Thursday, August 26, 2010

Last night I happened to catch a small portion of the Rachel Maddow Show. My brother was watching it on the television and I was listening to music on the computer, but in between songs I noticed that Maddow was talking to Gov. Rendell of Pennsylvania and since he's the governor of the state next to mine I decided to listen. What I heard was horrifying, and should be even more so to any orthodox Catholic who lives in that state. Maddow asked him about the "extremist" views of Tea Party candidates on abortion, expressing outrage that they would oppose abortion even in cases of rape, and Rendell stated that he has never met a single rational person who opposed abortion in these cases. I have to wonder whether he's ever met Cardinals Bevilacqua and Rigali, both archbishops of the largest city in his state and both steadfast opponents of abortion in cases of rape. Perhaps he's just saying that these two courageous champions of human dignity are irrational, I certainly wouldn't put it past him.

The argument that Gov. Rendell offers contains a false dichotomy, and does so intentionally as a kind of trap to neutralize the pro-life movement. When he states that he knows and respects many "pro-life" people who support the rape exception what he is trying to do is weaken the resolve of his opposition in order to destroy it. There is no difference between a fetus conceived of love and one conceived of rape, and therefore we should not allow the destruction of the child conceived of rape any more than we should allow it for any other unborn child. If we compromise on one group of children and say that the circumstances of their conception invalidate their right to life then we should just give up and support abortion completely, and therein lies the outcome desired by Rendell and Maddow among many others. Extremist liberals like these two will be satisfied with nothing less than an unlimited right to abortion, at any point in pregnancy and with any conceivable justification or no justification at all, and therefore when they talk about the respect they have for "compromising" abortion opponents there is no reason to believe it. Just as liberals pretended to care about Rep. Stupak's opinion right up until the point that they destroyed his amendment and launched a campaign of vilification against him, should Rendell and company ever succeed in destroying opposition to abortion then the pragmatists among us will find their friendship to be non-existent. We have a choice between faithfulness to life or compromise against it, the ultimate reaction from the left being the same, and I know which one I'll choose.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Someone asked him, "Lord, will only
a few people be saved?" He answered them,
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to
enter but will not be strong enough. After
the master of the house has arisen and
locked the door, then will you stand
outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open
the door for us.' He will say to you in
reply, 'I do not know where you are from.'
And you will say, 'We ate and drank in
your company and you taught in our streets.'
Then he will say to you, 'I do not know
where (you) are from. Depart from me, all
you evildoers!' And there will be wailing
and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the
kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the
west and from the north and the south and
will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last."

Luke 13: 23-30

The last two verses here are ones that I think really speak to our situation as a nation and indeed as a culture in the "Western" world. It is a message that was unthinkable to the Jewish people of Jesus' time, just as it seems to be equally incomprehensible to our current age. God came down not only for the pious and the self-righteous, not only for the rich and the light-skinned, but indeed for the whole of the human race. God does not care if a person is a CEO or a fruit picker, a descendant of the Pilgrims or an illegal immigrant, a rich man or an unemployed single mother of multiple children on public assistance. What He cares about is located within the heart, and I think that many rich and supposedly pious people will be shocked on Judgment Day to find that their riches are inadequate to earn salvation. God will indeed gather together people from every nation and language, from every class and situation in life, and those who are considered last in our society will indeed be the first ones welcomed into Heaven.

In our society today there are many who would question the worthiness of the immigrant and the laborer to be counted among the righteous. Just today in his homily my pastor mentioned some grumblings that had been expressed to him about the creation of a Spanish Mass at our parish. Our parish has had non-English language masses for a long time, having been blessed with a large Portuguese and then Brazilian immigrant community since I was a child, but this would be the first time that the Spanish immigrant community has been welcomed in such a way there. Unfortunately, there are many among us who think that even the Portuguese-speaking Mass is a problem and that adding a Spanish Mass is a move in the wrong direction. To them I would say that God does not love us because we speak English or because our families have been here for some "respectable" period of time. He loves us because we are His children, and He loves the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking people here just as much as He loves us. God does not look at our "pedigree" as if we are pure-breed dogs, he does not care where we come from or how we got here. What is important to God is whether we are willing to serve Him and love our brothers and sisters, and from experience I can say that there are many among the immigrant communities who would put many of us "well-established" Americans to shame in those departments.

In my experiences of the marginalized and downtrodden I have always found that the poorest and most disregarded among us feel the closest to God and have the richest faith. I didn't grow up rich but compared to many even in our own country I was relatively well-off, so my experience of this phenomenon didn't begin until I was in college. For my first spring break of my time in college I decided to participate in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Kingston, Jamaica, a trip that brought me face to face not only with crushing poverty but also the gaping divide between rich and poor that exists in many countries but is often not acknowledged by those who can choose to ignore it. In my time there I was blessed to meet a man whose condition would be considered a curse to most of us, and yet his outlook was one of intense faith and gratitude to God. This man had been stricken by leprosy back when that disease was less treatable, and by the time that he gained access to life-saving treatment he had lost his sight as well as all of his toes and fingers. The disease had scarred his body, and yet his spirit was unafflicted. To hear him sing praise to God in spite of his sufferings brought into perspective a truth that is not easy for those of us who are more affluent, that true faith comes not in thanking God for an easy life but in praising God through the hardships and trials. How many of us in our comfortable existence would choose to praise God instead of blaming Him for our pain and becoming bitter and angry? I think that many would choose the "curse God and die" response favored by Job's wife rather than keeping the faith as Job himself did. It is not for no reason that Jesus preached the difficulty of salvation for the rich, indeed great wealth fosters a mindset of self-reliance and even self-adoration that is antithetical to the teachings of Christ. The poor have nothing and therefore have no choice but to lean on God, their utter helplessness leads them to the true Rock in a way that is impossible for those who have learned to put their trust in self and in temporal riches.

It is a shame that so many among the Catholic faithful have embraced the millennial rhetoric of those like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, rhetoric that poisons them against their neighbors and makes them see enemies and rivals where they should see brothers and sisters in Christ. You can see this in the objections that some have leveled against the Park51 project, objections that seem to imply that all Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Imam Rauf was previously such a non-controversial figure that he was sent on bridge-building missions to the Middle East by President Bush after 9/11, but now that the right wants to start a fight they're condemning him for insufficiently condeming the actions of other Muslims. They chastise him for making (in my opinion accurate) statements about US policy contributing to the popularity of groups like Al Qaeda, and they attack him for not being penitent enough for the attacks on our country by supposed followers of Islam. I have to wonder what these conservatives would say about Christian sins against human dignity, such as the treatment of Native Americans not to mention the current atmosphere of xenophobia that prevails among many so-called followers of Christ. I'd also wonder whether they think that Americans should express penitence for the terrorist actions of our government in places like Dresden, Nagasaki, My Lai, and Baghdad (anyone remember "shock and awe"?), but then I think that I already know the answer. The great irony is that people like Beck and Palin hold up our nation as the chosen land of God Almighty a land of justice and peace obedient to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and yet in their actions and their disdain for the poor man and the foreigner they betray themselves as descendants of the Pharisees and bring down upon themselves the condemnation chosen for that group by Jesus himself. May God have mercy on them, and on us all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Et factum est ut audivit salutationem Mariae
Elisabeth exultavit infans in utero eius et repleta
est Spiritu Sancto, Elisabeth et exclamavit voce
magna, et dixit: Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et
benedictus fructus ventris tui. Et unde hoc mihi ut
veniat mater Domini mei ad me? Ecce enim ut facta
est vox salutationis tuae in auribus meis, exultavit
in gaudio infans in utero meo. Et beata quae credidit,
quoniam perficientur ea, quae dicta sunt ei a Domino.
Et ait Maria: Magnificat anima mea Dominum: et
exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo; quia
respexit humilitatem ancillae suae, ecce enim ex hoc
beatam me dicent omnes generationes. Quia fecit mihi
magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius, et
misericordia eius in progenies et progenies timentibus

And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the
salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And
she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed
art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy
womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my
Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice
of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my
womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast
believed, because those things shall be accomplished
that were spoken to thee by the Lord. And Mary said:
My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath
rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded
the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that
is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is
his name. And his mercy is from generation unto
generations, to them that fear him.
Luke 1:41-50

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I can't believe that I didn't mention this here before, but tomorrow I'll be attending a Solemn High Mass being sponsored by Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church at St. Peter Church in Merchantville, NJ. The Mass will be in the Extraordinary Form, and it will be my first experience of Mass in that Form. I honestly have no idea what to expect, my only knowledge of this Mass is theoretical and it seems so different from the Ordinary Form as to make comparisons to that Form impossible. At any rate, tomorrow I should have a much better idea of what I'm talking about when I discuss the differences between the two Forms.

If anybody else here is interested in coming and is in the area, the Mass is at 1pm at St. Peter Church and the directions can be found here. The flyer can be found (in PDF form) here.
If anybody out there reads this blog, please pray for my brother who is suffering from physical ailments and also facing difficulty in finding a job. Please pray that he may be healed physically and spiritually and that he may find employment soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out
to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he
went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he
sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the
same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with
foundations, whose architect and maker is God. By faith
he received power to generate, even though he was past
the normal age--and Sarah herself was sterile--for he
thought that the one who had made the promise was
trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the
stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the
seashore. All these died in faith. They did not receive
what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on
earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking
a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which
they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he
has prepared a city for them. By faith Abraham, when put to
the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the
promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said,
"Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name." He reasoned
that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received
Isaac back as a symbol.

Hebrews 11:8-19

As the people of Christ, a community of hope and faith, we are called to trust in the love of God when He calls us out of our comfort zone and asks of us more than we think we can accomplish. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland, to make a dangerous journey, so that he could take possession of a foreign and hostile land that he had never even seen before. Even after his arrival in the promised land, his life was not easy. Abraham had been promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, not a likely outcome considering that he was at the time childless and he and his wife were too old to conceive. Still, he trusted and God rewarded his faith with a son. How shocking must it have been to Abraham, after all he had been through and the faith he had put in God for the life of his son, when Isaac's life was demanded as a sacrifice? Even in spite of this seeming contradiction, Abraham trusted that God would keep His promise and ultimately He did just that. How much more should we trust God when He asks the seemingly impossible from us, considering that He is unlikely to ask of us nearly as much as He did of Abraham? Most of us are called simply to bring Christ to those around us, not in hostile lands or empty wilderness but in our own backyards where the Good News is just as desperately needed. Will we respond with faith and acceptance of the love of God, or will we favor instead our own will and plan for our lives?

I'm not saying that it's easy, Lord knows it isn't and I'm the least of all when it comes to subjugating my own will to His. It is only through the grace of God that we are able to answer His call and do what is pleasing to Him and yet we are called to ask for that grace and seek that which is pleasing to Him. It is the great contradiction vocalized in the plea of the man in Mark 9:24, "I do believe, help my unbelief." We are called to ask for that which we cannot even fathom on our own much less obtain, to reach our short arms out to Him who comes down to meet us where we are. We are called to have faith in that which we cannot see and to seek that which we cannot fathom, and only through the grace of God can we finally obtain this great gift which brings eternal life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So apparently a judge in California declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, setting the stage for more appeals and possibly leading to the nullification of every "traditional marriage" referendum in the country. Personally I find it ironic that a homosexual judge from Illinois can be celebrated for spitting on the will of the people but when a religious group like the Mormons that has members in California but is headquartered in another state tries to get people to vote then it's suddenly the worst thing in the world and they have to be punished for it. Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm surprised. It was only a matter of time before they found a judge to do this, and history has told us that many radical changes in our country both good and bad have come about through a judicial disregard for the will of the people.

This may seem like a small thing, like an inconsequential movement toward something that will have no effect on those who don't approve, but if history has taught me anything it's that California is the harbinger of doom and things always end up worse than they were when they started. Looking at abortion, many probably didn't believe that the actions of a few liberal states like California and New York would shortly be mandated throughout the country. They also probably didn't think that we'd be experiencing such a breakdown in the family, such catastrophic rises in child and spousal abuse as well as other sorts of domestic violence, and in fact many in the pro-abortion movement seem to have thought that legalized abortion would lead to the eradication of such evils. In five or ten years we may face a situation where a federal judge declares all "marriage between a man and a woman only" laws unconstitutional, and then we'll all be in this situation. It will be tragic, but it certainly won't be surprising.

The real question here, the real uncertainty about the rapid movement toward entropy and chaos that is defines our culture, is whether this will be used to persecute religious groups that oppose gay marriage. This sort of thing has happened in the past, where churches that rented out halls for wedding receptions were sued for not renting them out to gay couples. If the courts decide that church weddings are a "service" like renting out facilities, what would stop them from deciding that such services have to be offered equally regardless of sexual orientation? What would stop them from penalizing churches that performed weddings for straight couples but refused to perform them for gay ones? Even if they couldn't punish churches and clergy for their inconvenient beliefs, what stops them from using litigation to discourage laity from supporting those churches and clergy? We may very well end up in an era of persecution of the Church in this country, perhaps not tomorrow or next year but soon enough, and I only pray that God graces our leaders and the faithful with the strength to endure. Perhaps after a while our culture will realize the error of its ways and return to God, hopefully before we become so morally bankrupt that we end up like the Roman Empire and fade out of existence as a society, and at that point we'll need somebody to reintroduce His ways to a fallen world.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what
is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand
of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on
earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden
with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to
death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the
greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its
practices and have put on the new self, which is
being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its
creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision
and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.

Col. 3:1-5,9-11

What is it about us that, while we proclaim our belief in Christ and pledge to serve Him, clings to the vestiges of paganism as if our lives depend on it? We seem to live as two separate people, one concerned with the things of Heaven and the Word of God and the other mired in the flesh and its urges. Saint Paul is talking to the community of Colossae, Christians who had accepted Christ and yet seemed to be falling back into the sins that characterized their pre-Christian lives. Paul reminds them that they have been recreated in Christ, that their old selves and their old "gods" have died and no longer have power over them.

How much do we in modern society, most of us never having been pagans in the traditional sense, behave as if we were in fact pagans and show our constant need for conversion to the faith of Christ? We may not have a pantheon of gods and goddesses to worship, but we do just fine to fashion idols out of the things that surround our earthly lives. In his homily today, the pastor of my parish mentioned the story of Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess in whose temple was the mint where Roman coins were created. It is this epithet that gives us the word "money," and yet the word moneta does not relate to currency but rather refers to a warning or reminder. Perhaps we can see this as a warning to ourselves when we mix religion and the pursuit of money, the message of the "prosperity gospel" being a particularly egregious example, and when we risk crossing the line into an outright worship of wealth. Perhaps we should approach money as we do Uranium, having a particular usefulness but extremely dangerous if possessed in large amount or held too closely. Many seem to think that St. Paul called money the "root of all evil," but as my pastor pointed out today it was the love of money that Paul was warning against rather than the thing itself. Money has its uses, it can be given in charity to those without and it can be used to uplift people and to build things in praise of God, but if we hold it too closely or being to see it as an end rather than a means it will end up consuming us. We should always hold wealth at an arm's length, using it to do good works and bring others the Gospel but being careful not to become too attached to it. It is God who will allow us to do this, He who will show us the truth of the world and allow us to overcome its pull.

Sin has an effect like gravity upon us, it keeps us down when we want to float away in the direction of light and grace and God. Every sin that we indulge in increases that gravity, like heavy chains that weigh us down ever more toward the dirt of sin. After a while these chains can become familiar, so familiar in fact that we don't even notice their presence. Even if we become used to them and gain the ability to stand and walk in spite of their weight, we remain unable to rise to the heights that should be within our grasp. If we ask God to then He will take the chains from us and show us how to fly, and yet how many among us ever ask? We may think that we are asking, and yet we know not even how to much less what should be requested. To receive we must ask, and to ask we must listen for the direction of Him who already knows our yearning. May He lift up our heads to see the stars and break our chains so that we can reach for them.