of not standing together and united behind the companies and their owners. They couldn't divide us, and we didn't divide ourselves. That, of itself, is reason for optimism for the future of religious liberty.

Beyond religious liberty, however, there is also a secular principle that indirectly won out. And, that is the principle that when you have a business, it is not the government's business. While the government must have a reasonable regulatory regime to prevent businesses from harming their employees or the public, it does not follow that the government should be able to dictate the details of how or why you run your business and what you must use the profits for.

That, for President Obama, was the true fight and the true loss. It is his view and that of the Left that your business is whatever the government leaves to you after it has taken what it wants. With the federal budget beyond carrying another massive social program, the Democrats looked to mandating that private business owners finance health care in the way Democrats wanted it delivered (including pretending that contraception and abortion are actually health care). If it worked, the Democrats would take credit for giving the people something that the Democrats didn't have to pay for even as stewards of the government treasury.

The federal treasury would then have, in effect, been stretched to include the bank accounts of every business in America. And, of course, you couldn't object on religious grounds even if you were an order of nuns or a Christian book publisher, because what you were giving them wasn't really yours to begin with. If the government owns it all or can claim it all as its own at any time, it's not yours to present an objection as to how it is used. You are simply an agent running a government enterprise.

Fortunately, a majority of justices put that strategy in check. It's your business and you can run it according to your moral principles. Cheers for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga!

In the archives:
Hobby Lobby and the Boycott that Isn't
Pray for Hobby Lobby

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Waiting for the Summer Wind

It's been more than a decade and a half since I started teaching. I was late coming to the field after trying my hand at journalism, the seminary, and a few jobs that seemed promising but weren't. Through the years, there are certain things I've come to expect people to say when they find out I teach. Most are well intentioned and complimentary like "God, bless you, that's really difficult work," or "We really don't pay our teachers enough" (true, but just vote that way you don't have to remind me personally).

However, there are times when being a teacher actually evokes envy. For instance, any time there has been a downturn in the economy, but especially during the downturn in 2008 when my job looked a lot better than it had for most of the previous ten years I had been doing it. Even when it got so bad they started laying off teachers, my job was safe because it is funded through a federal grant for special groups. It was really an odd feeling to be envied by former private industry execs and other teachers.

Downturns are infrequent enough, though, and it's easy to get back to the "God bless you" times after everybody has, once again, found a higher-paying job. Still, there is the annual summer break. The June, July and part of August that everyone outside of education thinks is paid nirvana granted only to the privileged few.

First, to clear up misconceptions, I'm paid by the teaching day. I teach 180 days a year, get paid for each day and then have it all divided up into 12 monthly checks. Looking at my monthly checks is reason enough to gladly volunteer to teach your children through the summer if you really want to pay the taxes for it. Most people don't. I would say especially in Oklahoma, but it's everywhere. The only person who isn't an administrator that most states think important enough to keep on payroll year-round is the football coach. I made a mistake in not playing that game in high school.

But, even more than that, I really don't like not working. Like most men, I like doing my job, having my routine, leaving in the morning, coming home in the evening. That it only happens nine months out of the year for me causes me a significant degree of mental discomfort. Sure, towards the end of each school year, I'm ready for the current batch of kids to move on to the next grade. And, the kids really do need the time off. However, two weeks into every summer I plunge into a seasonal existential angst as I look for some greater cause to attach my focus.

If you're a mother, you're thinking that my three kids ought to be the greater cause. But, if you're a dad, you know that as much as you love your kids, they don't give you the same sense of purpose that your job does. In fact, if you are a teacher very long you notice something of a difference between men and women in the field. Women love having the time off, spending it with their kids, and many really would, if it were financially possible, never come back after summer was over. Men who teach, by and large, take summer jobs of one sort or the other because, really, even if they didn't need the money, they need to have something to go to each day. It's the same thing that keeps many men from retiring until long past the time they could be drawing a pension or tapping into their retirement accounts.

So, while I have only been off two and a half weeks, during which time I spent five days and four nights at Trail Life summer camp with my son; ferried my kids to and from robotics camp (my son) and charm camp (my daughters); did "summer school" with them for reading and math; and started into a major effort to re-establish the backyard landscaping, I am finding it difficult to push back against the mental ennui that greets me at this time every summer. It's gotten so bad, I've started trying to grow tomatoes:

Years ago, when we lived in a different part of the city, I had a great garden in a patch of ground that had been composted for years. Every year, I tilled in the autumn leaves and the summer grass clippings I'd piled in the corner of the garden. The soil was so rich, I could grow dairy cows and iPods from seed if I wanted to. Since we moved, we've lived in a bigger house built on much less fertile soil, although I suppose it's as fertile as sand and clay ever is. At any rate, gardens in our neighborhood have to be raised. I've been thinking about this for a few years now and have resolved that I will have a raised garden. This year it's pots. Next year, the little playhouses in the background are going to whoever wants to buy them in the neighborhood garage sale, and there will be a garden (don't feel sorry for the kids, they've gotten too big for the houses).

Still, though, this doesn't engage me mentally or creatively. Being a writer, you'd think this would be a great time to be knocking out a book. However, given the market for books in the early 21st century, you are either writing soft porn about vampires for millions or selling your self-published novel to friends and family members. I really can't bring myself to do either. True, there are Catholic writers who have found markets for their works, but Scott Hahn has the apologetics market wrapped up, Father Robert Barron has cornered documentaries and, while many Catholic writers have been trying to establish a fiction market, it's doubtful they'll ever have the marketing or distribution resources needed to pull Catholics away from E.L. James and Tim LaHaye.

Every now and then, I sit down to write fiction, but then I remember that I'd just be writing it for myself. While that seems reason enough to write a blog, I just haven't been able to find the drive to write fiction again. So, while I am physically productive, I still hope for that summer wind that will inspire me to something intellectually and creatively enlivening. In the meantime, though, I suppose I could download a Tim LaHaye novel to see which of you all get left behind.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Opportunities of "Gay Marriage"

As the usurping and counterfeit constitutional convention of judges rolls on with each delegate federal judge casting his or her ballot to functionally amend the Constitution to allow for homosexuals to legally (but not really) marry each other, one has to be impressed with how the gay and lesbian lobby has been able to make what seems to be an unstoppable run to the cultural end zone.

A confluence of activist judges, a Democrat president, a gridlocked Congress, and state politicians scorning their oaths of office and lawful duties (but not resigning), is making this one a slam dunk for the Enemy who can, it seems, not only quote Scripture to effect our demise, but who also knows our Constitution and its weaknesses. Like Roe v. Wade, he sees a quick win, and he and his followers will take it. It's all about winning and getting what you want no matter the means.

While I've shaken my head in dismay and prayed for our Battle of Lepanto moment, I think we have to at least consider that if Supreme Court justice and nominal Catholic Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote next year that forces all fifty states to go along with the legal fiction of "gay marriage", it really could have been worse. Because, while we'd rather not be in this position and we need to keep fighting, there are some very significant opportunities for Christians in the war if we lose this battle.

What the gay and lesbian movement is about to hand us is the Roe v. Wade of "gay marriage". It will cause an enormous amount of damage, corrupt more than one generation, and be a clear win for gay activists. However, it will also leave more than half of Americans unconvinced that two men or two women can constitute a marriage. It will also give them another cause sprung from the trampling of democracy by a specious, abusive and unaccountable judiciary.

As everyone now knows, the Roe v. Wade decision did not end the abortion debate as decreed, it just threw gasoline on the fire. The suddenness of the change by court order in 1973 left a core of people who thought the decision both wrong and constitutionally illegitimateand they fought back. Over time, they have been very successful. We have gone from a society that was moving toward accepting abortion in the cultural and legislative spheres to a nation where most people are pro-life and the abortion industry is slowly being dismantled by persistent legislative efforts. The only effective support the abortion industry has had in recent years has been judicial, and even the judges have barely been able to keep the abortion regime propped up.

It wasn't easy getting to this point. We learned early on that millions of women and men would have or participate in abortions given the chance, but at least we were no longer under any post-World War II illusions of the sanctity or nobility of our fellow Americans. We grew to understand we'd have to take the long road and win hearts and minds. We'd have to bring about a national conversion by converting one mother (and father) at a time.

Contrast that with divorce. Divorce has made a mockery of marriage in this country, has caused enormous damage to our culture and ruined countless lives. But, divorce didn't come from the courts. Divorce came from the legislatures. It moved slowly, gained legal and then cultural acceptance, and never gave those opposed to it a defining moment around which to coalesce. There is no Roe v. Wade of divorce. There also is no March for Life-Long Marriage with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Washington, D.C. each year. Attempts to dial back no-fault divorce and the divorce-and-remarriage culture have gone nowhere, even in the most conservative states. Even if we still philosophically, religiously or theoretically oppose it, we've come to accept divorce as inevitable and the divorce culture as impossible to unmake.

If we're going to wind up with "gay marriage" anyway, I'd much rather it hang on a Supreme Court decision than have it arrive through the legislatures of each of the fifty states. The first way will eventually be overturned even if it takes decades. But, the second way, arrived at by slowly and permanently corrupting the electorate, will keep "gay marriage" with us to the end of the republic (whenever and however that comes about).

One can only speculate how the fight for real marriage after a court-decreed institution of "gay marriage" will play out in the details on the state and federal levels. However, when we do engage that fight, we will have the opportunity to put divorce in the crosshairs, as well. By completely deconstructing marriage, by emptying it entirely of its meaning, the Supreme Court will be giving us a do-over. It will be inviting us to prove what marriage really is in our own lives, argue for what it really is in the public square, and to slowly reconstruct it in the legal sphere by redefining who gets the benefits bestowed by marriage and who does not.

Part of the problem we've had in defending so-called "traditional" marriage, is that marriage in our society has been in the tradition of Henry VIII, not the tradition of Jesus Christ. We've allowed relatives and neighbors in opposite-sex relationships to present themselves as married after having divorced (in some instances multiple times), or having married with no intention of having children, or having simply shacked up without ever having made a genuine commitment. We've given them the privileges and status of marriage while they continuously spurned the responsibilities. In the realm of civil law, the judges are just taking this to its final phase. We didn't take marriage seriously as a life-long, child-bearing union of man and woman, and they are simply going to legislate that choice through the judicial branch.

What the Roe v. Wade decision for "gay marriage" will give us, though, is an obvious contempt for the institution that will shed light on the less obvious contempt that we've allowed in the past. We will be forced into a debate about what marriage really is where we will have to make distinctions between what the state calls a marriage and how God actually established marriage. And, we won't be able to pretend our four-times-married relatives are doing anything more than state-sanctioned shacking: "Yes, I know you have a marriage certificate, but what marriage really is...".

That will be the moment we start to bring marriage back, the moment when we no longer are fighting to defend "traditional" marriage, but are fighting for real marriage instead.  It won't be easy and it won't be fast, and the first ten to twenty years of the debate will likely see a lot of defeats. Slowly, though, the truth will outmaneuver and outlast its opponents.

Another significant opportunity in the coming of "gay marriage" and the removal of the stigma that has kept many with same-sex attraction in the closet, is that they will no longer be hiding and we'll know exactly whom we need to be ministering to. The gay culture has been with us for decades; it was in pornography and the bar scene in the '70s and '80s, on network television in the '90s and 2000's, and has now taken over significant parts of big business and the government.

Homosexuals are outing themselves in droves and being celebrated for it. Now is the time to start ministering to them one to one, making known to them God's mercy and love in a way that we never could before. If you want to know how, I recommend reading Tyler Blanski's excellent piece in Crisis magazine. The gay culture grew to monstrous proportions in the shadows. Having it in the sunshine will give us the opportunity to roll it back and free those who have become trapped by it.

Finally, the Roe v. Wade of "gay marriage" will give us a chance to step back and, once again, identify ourselves as Christians first and Americans second. There's been a lot of confusion among Catholics over the past sixty or so years about where our first loyalty lies. No matter how great the American experiment, it is manmade and destined to fail. There will be no perfect government until Christ reigns supreme. Between now and then, we are just sojourning through this land. While we will engage the American government and culture as Americans, we will also need to see that quickie political wins aren't what God has placed us here for. He's placed us here to win souls for Christ. And, while we'll need to win some political battles along the way, we need to also be ready for the opportunities God will give us in defeat.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Daily Mass

One of the things I've had to come to terms with over the twelve years my wife and I have been married is that you can't be a parent and also be a night person. Prior to marriage, and even for the first ten months of wedded bliss before the arrival of our son, I continued my bachelor ways of staying up until midnight or one o'clock. But, it wasn't long before the bilirubin light that treated my son for jaundice and the nightly getting up to tend to his needs started to put that to an end. By the time my third child arrived, I rarely went to bed past ten o'clock.

My body has never adjusted. Most mornings, I'm in something of a fugue state where I get dressed, go to the gym to spend some quality time with the elliptical, drive to work and, then, actually wake up over a cup of coffee at my desk. If anything big happens before 8 it alien invasion or the arrival of the Four HorsemenI will not be a credible witness in any proceeding that places value on accuracy or even credible speculation.

This is why, when I recently felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to start attending daily Mass, I said "Here I am Lord!" followed by "Really, are you sure?" Having had a few decades of experience following the Lord, I know that I sometimes call myself in my best imitation of what I think God sounds like. Or, from darker sources, I get pushed through my pride to take on more prayer than I can really handle and, when it all falls apart, I wind up praying even less than I had before. I was already praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet each day and thought that that was such a spectacular achievement for me (I usually grade myself on a curve and then give myself extra points) that I should just be happy with that.

Still, I needed to test this calling. One of the signs that God might really want me to attend daily Mass, I thought, would be the existence of a morning Mass at a time I could get to it. That ruled out not only my own parish, but most of the parishes in the metro area. There seems to be a consensus in much of the diocese that daily Mass is for retirees and Catholic school children and that eight o'clock is early enough.

However, when I checked, I found that there was indeed a 6:30 Mass at a church that was right on my way to work. I would not only be able to go to Mass, I'd be just five minutes from work when it was over, and I'd start walking in to work ahead of reporting time instead of right at reporting time (or a few minutes after). And, so, with great promise and anticipation, I went to that church at 6:30 on a Monday morning.

And sat in the parking lot by myself.

It turns out, while a wonderful service is, at times, apocryphal. I walked up to the door and in white vinyl lettering the Mass times were posted with no mention, or even residue from past markings, indicating a 6:30 Mass. I was now five minutes away from work an hour before the work day started. So, I went to breakfast at a diner and commiserated with myself over two fried eggs, sausage links, wheat toast, and a bowl of grits. Really, if I had known, this would have been my second choice anyway.

It was then that I decided that I was mistaken in this calling. I knew I could not get to Mass and also hold a job, and I knew with certainty that God wants me to have a job. If I'm ever in doubt about that, it really would only take going to my wife, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, to get that clarifying word from Jesus through her.

So, I gave up on the idea. I thought I would follow up in the summer when I'm off work and try to find a Mass that I could work in once a week and maybe take the kids. That's when the Hitchhiker's Guide to Mass Times at called out to me again and showed me a Mass in a different part of the city, in the exact opposite direction of work, that had a 6:30 Mass. Of course it was six miles away, and I would have to make it through several traffic lights that are known to be in league against me. And, just because they go to Mass like this at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine...

...didn't mean that God was expecting me to spend fifteen minutes in the car going to a Mass in a different part of town. Also, the fact that the church sits a block away from the freeway that would take me straight out to work in about ten minutes in light, pre-rush hour traffic, seemed less than convincing. But, I decided to give it a try. The very first day, I caught green lights all the way in to Mass and, afterward, was ten minutes early to work. OK, the Miracle of the Green Lights convinced me.

Going to Mass in the morning before work has been great. I actually have been awake for them and seen a few beautiful sunrises. I've also heard some good, short homilies. And, of course, received Jesus in the Eucharist. I admit that my daily Mass attendance is only Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with the elliptical at the gym claiming my other two mornings. Still, my prayer life hasn't collapsed over the past few weeks, it's gotten better. And, the daily struggle I have with sin seems to take much less effort to persevere through.

It will be interesting to see where this latest spiritual movement leads. I've gathered both in prayer and in the writings of the saints that Jesus doesn't just want me part-time or partially, but full-time and completely. I think this may be a step in the right direction.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

St. John Paul the Great and St. John XXIII

We don't get a lot of popes who are also saints. In an institution that places great importance upon the See of Peter, you'd think just having the job for awhile would give you a leg up on making the list of the officially canonized. But, you'd be wrong. In fact, in a way that seems counterintuitive, being a pope might not be the best way to get that recognition.

Well into the middle of the fourth century, to be the pope was to also be recognized as a saint fairly quickly after your death. Many of them, though, achieved it through martyrdom. After St. Julius I, the odds were still in your favor until St. Adrian III in the ninth century. From that point on, but for a few, none of the popes until today achieved formal canonization.

That makes this weekend's canonization of St. John Paul the Great and St. John XXIII all the more remarkable. Not only do we now, once again, have popes who are saints, we also have popes contemporaneous to us who are now saints. If you are a Baby Boomer or older, John is your pope (although frequently for the wrong reasons). If you are a Gen-Xer or younger, John Paul is yours.

This division of generations is being played by the secular media as Good Pope John versus the Pope Who Is A Saint Despite the Abuse Scandal. John is viewed by many of the now-retirement age Boomers as the pope who would have affirmed a pagan shift in the Church to acceptance of divorce, birth control, abortion, and the rest of the sexual vices that have mangled and strangled western societies over the past sixty years. John Paul is given grudging recognition for having played a role in the demise of communism, but also derision for having reaffirmed the Church's teachings in regard to marriage and sex.

Frequently, the terminology of western democracies is applied and John becomes the liberal pope who called Vatican II, while John Paul is the conservative pope who derailed its reforms. But, that is not only simplistic, it is simplistic in the egoistic way that only western leftists have perfected. For the liberal, whatever happens happens in reference to "me". Whatever the pope is doing is to be measured by the Associated Press, The New York Times, etc. in a manner that determines whether the pope is in agreement with the Left. And, the Left is nothing but an unvarnished coalition of the self-interested. If the pope agrees with them, he's a good pope. If he disagrees, he's a bad pope. If he disagrees but does nothing to stand in their way, he's a moderate.

The truth is, it was never about them or their standard. It was about Him, the God who became man and died for our sins. St. John XXIII and St. John Paul the Great were neither conservative nor liberal. They were Catholic. Calling Vatican II did not make John a liberal. The Second Vatican Council had been anticipated since the First Vatican Council had to be suspended in 1870 because of the Franco-Prussian War and the capture of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy. John only became a "liberal" because it was useful for the Left to set up an imaginary pope who agreed with them as a counter to later popes. A generation could then pretend to be loyal to the Church while in reality becoming one of the fiercest, most virulent of its enemies in the two millennia since its founding.

Neither did restating the Church's teaching on sexuality make John Paul a conservative. It made him a man who saw the human person as something more than his or her genitals. Beyond its simplistic egoism, the Left is also adept at smearing its opponents by projecting its own vices and shortcomings onto others. It has frequently been said by the Left that the Church is obsessed with sex when, in reality, it is the Left that fomented and fed the pornographic culture in which we currently live. Modern liberals have been more sex-obsessed than any since the Roman Empire.

John Paul was also not a conservative in the western sense because, while he was implacably opposed to communism, he was also opposed to the rampant materialism of the capitalist West. He saw it, rightly, as dehumanizing. Just as humans are more than their genitals, John Paul reminded us that we are also more than our wallets or our productive capacity. Western conservatives also found him troubling in his evaluation of the death penalty as unnecessary and to be avoided in the modern world.

In the end, though, this dichotomy set up by the liberals who control the major media will pass. One thing I relish about being Catholic is knowing that while AP and The New York Times will pass away, the Church will not. The Catholic Church has always written its own history. Two centuries from now, the biographies of Catholic writers such as George Weigel will be read as authoritative while the world will have passed to other efforts to bend the Church and the popes to its will.

I was twelve when John Paul became pope and 38 when he died. Although I never met him, like many people my age, I really felt like I knew him. And, without a doubt, he was a major influence in our formation as Catholics. I did not go through those nearly 27 years of his pontificate with blinders on. I saw the imperfections and the scandal. While I wish he had been able to see the enormity of the child abuse crisis, he didn't cause it. It was caused by priests and bishops who abandoned the Church's teachings on sexual morality in favor of the immorality of the world. And, as is frequently the case, the current accusers are the same ones whose morality those priests and bishops capitulated to.

To be a saint is to be holy not perfect, superhuman, or omniscient. I saw the great pope's tremendous love and holiness. I saw his defeat of communism and his return of the Second Vatican Council back from those who co-opted it to the good pope who called it. What St. John XXIII began, St. John Paul the Great in an amazing pontificate brought to fruition.

There is no dichotomy, just two great men who guided the world through its most murderous century, and the Church through one of its most turbulent. In fifty or a hundred years, I suspect the Church will look back at a string of canonized popes such as it hasn't seen since St. Adrian.

St. John Paul the Great and Good Pope St. John, Pray for Us.