Thursday, October 30, 2008

Henri Nouwen on Death

Taken from this great spiritual author's book, Bread for the Journey

Many people say, "I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying." This is quite understandable, since dying often means illness, pain, dependency, and loneliness.

The fear of dying is nothing to be ashamed of. It is the most human of all human fears. Jesus himself entered into that fear. In his anguish "sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44). How must we deal with our fear of dying? Like Jesus we must pray that we may receive special strength to make the great passage to new life. Then we can trust that God will send us an angel to comfort us, as he sent an angel to Jesus.

We often wonder how death will occur for us. Through illness, accident, war, or a natural disaster? Will our deaths happen suddenly or gradually? There are no answers for these questions, so we really should not spend time worrying about them. We don't know how our lives will end, and this is a blessed ignorance! But there is an important question that we should consider: When our time to die comes, will we die in such a way that those we leave behind will not be devastated by grief or left with feelings of shame or guilt?

How we leave others depends largely on how we prepare ourselves for death. When we are able to die with grateful hearts, grateful to God and our families and friends, our deaths can become sources of life for others.

How do we make our deaths gifts for others? Very often people's lives are destroyed, harmed or permanently wounded by the deaths of their relatives or friends. We have to do whatever we can to avoid this. When we are near death what we say to those who are close to us, whether in spoken or in written words, is very important. When we express gratitude to them, ask forgiveness for our shortcomings and offer forgiveness for theirs, and express our sincere desire that they continue their lives without remorse but remembering the graces of our lives, then our deaths can become true gifts.

Hope and faith will both come to an end when we die. But love will remain. Love is eternal. Love comes from God and returns to God. When we die, we will lose everything that life gave us except love. The love with which we lived our lives is the life of God within us. It is the divine, indestructible core of our being. This love not only will remain but will also bear fruit from generation to generation.

When we approach death let us say to those we leave behind, "Don't let your heart be troubled. The love of God that dwells in my heart will come to you and offer you consolation and comfort."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Hope Full of Immortality

The ancient Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul. It was a natural consequence of their understanding of the human person being composed of body and soul. The body, like all matter, decayed and died, but the soul, which was immaterial, lived on in some fashion.

The ancient Hebrews came later to the idea of the soul's immortality. Unlike the Greeks however, Jews never divided the human person into sections such as body and soul. The human person is always an indivisible whole in Scripture. Rather than a philosophical conclusion, the immortality of the soul developed from faith in God's unfailing justice. Through the centuries it became painfully evident that full justice was not possible in this life. Wealth and a long life were not always the lot of those who walked in the Lord's ways. Poverty was not a punishment for sinfulness and neither was wealth the fruit of sanctity. If God is just, then his justice must make itself manifest in another life after death.

Pope Benedict XVI takes up this theme in his encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi:
A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world....I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life....Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so.

As Christians, we have an even deeper understanding revealed to us by Jesus. The promise of everlasting life is a manifestation of God's love and desire to not lose anyone to death. As we hear in one of the suggested gospel readings for this coming Sunday: "And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day" (John 6:39). In Jesus, God reveals that his justice is not ultimately about what each of us deserves, whether good or bad, but about the loving mercy with which he desires to welcome us to the inheritance he has promised us through faith. God's mercy perfects his justice.

Pope Benedict XVI continues:
This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Love, Love, Love

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Christians don't dress differently from others. We don't speak another language or wear our hair differently. We eat the same foods as everyone else. We are Christians because we strive to love as Jesus loved. Everything we do, from the simplest act of kindness to the bravest display of heroism, we seek to do with great love in imitation of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Just as importantly, we claim that nothing we do has any value unless it is done with love. Love makes all things pleasing to God. And so, we are meant to stand out from the crowd by our acts of love.

We have many names for God and many ways of describing him. We call him God the Almighty and Lord of Hosts. We call him our Creator. We describe him as just and merciful. In imitation of Jesus, we call him Father. But, the truest description of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is that he is love. God loves the world and all the people he created. He loves each of us. It is a marvel beyond the capacity of our minds to grasp and our imaginations to perceive. The One who made everything, the One who holds all creation in his hands, the One who guides all of history knows each of us and loves each of us!

Because God is love, when we love one another we are imitating God. Furthermore, since we are created in God's image and likeness, we are most fully ourselves and most fully alive when we love. Through love, we are fulfilling God's will for us. When we love, we are keeping all of God's commandments.

When Jesus is asked in the gospel to single out the greatest commandment of the Law, he replies with a quote from the book of Deuteronomy: "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with all your mind". There is nothing new in this commandment. In fact, pious Jews recite it every day in their prayers. What Jesus does do which is new is that he connects this commandment with another commandment from the book of Leviticus, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Now, loving God and loving neighbor go hand in hand. We cannot claim to love God and, all the while, despise our neighbor. This theme is repeated in today's first reading from the book of Exodus. God tells the people that if they abuse the foreigner and the poor, he will surely hear their cry. Because God loves and protects them, he expects us to love and protect them as well. In Jesus, there is no separating the worship we bring to the Father from the love we show our brothers and sisters.

Jesus did something else which is totally new. Not only did he teach us that love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand, but he gave us the greatest example of love, an example of love which we are to follow. He gave his life to save us. As he told his disciples at the Last Supper, "There is no greater love than to give one's life for a friend." The love that Jesus teaches us to live is no warm feeling. It is a love which requires us to sacrifice ourselves for others. It is a love which compels us to act. It is the love of Saint Peter Claver who brought comfort to and fought for the release of slaves in the Americas. It is the love of Blessed Damien of Molokai who risked his health to serve lepers in Hawaii. It is the love of Saint Francis of Assisi who left all his possessions behind and the wealth of his father's house to be among the poor. It is the love of Mother Theresa who looked after the dying in the gutters of Calcutta. It is the love of Saint Maximilian Kolbe who, in a Nazi concentration camp, took the place of another man who was sentenced to death. We might not all be called upon to display such heroism. Most of us will show love in less dramatic and less costly ways. Nonetheless, when we love as Jesus loved we will be like him and bring his presence to those we meet.

Now, imagine what the world would be like if we were all like Jesus. What if we all loved one another and puts the needs of others before our own needs. Imagine if no one went to sleep at night until they were sure that everyone else had something to eat and a warm place to sleep. This is not just an exercise in wishful thinking. It is the commandment of Christ. It is what Jesus expects of us who would call ourselves Christians - that we love one another as he has loved us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When in doubt....

A friend once told me, "When in doubt, quote Dorothy Day." And, when I've had doubts, the following quote from The Long Loneliness has given me a lot of comfort:
I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me. Romano Guardini said the Church is the cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from the cross; and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Render the Legal Tender

The oldest political trick in the book is to get your opponent to talk about anything except the issues. We have seen this many times over the past year. They bring up something a candidate's pastor once said. They question a candidate's commitment to his or her family. Rumors are started about possible shady business dealings. All this in hopes of getting the opponent to be on the defensive. Then the press will focus on the candidate's weaknesses rather than his or her strengths. Little by little, support for the candidate begins to diminish as he or she is required to talk about everything else except the issues.

This is a tactic which the enemies of Jesus tried often. We witness it again in Sunday's gospel(Mt.22:15-21). By asking him a question about whether or not Jews should pay taxes, they hoped to catch him in a trap. If Jesus said that Jews should pay taxes, he would lose support among his followers who opposed the Roman occupation of Israel. If he said they shouldn't pay taxes, then the religious leaders would have cause to report him to the Roman authorities as an insurrectionist. Whichever way Jesus answered, his enemies hoped that he would have to keep explaining himself, digging himself into a deeper hole and losing support among the people.

As usual, though, Jesus is far more clever than his adversaries. His answer has become one of the most quoted verses from the Bible: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; but give to God what belongs to God."

When we hear Jesus' words, we have to ask ourselves: What exactly belongs to Caesar? What do we owe to our government and to our fellow citizens? We have a responsibility to pay taxes and follow the laws. Being blessed to live in a democracy, we also have a responsibility to vote and to voice our opinion. Along with that, we must study the issues facing our society and form our consciences so that our opinions are based on sound logic and good moral principles. All these elements go into being good and responsible citizens. God expects that of us, especially as he has blessed us with a country which values freedom so highly.

Too often, however, Jesus' words, "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's", are quoted by adversaries of the Church who try to tell us that religion has no place in political life. They are using that old political tactic of trying to keep us from talking about the issues. When they claim a wall of separation between Church and State, they hope that people of faith won't become involved in the national debate about abortion, homosexual marriage, the death penalty or stem cell research. They tell us that people of faith should keep their opinions to themselves. They dare to say that we have no right to voice our opinion because it is informed and motivated by faith. Sad to say, too often Christians have taken that criticism to heart and left their faith at the door when they entered the voting booth.

But, it is absolutely un-American to believe that someone has less of a freedom of speech because his or her ideas are informed and motivated by religious faith. As a country, we have fought to guarantee that each person have the freedom to voice their opinions no matter what their source or what their content. Should a person's beliefs and opinions be excluded because that person is a Catholic Christian? Why are the opinions of Catholics any different from the ideas proposed by environmentalists, animal rights supporters or business people? Like every other American, we have a right and a duty to witness to our faith even in the political arena.

And, the fact is that people of faith have always been a part of the political process in our country. In the last century, it was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a man of faith, who led the fight to guarantee civil rights for all people regardless of race. In the nineteenth century, people of faith were among those who stirred the conscience of our nation to recognize the evil of slavery. And, many of the drafters of the constitution and forefathers of the country were informed and motivated by their faith to make America a place of freedom and opportunity. In this century, it is up to us now to take up the cause of justice and to witness to the dignity of every human person no matter how weak or how vulnerable.

As a church, we must never endorse a political candidate or a political party. We can never fall into the trap of partisan politics. But, we do have a right and a duty to speak to the issues facing the society in which we live, work and raise our children. Because of our faith, we have much to offer. We have insights regarding the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of human life, the importance of the family and the role of government in protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens. As Pope John Paul II said so often, as a Church we do not seek to impose our views but to propose them to society, to enrich the debate through the witness of our faith.

Governments come and go. Political leaders come and go. But, God's word endures forever. The Church has survived numerous governments, both good and bad, from the Roman Empire, through the Middle Ages, through Nazism and Communism to the present day. As a community of faith we have a treasury of wisdom built up over those many centuries which we must share with the people of our day and use to strengthen our society. Let us pray that we will have the courage to speak the truth of the gospel in this election season and pray also for our leaders that they may be inspired by a vision of justice that will lead us to true peace.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

The news is alarming. Credit markets around the world are frozen! Temperatures are rising, threatening widespread famine! Americans are sharply divided about important issues! We are losing our prestige around the world! Tom Brady is out for the season!

We have to go all the way back to the Great Depression to find a time when Americans were so pessimistic.

The world is changed forever, and we are learning how to adapt.

At the time when Isaiah was writing down his prophecies, the world was also changing dramatically. It was the dawn of the Persian empire led by Cyrus. After defeating the Babylonians who had held the people of Israel captive, Cyrus commands that they be repatriated to Israel and that the temple be rebuilt. Cyrus is a pagan king who worshipped many gods. Nonetheless, God calls him "his anointed", or "Messiah". Imagine, a pagan king being called "Messiah"! Through the prophet, God is letting his people know that he alone controls the destiny of all nations. Even pagan kings do his bidding though they know it not. He is the Lord of history, controlling the world's events. "I am the Lord; there is no other."

For this reason, Jesus can so easily dismiss the question about the census tax. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus has seen many kings and their empires come and go. All of them were brought to stand before his judgment seat at their death. Jesus knew that Caesar and his empire were no threat to the kingship of God. Political powers, armies and economies are all temporary, but God reigns as king forever. He is Lord; there is no other.

The children's song says it best, "He has the whole world in his hands." God is in control.

Most of the issues we feel so strongly about today will be trivial tomorrow. Would any of us know or care about Cyrus, who was the most powerful man of his day, if his name didn't appear in Scripture? And, a thousand years from now, only the nerdiest history student will know about the United States and who George Bush was. Yet, the Church will still be preaching Christ Crucified, will still be serving the poor, and the newspapers (if they still exist) will continue writing about how the Church is in crisis. And, God willing, we will be enjoying our heavenly inheritance!

Believers are not equipped by God to solve all the world's problems. Neither may we stand by idly as our neighbors suffer. Whatever the case, we do not have to succumb to fatalism or depression. As Saint Paul writes, we prove our faith by "laboring in love and showing constancy in hope." That hope is rooted in our conviction that a loving God is directing the course of world events. He is the Lord; there is no other.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saint Antoninus of Florence, pray for us!

If you are wondering whose intercession to seek during this global financial crisis, I have a suggestion - Saint Antoninus of Florence.

Serving as bishop of Florence in the 15th century, he was known as a tireless reformer. Concerned about the worldliness of his priests, he would often pay them unexpected visits to make sure their breviary ribbons were on the correct date and, in some extreme cases, to even cut their hair and scrub the make-up off their faces (yikes!).

His passion for justice did not end with his priests. Florence at the time was a center of political and financial power, and Saint Antoninus was quick to point out the evils of usury, that is, of charging interest on a loan. The Church was still working through reconciling the Scriptural prohibition against charging interest with the economic realities of the emerging merchant class. In his very influential treatise on moral theology, Saint Antoninus provided helpful guidelines to determine when interest on a loan was appropriate and when it was unjust. Rather than just pointing fingers at the problem, he sought to work out a way forward that would both promote economic growth and protect the poor. We could certainly benefit from someone of his wisdom and insight today!

So, when we open up our 401(k) statement or fear for our job security in these days of tightening credit, instead of cursing we can now cry out - LITTLE ANTHONY OF FLORENCE, PRAY FOR US!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Forgotten Menace

Some welcome levity from the archive of

In today's world, there's much to be afraid of. With terrorism and global warming threatening our existence, it's natural to push other concerns out of our mind, even if they are more looming and immediate.

Nonetheless, we have to ask ourselves, whatever became of the killer bees?

Several decades ago, an African bee was let loose in the rain forests of Brazil. It made the queen bees swoon with its African mojo. And now, hordes of these Africanized killer bees are poised to invade the United States.

Of course, Big Honey would have you think that there's nothing to worry about. They tell us that most of the United States is protected by the winter freeze.

But, have you ever thought that global warming will eventually strip us of that seasonal barrier exposing us to an onslaught of invaders from the South?

Have you ever thought that while we are so busy worrying about global warming, the economy and illegal immigrants, these African bees are slowly infiltrating our environment to increasingly devastating effect?

All the while, Big Honey is raking in record profits.

When will our political leaders and scientists stop distracting us with talk about global warming, the new ice age or whatever and begin facing the forgotten menace -- killer bees?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Invitation is in the Mail

Everyday, I rush expectantly to my mailbox. I am waiting for my invitation to the banquet. For the past two years, I have been in the process of seeking what is called a "dispensation from the duties of priestly ministry and celibacy." In other words, I am a former Roman Catholic priest awaiting permission to be married in the Church.

In the past, I have received many invitations to the banquet. I waited eagerly to learn that I was accepted to Saint John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. Eventually, I received an invitation to continue my studies in Rome. Then, I received the letters inviting me to ordination first as a deacon and then as a priest. All those invitations I received with a mixture of joy and trepidation, but I never failed to say "yes" to them. Then, after about six years of ministry, I asked to be taken off the guest list. There were other invitations I wanted to respond to.

My decision in 2001 to hold a wedding banquet of my own meant that I would no longer be able to receive communion or the other sacraments. I certainly knew what I was doing, but at the time I was convinced that I would never be given permission to marry and that the alternative would be a life of frustration - unable to return to ministry and unable to pursue marriage.

At first, my decision not to receive Eucharist was superficial. I didn't want to put my pastor in the uncomfortable situation of either having to deny me communion (which he wouldn't have done) or having to defend me (which he certainly would have). And, since during my ministry I urged couples who were living together or married outside the Church not to receive communion, I couldn't, in conscience, then receive when I found myself in their shoes.

As the years have gone on, my decision has taken on new meaning. I have seen my fast from the Eucharist as an act of solidarity with all those other Catholics who, like me, find themselves in irregular situations, whether they be remarried couples, homosexual couples or simply those unable to connect with the Church for whatever reason. I am now one of them. I can honestly say that I understand the pain of exclusion and the frustration of feeling powerless to set things right. I carry them all to prayer with me on Sunday.

I also see my fast from the Eucharist as an act of penance. No doubt, I received the Eucharist many times in a state of grave sin and, often, unrepentant. God, in his mercy, continued to use me to communicate his love and mercy to his People, though my heart was hardening within me. I now have the opportunity to make amends for those years of neglect and ignorance.

Though the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church's life, there are still many means of sanctification within my reach even in my current situation. Just as a blind man's sense of hearing and smell sharpen to compensate for his lack of sight, so my love and appreciation for these other means of sanctification have grown during my Eucharistic fast.

First of all, I have grown in my love for God's Word. As a priest, I always approached Scripture as material for my preaching. I was always consumed with what I could say in a homily about whatever passage I was reading. I rarely just sat with the Word and pondered its meaning for MY life. I couldn't take to heart its call to conversion and failed to see that his Word was also for my sanctification. Stripped of the ministry of preaching, I now have no choice but to understand that God is speaking to me in his Word. Ironically (maybe), my failure in ministry has actually enabled me to take God's Word to heart and not shrink from it. I'm convinced that the only way to understand God's Word and its power to transform us is to approach it as a sinner, in absolute dependence on the Father for our salvation and sanctification. My failure has given me no other choice but to approach God that way.

Secondly, I have grown in my love for Eucharistic adoration. In my job, I spend many hours in my car, and I have learned all the places I can stop to use the bathroom. Now, I am learning where along my way I can find churches open for adoration. I try to make a point of stopping and adoriing Christ who has been so merciful and refuses to give up on me.

Finally, in my writing I have found a means to extend my ministry. Anyone who has been called to preach knows how it burns within one's heart. Even ten years after leaving ministry, the desire to preach still burns in me. I prayed for some way to satisfy it and found writing as a means to continue sharing the Word. Of course, it cannot fully satisfy the hunger to minister. I will have to endure those pangs as a consequence of my decision to leave. But, making some small contribution to the Church's mission enriches me in return.

So, I must continue to wait for the invitation back to the banquet. I will be ready to say "yes" this time. The possibility remains, however, that my request for laicization will be denied. I am ready for that as well. These ten years of fasting have taught me that the Eucharist is more than about me or any other individual. It is about Christ's sanctification of the Church and of the world. It is a mystery of inclusion and exclusion, resistance and repentance, invitation and rejection, destruction and reconstruction. I find myself somehow pinched in those sanctifying tensions with the rest of God's pilgrim People.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More on Conscience

I absolutely understand the unease many Catholics feel whenever the Church discusses who among the faithful may or may not receive Communion, especially when the debate involves politics. It gives the impression that the Church is using the Eucharist as a weapon. Nonetheless, exclusion from the Eucharist is the consequence of a Catholic politician's exercise of conscience. Any exercise of conscience which contradicts an external authority comes with a sanction. The conscientious Catholic when faced with a choice which contradicts the hierarchy must accept that such a choice places him or her outside of the community to some extent. That is why courage is such an important virtue for the development and exercise of conscience. If we are to champion the primacy of conscience, we must be aware of and accept the consequences of its exercise. And, that may include exclusion from the Eucharist.

I would question, however, whether many Catholic politicians are in fact exercising their consciences when they support pro-abortion policy. As many of them explain it, they claim to be personally opposed to abortion but supportive of it because of the wishes of their constituents. If this is true, then they are in fact violating their consciences. That is, they are taking a position which contradicts their personally held views solely because of an external authority - namely, their constituents. I cannot read the human heart, and I am certainly in no position to judge; but when these same politicians also support partial-birth abortion which a majority of their constituents oppose, one wonders whether their loyalties do indeed rest with their constituents or with the powerful pro-abortion lobbying interests.

This leads us to another important point. Taking a position which contradicts an authority does not necessarily make it a decision in conscience. If a person is ill-informed or has a psychological aversion to authority, then that decision is not based on moral principles and values. Likewise, just because a moral choice happens to coincide with the hierarchy does not necessarily mean that it is not a conscientious choice.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Catholic currently married outside of the Church. As my wife and I work toward sacramentalizing our marriage, I have decided to fast from the Eucharist. My wife has made the opposite choice. My decision is no less an exercise of conscience because it coincides with the Church's teaching. Neither is my wife's decision necessarily made in conscience because it contradicts Church teaching. Again, I am in no position to judge anyone, whether it be my wife or a Catholic politician. I am simply a man whose conscience compels him to witness to the truth as he understands it in hopes of moving the discussion from antagonism to dialogue.

Friday, October 10, 2008

To Conscience!!

These comments are inspired by an opinion piece I discovered on-line by a retired priest named Fr. Emmett Coyne which was brought to my attention thanks to the blogging of Deacon Greg Kandra. Fr. Coyne's piece can be found on Deacon Kandra's blog at

In all fairness to Fr. Coyne, he is not attempting a systematic treatment of conscience in the life of the voting Catholic. Nonetheless, he lays out the issue in a way which I think obscures the important points he is raising.

I always feel uncomfortable when conscience and authority are assumed to be at odds with each other. In point of fact, they are partners. Conscience depends on external moral authorities, and external moral authorities rely on conscience. Fr. Coyne demonstrates this by using authorities to support his argument for conscience. He tells us the story of his friend whose allegiance to the Democratic party compelled him to leave priestly ministry, recalls the heroic witness of Franz Jagerstatter who refused to join the German army in World War II and cites the classic work on conscience by Cardinal Newman, "A Letter to the Duke of Norfolk". Fr. Coyne's position as a Catholic priest is also a source of authority for his argument. Since I cannot pretend to be his equal in terms of service to the Church nor probably in terms of education, I will have to rely on the authority of reason and my powers of persuasion to make my case. Either way, conscience always makes reference to external moral authorities. This is because the moral life is a shared, community effort.

Not only do our consciences rely on authority to help them in their formation, but authority itself relies on conscience. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church, to give one example, is comprised of men who are themselves endowed with consciences. They bring their consciences to bear daily when interpreting and applying the Church's teaching. And, what is the Church's teaching if not two thousand years of committed Christians in conscience applying the truths of Sacred Scripture to the demands of everyday life?

It is true that conscience and authority often find themselves at loggerheads. Nonetheless, defining or illustrating them as warring factions, I fear, obscures their role in the moral development of Christians and the witness of the People of God in modern society.

All this being said, the heart of the issue is that each individual Catholic must vote according to his or her conscience. The hierarchy may not dictate a candidate or political party to us. Nonetheless, Catholics have a right to receive guidance from the Church's teaching authority in the development and exercise of their consciences. This includes guidance as it relates to political and social issues. I agree with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado when he argues that abortion is the "foundational" moral issue of our time. That is, the issue of abortion challenges us as a nation to decide whether the right to life will extend to all human beings or whether one group of humans will be able to judge the lives of others as unwanted, undesirable or burdensome and so worthy of destruction. War, unequal distribution of wealth, the death penalty and the environment among others are no doubt pressing moral issues. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that any of these trumps abortion in scope or in its sheer number of victims.

One might argue that the sum of those other moral issues outweighs the one issue of abortion and necessitates a vote for a pro-abortion candidate as a lesser evil. Or, one may argue that even the most devoted pro-life candidate will not be able to overturn Roe-vs-Wade single-handedly. I wouldn't expect to be convinced by those arguments personally, but they could be made more or less successfully as a proportionate reason for voting for a pro-abortion candidate. My sense is that this is Fr. Coyne's position. If he had focused on making a case for this proportionate reason, his article would have been more helpful.

The real tragedy in all this is that we have lost the ability to speak to one another about these moral issues. We tend to set up opposing camps and fire barbs at each other from behind our fortified walls. One wonders whether being Republican or Democrat, pro-life or pro-abortion, liberal or conservative is now any different from being a Red Sox fan or a Dodger's fan. When we set up a discussion of conscience and authority as antagonists rather than partners in the search for truth, we only make dialogue more difficult. By giving the impression that the conscientious Catholic may poo-poo the hierarchy in political and social matters, I fear that Fr. Coyne's article contributes to the antagonism rather than facilitates the dialogue.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus

A committed Christian, sometime in his or her life, must wonder what it would be like to live in Jesus' time and meet Jesus face to face.

Of course, that's because we expect that meeting Jesus would be a deeply moving experience. We would be like little Zacarias whom Jesus calls down from the tree to have supper with or like the blind man whom Jesus cures. At the very least, we'd expect to witness a miracle.

But, not everyone who met Jesus had a deeply moving experience. Just ask the guy whose pigs Jesus sent flying off the cliff or the money lenders at the temple what their experience of Jesus was like.

I wonder alot about those money lenders. One of them had probably just gotten laid off at the matza factory and landed this gig in the temple. And along comes Jesus who knocks over the tables and sends him packing. When he explains all this to his boss, not only does he get fired, but he has to pay for the damages. Then, back at the temple, the worshippers have no one to borrow money or get pidgeons from, so they have to go to the money lenders outside the temple who are charging more now that Jesus waylaid their competition.

Anyway, with my luck, if I were to meet Jesus he'd probably call me a "viper" or a "hypocrite". Or, my experience of Jesus might be very ordinary, and I'd be stuck having to spend the rest of my life in first century Palestine.

I got a chance to meet Mother Theresa once, and I expected it to be very moving. But, she just looked at me and moved on to the next person. Don't get me wrong -- she was polite, but not moving. I imagine it must be hard when everyone expects you to give them a moving experience.

So, I think Jesus made a great point to Thomas when he said, "You believe because you see me. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe." Two thousand years after the historical Jesus I can know Him through the Bible, through the teaching of the Church and through the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I have the benefit of two thousand years of interpretation of the Scripture both by those who have taught it and by those who have lived it. And I don't have to wear a toga or eat camel meat.

That's good enough for me.

(originally appeared in