Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thankful Thursday

It’s so easy to be thankful this year. Because it’s been a hell of a year. But in the chaos you really see the value of each blessing. I’m extra thankful now.

For health
easy access to food
a warm, safe shelter
a job
the rare embrace of a hug
information and ability to make sound decisions
the right to vote
access to the sacraments
friends’ cute babies
bubble baths.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Untied Rituals

Over the past few weeks I’ve become more and more concerned about the divide in America. It is no longer a division of ideologies but of truth itself. Malicious disinformation is creating a separate culture. We have no agreed upon facts, no agreed upon history, no agreed upon reality. There is a sizable portion of the country who doesn’t believe in the result of the election, who think multiple counties and states and voting machines and poll workers and judges are all coordinated against them. They believe, after years of packing the courts, that some court decision will sweep in and save them from the election results (though as of now, 34 cases have dismissed for lack of evidence). They call themselves patriots, but they want their king over democracy. How can a democratic republic operate if a sizable group refuses to acknowledge the will of the people and doesn’t respect such fundamental values as the Constitution, voting, and the transfer of power? We can’t even get to arguing about issues if the entire system for peacefully finding resolutions is broken.  

I think one problem lending to this mess is the lack of ritual in our lives. We have no shared culture, no shared understanding of sacred ties that bind. We seek out what we please, and bind ourselves to those identities. We need a shared foundation of what we, as a people, value.

I’m not talking about whitewashed American history or patriotic propaganda, but I am talking about holding up the values we want to strive for, even if we have failed to live up to them in the past: freedom, justice, liberty, democracy.

The peaceful transfer of power is a benchmark for how stable a democracy is. The first peaceful transfer of power in a new democracy is hailed as a milestone in democratization and a sign of a functioning civil society. It is the norm in America, but dozens of countries have never had a successful peaceful transition of power. Just because it has been the norm does not mean we can’t lose it. It must be instilled and defended, as any other value.

Since 1801, presidents have peacefully transferred power to a new president of a differing party. It was an early test of the great experiment. A leader of a nation was not a king or a tyrant who held on to power. It did not take assassination or revolt to overthrow him. The people spoke, and he willing handed over his role to his rival. Because the country and democracy was more important than one man or even one party. (And the 1800 election was incredibly close.) Over time the transition became more bureaucratic and more ritualized. There are the behind-the-scenes details like security clearances and Cabinet picks and budgets. But the rituals are for the public, to reassure them that the government is strong enough to continue through a peaceful transition, that we can change out our leaders without chaos and violence.

There is an election. The loser calls the winner to concede and congratulate. The winner calls for post-election unity. The outgoing administration helps the incoming administration with resources and logistics. On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the electoral college votes, finalizing the election period. Then on January 20, at noon (so each term is exactly the same length), the new president is sworn in, often with the former president there to support him. Then the former administration leaves peacefully for the new administration to take over.

Seeing these rituals are important. They teach us, as any ritual does. The process is more important than one party. The people are more powerful than one person. We are a nation capable of peacefully choosing our leaders. Those fundamentals matter. And the rituals don’t seem that important under you see the fundamentals start to disappear. Doubt and discord threaten our peacefulness. We start seeing how easy it all falls apart if we can’t agree to work together. The tie that binds is untied.

Our hold on any value or tradition is always less than a generation away of being lost. We must not be complacent and expect that everything will always remain the same and stable. Times will change, and we must conscientiously carry our values on through. Rituals remind us of what matters, teaches us who we are as a people, and instills our values in each repetition.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres in 1579 in Lima, Peru. His father was a Spanish nobleman and his mother was a freed slave of African and native decent. His parents weren’t married, and after his sister was born two years later, his father abandoned the family. He grew up in poverty.

Under Peruvian law, those of African and native decent were not allowed to become full members of religious orders. At 15, Martin asked the local Dominicans to accept him as a “donado,” a lay volunteer/servant who worked in the monastery in return for living with the community and wearing their habit. He did kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. In 1603, the prior decided to ignore the law and allowed Martin to take vows as a third order Dominican. While the prior showed him kindness, other brothers mocked him for being mulatto, illegitimate, and descended from slaves.

He was assigned to the infirmary, where he cared for the sick and became known for his (sometimes miraculous) healing and patience. He also ministered to the sick outside of the monastery and showed no distinction between status or race.

He lived an austere life beyond the rule of the Dominicans. He did not eat meat and begged for alms to feed the poor. He also founded a residence for orphans and abandoned children and raised dowries for poor girls. He was beloved in Lima, and it was said he was gifted with many miracles, including bilocation, instant cures, miraculous knowledge, and an ability to communicate with animals.

St. Martin de Porres died on Nov. 3, 1639 after suffering almost a year of illness. His feast day is (appropriately this year) Nov. 3. He is the patron of mixed-race people, innkeepers, public health workers, public schools, social justice, and those seeking racial harmony.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Wait for It

Time has gone a little wonky in 2020. Since March, we’ve all experienced differing phases of lockdown. Events are postponed. We’re told to wait. Wait for the numbers to dip before going out. Wait for a vaccine before resuming public life.

Last week was even more waiting. Wait for the votes to be counted. Wait for the call to be made. Wait for our future to be declared. The country waited, if impatiently. Sleepless nights. Doom scrolling. Constant text messages from our pandemic isolations. Any news? Any signs? Praying for the best; bracing for the worse. Trying to keep up hope without getting our hopes up. No deadline. Perpetual March. Perpetual Tuesday.

It’s been a test of patience, prudence, and charity. Learning to live in the waiting and appreciate the wait. Working to do the right thing at the right time. Trying to love those who oppose you, who refuse the wait, and who work actively against the common good.

Advent begins in a few weeks, but this whole year has been an advent. Something is coming. We do not know the day or hour. But we must be patient. We must be ready.

The reading this past Sunday was the parable of the ten virgins. It reminds us to stay vigilant and ready. Something is coming. We can get fatigued in our exile. We can get turned off by the bombardment of distractions and lies. In the parable both the wise and foolish virgins fall asleep. That’s inevitable. But we must be prepared at all times so when we are called, we can wake up and answer. Change doesn’t come when we want it or when we expect it. Healing, justice, and the Messiah is coming. Just wait for it. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Vocationem ad Suffragium part 2

In Forming Consciences for Faithful in Citizenship, the bishops address the four principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which serve as “primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena (Evangelii Gaudium, 221).” These principles form the moral framework to properly forming our consciousnesses and making informed choices in the social sphere.

1. Dignity of the Human Person. Life is sacred and must be preserved. It does not always look like opposing violence (though it does include that); it includes opposing euthanasia (“death with dignity”), abortion (“choice”), in vitro fertilization, racism, human trafficking, and poverty. War is a step of absolute last resort, done to save human lives. Every single person is made in the image of God and deserves life.

2. Subsidiarity. As Forming Consciences for Faithful in Citizenship says, “The human person is not only sacred but also social. Full human development takes place in relationship with others (46).” Showing dignity for a person is more than “all lives matter” platitudes; it includes concern for the person’s families, groups, associations and “for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth (45).” A human does not exist in a vacuum and concern for her familial bonds and social environment which allow her to be her best person is necessary for giving her true dignity of life.

3. The common good. The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily (Gaudium et Spes, 26).” The common good includes a person’s rights to life, food, shelter, education, employment, healthcare, family, and freedom of religion. In exchange, each person has duties to support the common good, such as feeding the hungry, protecting workers’ rights, and caring for creation.

4. Solidary. “We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever they may be (Forming Consciences for Faithful in Citizenship, 52).” While respecting our cultural, ethnic, or social differences, we first and foremost must see each other as equal in dignity and together in the goal of the common good. Solidarity calls us to promote peace and pursue justice. Solidarity also emphasizes the Church’s (and Jesus’) preferential option for the poor—what helps the weak, vulnerable, and needy must be prioritized.

While the bishops lay these principles out in Forming Consciences for Faithful in Citizenship, they should be applied more broadly than in the voting booth. Are we respecting all life, at every stage, in every condition? Are we actively participating in shaping a society that supports the well-being for everyone? Are we making choices which reflect care for workers and care for the earth? Are we doing charity directed toward the poor, sick, or needy? Our politics should reflect our larger moral framework, rooted in charity and justice. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Vocationem ad Suffragium part 1

It’s been nasty these past few weeks. There was a blissful time this summer when a global pandemic and economic crash pushed the election from the headlines. But now the pandemic is ignored (as the second wave rises) and the election is days away. And it’s nasty. Not just in the news and online chats. In person. In public. In the pulpit.

I watch as people I respected make excuses for supporting evil. I’m told who is and isn’t a good Christian is defined by their vote. I’m told who is and isn’t Christian at all is defined by their vote. And I don’t understand why we speak so militantly to one another, so self-assured, so confident that the other is not worth compassion or not gaining salvation. It's not changing anyone's politics, but I'm afraid it's losing souls. 

No American party is morally pure. No Catholic can find a candidate who is 100% aligned with Church teachings. Compromises are made. Some denominations found that compromises are inexcusable. It is a strong Anabaptist belief that politics is antithetical to a life devoted to God. God is your sovereign. You may in a world governed by politics, but you are not part of it. You do not endorse candidates that only partially align with your beliefs. Rather than lifting someone up, you make political change with your right actions. You do not fight wars. You do not vote. You nonviolently protest. You feed the poor. You tend to the sick. You love radically.

Maybe it’s the Anabaptist blood in me. But that makes sense. Voting is not a biblical command. We don’t have to do it at all, and most Christians throughout time would never have even considered it a choice, much less had opportunity to use it.

But it is an opportunity. One that men have fought for. One that women have been tortured and starved for. One that communities continue to diligently try to preserve. It is one way of many of having your voice heard, your opinion noted, and, if enough agree, your desires reflected in how the country functions. We are a society, and we can fight to make it a moral one. The Catechism says we have an obligation to our civic duties rooted in our baptismal commitment to bear witness to Christ. “It is necessary that all participate…in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person…As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life (CCC 1913-1915).”

The USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship was written to guide Americans in how to make faithful decisions when stepping into the stressful, click-baity, mud-slinging world of political elections. We are called to use our opportunity to represent Christ, to uphold the sanctity for human life in all forms:

“Similarly [to abortion and euthanasia], human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, and other acts that directly violate the sanctity and dignity of human life are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life, such as genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Nor can violations of human dignity, such as acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning, ever be justified (23).” 

Furthermore, respect for life is linked to our human rights and need for safety, justice, and a healthy environment. The document continues, “All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors-basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work-is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means (25).” How we go about achieving those in a society can be different and result in differences of political opinion, but they must always be weighed into how we form our consciences when we vote.

As I said before, often voting leads to compromising, for there is no purity in modern politics. The bishops say this is understood. Our intentions and our goals must remain pure, even if the candidates, party platforms, or election processes are not. We can vote for a candidate to only promises incremental change (32). We can vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsic evil (such as abortion or racism) as long as we are not voting for that candidate because of that issue but on other moral grounds (34). And, of course, we have the right to not participate and not vote at all (36). If we took so much care to form a moral conscience in our civic duties, maybe we wouldn't fall prey to being weighted down by propaganda and hatred. 

There is rarely moral purity in politics. A democracy is citizens coming together to shape the society they desire. There is power in the vote. There is responsibility. There is debate and compromise and stress. Because we’re human. But we try and fight and hope for something better. Because we’re made by God. We strive for a better world and try to reflect it back on this earth.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

St. Adjutor

St. Adjutor was born into a noble Norman family in 1073 in Vernon, France. He served as a knight in the First Crusade in 1095. He was captured by Muslims who tried to force him to recant his faith. He escaped by jumping into nearby water and swimming to safety.

One legend says he swam all the way back to France. Another legend says angels or Mary Magdalene appeared and freed him from captivity and saw him safely home.

However he got there, when he returned to France he spent the rest of his life as a hermit with the Benedictines.

St. Adjutor died on June 30, 1131. He is the patron of swimmers, boaters, and drowning victims. His feast day is April 30.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Matter Matters

A Pew study last year showed that 69% of all self-identified Catholics said they believed the bread and wine used at Mass are not Jesus, but instead “symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” The other 31% believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, known as transubstantiation.

“Still, one in five Catholics — 22% — reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching,” Smith said. 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the Church.Hispanic Catholics believe in it less than whites, and women believe in it less than men.

In a 1994 article in The New York Times, religion correspondent Peter Steinfels reported the following: “Yet when a representative sample of American Catholics were asked which statement came closest to ‘what you believe takes place at mass,’ only 1 out of 3 chose ‘the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood’.” In other words, the percentage of U.S. Catholics who expressed a belief in the Eucharist that entirely lines up with the Catholic Church’s teaching on transubstantiation has not changed at all in a quarter of a century.

How can someone sit in the pew week after week and never know what we believe is happening right in front of us? I’ve heard how religious ed can sometimes be a joke, but for people to not even know the basics of the faith is beyond neglect. Then some even know what the Church teaches, rejects it, and receives the Eucharist. At least they are aware, though that puts them in a more morally precarious spot.

It saddens me to think of the hundreds of people in my own parish who probably don’t believe. They might come out of habit or old social obligation. They might think that it doesn’t matter. They might pridefully think the Church is wrong but will “come around.” They might be fully sincere and ignorant. The Church might be failing them by not evangelizing properly. They might be failing the Church by faking belief.

As Flannery O’Conner said, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” The Eucharist is the center of our worship. “This is my body,” Jesus said. “Hoc est corpus.” The Incarnation brought God physically into His creation, and the Mass sustains His physical presence here with us. 

Other denominations have communion that is memorial—it still has meaning, of remembrance, of community, of participation in faith. But those communion services do not make the claims the Mass does, because they do not do what the Mass does. If I thought Catholics just had symbols of Jesus like so many other churches, I’d be at another church.

It is a Mystery—you can’t see or smell or taste His presence. Under the species of bread of wine, He is not detectable to the senses. But there is so much beyond the senses. There is testimony and faith and heart. There is a calling I didn’t understand but couldn’t ignore.

There is a rushing wind in the interior self, striking you down on your knees. The senses and rationality don’t go away, but they find their proper place in the face of the greatness of God.You can believe in God without believing in the Eucharist. You can love Christ without believing He is present in the host and chalice. But there is so much more to believe. So much more to experience. So much more to consume. Don’t sell the faith short. Go and meet Him. He’s there.