Monday, February 13, 2012


We have recently experienced a strong confrontation between the Catholic Church and the US Government, initiated by a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that all insurance plans must include contraceptive coverage.  The Church sees this mandate as government interference in the practice of religion and, thus a violation the First Amendment. The government sees the Church’s position as a matter of not wanting to be mandated to provide its non-ministerial employees birth control coverage, an benefit that covers what is contrary to Church teaching, but which the government sees as essential for women’s health and  a way  to cut down radically on the number of abortions performed each year.

As of this writing, a compromise has been proposed, with mixed reactions across the board.  The Catholic Bishops insist that removing the requirement that Catholic non-ministerial agencies provide birth control coverage, but that the insurers will have to only hides the cost on the Catholic agency’s books, but the agency is still paying for it.  So the matter of religious freedom is still not addressed., they say.

One question seems to be whether or not the federal government can ever  interfere with a religion’s  practice at all.  There are precedents, in cases with which most Americans would agree:  Christian Scientists have been jailed for not taking children to doctors because of their beliefs; Mormons were forced to drop their practice of polygamy.  In both cases, the government put what it considered the over all good of the nation and its citizens over the rights of religious practice. The position is that or the sake of women’s health and to cut down on the number of abortions used as a form of birth control, prescriptive birth control must be available to any citizen The Bishops counter that the presenting issue is not about birth control; it is about the government restricting religious freedom.

There are no winners in this crisis. Even if they come to understand each others’ position, neither will surrender to  the other,.  As long as they see birth-control as an intrinsic evil, the Bishops will not change their stance.  And the government is in no position to disregard what it sees as a major health—not moral- matter. You are reading this ten days after I have written it, so you have that much more knowledge of the situation than I do now.  I predict it will end up in the courts.

The Church leadership has to come to terms with its own responsibility for this crisis. In short, since 1968, the teaching church has ignored the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) regarding artificial means of controlling birth.  Although his own commission almost unanimously agreed with the majority report stating that artificial means of birth control is not intrinsically evil,  four members filed a minority report, saying that if the Church ever taught otherwise, it must always teach otherwise. To do otherwise would be to say that morality is relative.

There have been many unintended consequences to the 1968 discard of the Papal Commission’s recommendation, which was based on the minority report.  One might wonder if the Pope had integrated the findings of his own commission into his teaching, the current crisis would exist.  As we have seen from the abuse scandal, when leaders do not follow their own established procedures, much harm can be caused.  I agree with the bishops’ contention that the issue here is not birth control.   But neither is it a matter of religious rights. If they believe that religious freedom is for everybody, inside and outside the Church, maybe the bishops need, at last, to really listen to the sense of the faithful. It is easy to make rules for a group to which one does not belong.  But is it moral? Is it just?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

 I’ve made up my own creation story: The Creator has an idea., so gathers together the whole heavenly host to present it. But the hosts of heaven have their doubts. The Creator is very excited and says: ”I am going to make this great world where all the creatures will share in my whole being. Won’t that be great?” The host reply: “Why would you want to do that? Give the creatures your own life, next thing you know they will think they are you. Let’s just leave things the way they are.”

Now, the Creator could say: “I am in charge and this is the way it will be and if you don’t like it, go build your own kingdom.” Or the host could say: “Why do you want to create a world?” and the Creator could respond: “I don’t know. I just have all this energy and I have to do something with it.” Some of the heavenly host say they will help. Others go off to build their own kingdom. Those who stay help by pointing out potential pitfalls, since the Creator really had no sense of limits. But they share his delight in the final product and play key roles in how the creation grows and develops.

I imagine you have heard the expression: “There are two types of people in the world…”The speaker then inserts his or her philosophy of the moment. Most often, the formula is so simplistic that it really doesn’t mean much. I made my own cliché, as a joke: “There are two types of people in the world: those who fit into two types, and those who do not.” But recently, an experience with a diversified group considering whether or not to take on a new venture led me to another formulation, one that strikes me as pretty accurate: “There are two types of people in the world: Those who start at no  and reluctantly move toward yes;  those who start at yes  and only reluctantly move toward no. ” In starting a project, brainstorming an idea or entering a new relationship, how we
deal with each approach goes a long way in determining our outcome.

While I am fully wedded to my approach (guess which one it is, if you can), I had better not proclaim it to be the better approach. It is just the approach I prefer. So if I am intolerant of frustrated by and impatient with the other approach, my arrogance assures that the project will not succeed in a way that it will be enjoyed by everyone involved.

This is where our spirituality comes to play. Both approaches need to respect the other. When they do, argument becomes dialogue. One party brings the vision and
enthusiasm. The other assures forethought and care. But neither discounts the other. There’s a huge difference between “No! You are wrong,” versus “Let’s be sure to consider…” if you start at no, and between “You have no creativity” versus “Why don’t we give it a try step by step, with you monitoring each step until we find for sure whether or not it’ll work.” if you start at yes.

When we pass over from rigid adherence to our own way of doing things to
collaboration with others without negating our preferences, we acknowledge that the Spirit of God is with us all. We work as a community and the kingdom does come.

 There is a video that has taken off on the web and been seen by tens of millions of people. It has generated much controversy among religious groups. The title causes controversy from the very beginning: “Why I Hate Religion and Love Jesus.” In it, a young man, Jefferson Bethke, shares through a poetic rap he wrote his view of a great contrast between Jesus’ perfection and religion‘s hypocrisy. His contention seems to be that because religion is man made and Jesus is divine, the two are totally incompatible:  See the video here.

As you would expect, I do not agree with that contention, which is not consistent
throughout his poem. He strongly advocates Christianity, but misses that it is a religion.

But I do find the video to be of great merit and not deserving of all of the defensive responses it has received from advocates of various religious traditions. Alternative videos have been made with titles like: “Why I hate your poem and love religion.”

The original video, if seen as a call to religions to evaluate themselves in light of the Gospel alone, is right on target with its declamation of all the unchristian positions and teachings of those calling themselves Christians. So it is the corruption of Christianity that Mr. Bethke really decries. We know that great sin has been committed in the name of religion and by religious people, including religious leadership, making it very hard to disagree with much of what he says while not endorsing all off the ways he says it.

The video’s merit is that it is the cry of a young person to move beyond hypocrisy to honesty and truth. In time, like us, he will learn that the human condition is not that simple, but the call to repentance is nonetheless valid. We do need to help our world move from hypocrisy to truth; from partisanship to collaboration; from isolation and elitism to community.

The roll of religion in that process is to make clear that we cannot make these
movements on our own. Bethke’s poem ends: And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans Religion is man searching for God Christianity is God searching for man.

In context, it is clear that he thinks only the second activity is of merit: God’s search for man. We know, as we hope he will as he ages, that it is both, and they are intertwined.

We are not called to a dependency relationship with God. We are called to believe that as much as we need God to be fully human, God needs us to be fully divine. We search for God, God searches for us, and the two of us meet in the person of Jesus the Christ, who God is and we are called to become.
 Religion is the structure through which we seek and find. If any of us feels that we alone, without others, can do the seeking and the finding, our pride alone would prohibit us from doing either. We need each other to find the source of our being. Call it community. Call it Church.

 In part, the increased giving level of the appeal this past Advent was due to the addition of one thousand names to our parish data base. The appeal letter went some eight hundred former students with whom I lived at Notre Dame. Their return gifts were very generous, and I have let them know that the entire parish is grateful.

Beyond their gift to the parish, many of these former students gave me a gift that is truly more precious than gold—pictures and verbal descriptions of their families or, at least, their children. Wow! These are men I first met when they were seventeen or eighteen year-old kids, and now they are loving, doting parents. Their posts on facebook and other social media focus mostly on their new lives as parents. I can almost experience what grand parenting must be like.

At the time I met these young men at Notre Dame, they were not thinking of what they are experiencing now. They were then focused on studying, partying and football. Now, their focus is parenting, working and football! They had and have a deeper sense and understanding of living in the moment than I remember that I had at their age. 

My tendency was and, to some extent still is to see each moment of life of life as a time of waiting, waiting for the next moment, when things will really be real! I have always tended to focus more on the future than on the present.. There was always something just ahead, and the present time was its waiting room
Unlike my young friends, I had difficulty focusing on the moment. I would always be thinking of –even yearning for—whatever came next. I think I missed out on a lot of my own life because of that.! Any given moment is so full of purpose and meaning that to miss engaging in any given moment is a loss that cannot be reclaimed. Now, though, as I realize what lies ahead, the present moment is much more appealing, and I am better able to live in it and experience it on its own terms.

The current period of the liturgical calendar is called ordinary time . It is the time when it is not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter. It is the majority of the year, lasting thirty-four weeks. It the time we mean when we say normally  or usually.  It is the time when we live out what we celebrated during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

In the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus made time stand still. He left to die, and he left us the Eucharist which allows him to stay among us alive, with body and blood. Every moment is the same moment in the new creation he left us as a covenant of love. What we have now is all we need and long for. There is no need to wait for anything—it is all here. Now! What we saw as a distant future for which we were impatient is always right here, right now. It is the new norm—it is the ordinary. So, we can live fully in this new and eternal moment, and leave time to itself. Ah, freedom!

On just about all gift-giving occasions, as a child, I would receive the
latest Hardy Boys mystery thriller. My older brother (by eleven months)
would receive Tom Swift books. I never read his books. I don’t know if he
ever read mine. My avoidance of Tom Swift had nothing to do with the
fact that he was my brother’s, but that the books were science fiction. It
was obvious to me that I was mystery to his science fiction. I did not
need science fiction to fulfill my quest for the mysterious. Life here on
earth did plenty of that for me.
As I’ve grown, my recreational reading has continued to have a bias for
mysteries. So, to a degree, does my serious study. As Anonymous, that
prolific pundit of all time, has said, “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a
problem to be solved.” I don’t read mysteries for solutions; I read them for
the journey to solution, with all of its twists and turns!
Currently, it seems, many people do not tolerate ambiguity. We demand
solutions we can understand and accept as feasible. When we’ve
finished the book or the experience or even life itself, we relish the neat
and tidy ending. As the poet Robert Browning wrote: “God’s in His
heaven—All’s right with the world!”
But let’s not crave a solution; let’s crave infinitely deepening
understanding. Let’s live our faith as a mystery: A baby is born amidst
rumors of divinity. Everyone from kings to shepherds hears about the
child. Temple groupies see him as the fulfillment of all sorts of promises.
Power wants him dead. Once he is an adult, no one completely
understands most of what he says. He is murdered. Then things really
get confusing.
As we continue our mysterious journey of faith, there are at least two
things to remember: we are moving toward a solution; we will never fully
arrive there. Still, we stick with the journey relishing it as it is and in no
great hurry for it to be over. We come to love the trip for its confusions
and surprises, its advances and retreats. We don’t want it to end, and
are promised that it never will. But we do want it to continue challenging
So we keep journeying, knowing it is the quest more than the
understanding that keeps our lives expanding for eternity, and thenl we
and the mystery are one.