Renovate, Renew, and Be Reborn

     Lent is the best time for reflection. It should come as no surprise that humans once regarded the coming of spring as the beginning of a new year.  From a liturgical standpoint there are a myriad of reasons why we have settled on winter as the time to celebrate Christ's birth, and why we have left Easter in the spring.  These timing issues surrounding our Christian holidays are a subject for another day, however. 

     Around this time of year we happily look forward to warmer weather, longer days, and the abandonment of certain tasks that only occupy our lives during the colder months.  Parents, students and educators get a break from school duties;  our volunteer commitments are suspended until after vacation, and our routines become less, well, routine.  But before all that, there is Easter. And before that, Lent. 

     Probably the right way to look at our "new year" is to ask ourselves if anything about ourselves will be new.  What things in our lives will be different?  What things ought to be different?  Can we really let another year go by and remain complacent going through the same old motions?

     Change does not come easily.  Everything has a price.  That is why diets and budgets and all of our best laid plans often fail.  Maybe we fail because we have our eyes fixed too firmly on the prize rather than the process.  When we dream, we tend to fixate on the benefits of that which we want--the "sizzle" rather than the steak.  The fact is, new things and new ways take planning, determination, and perseverance.  

     In my own case, I have been renovating my home and counting my calories.  To say that redecorating six rooms is a major project is an understatement.  For months now my family and I have lived under a veil of dust.  Workmen are on site almost every day and the hammering and sawing is more than stressful.  My pre-made meals come out of little green boxes and I've managed to lose a few pounds.  The regimen was hard at first, but is slowly becoming a part of me.  I've come to see that I could fashion my own meal plan based on what I have forced myself to eat for the last nine weeks.  I now know what a balanced meal in proper proportion should look like.  Looking slimmer and feeling better are great motivators besides.

     There was a time right after my husband died that I thought it would be a good idea to change the color of my bedding to something purely feminine.  In a therapeutic move I yanked off the old coverlet and pillow shams and threw them away.  The blue sheets I passed on to my sons.  Next I ordered a bedspread and quilt in shades of pink and green.  Pink sheets would round out this new motif.  Something inside me was saying that I had to let go--let go of the old life and the old things.  At the same time I would be lying if I didn't say how painfully sad it was to remake that bed once the covers arrived.  More than a few tears were shed with each "hospital corner" as those sheets were put on.  But this would be the new me and I forced myself to become that person.

     Sometimes the parent in us forces us to do things for our own good. This kind of discipline is never easy, but it is right.  Now here's the point of all this: redoing your rooms or going on a diet can the challenging, but on the difficulty scale these are still a step below the process of renewing one's inner self.  Consider that I have been studying the official Catholic Catechism with my church group for four years already.  I recently came to the shocking realization that the "holiness" bar is set pretty high.  Daunted and overwhelmed I thought, "God asks all these things!  I'll never make it! I just can't be that person!"  It's like realizing you need to lose 50 pounds instead of 20 or like when your carpenter tells you that your new closet will cost way more than you planned, only worse.  This is your everlasting soul on the line and there is no time for frivolity. 

     For weeks I struggled with a lack of confidence over this question of renewal.  "Just repent and resolve to change.  God's mercy is his gift to those who keep his word," I would tell myself.  At the same time I would think, "Humility? Meekness? Patience? This is a pretty tall order, and I don't even know where to start.  I'm just a crumb!"  But God has a way of speaking to us whenever we ask him for help.  Suddenly phrases started filling my head like, "Who am I that my Lord should come to me?" And, "I will to do your will."  The fact is, if the prospect of the renewal of one's soul seems frightening, you and I are not the first ones to contemplate it.  

     As silly as this sounds, the process of self-renewal is not unlike a renovation project.  On our kitchen table we keep a binder with the "Project Plan" whose sheets are held in plastic protectors.  Each page has headings for "Project Name," "Assigned To," "Materials Needed," and "Prerequisites." In "Living Room Flooring," for example, the prerequisites listed are, "move, donate, or discard furniture; deinstall carpeting; remove baseboards, repair and paint walls."  Moving up the list each prerequisite is a project in itself with workers and materials listed for each of those.  Doing a project correctly takes organization, determination, ability to handle adversity, teamwork, and the willingness to go without things for a while. 

     So what does a "holiness" project look like? Is there determination there? ("You have to want it," my priest says.)  Can you handle adversity, (i.e., sacrifice)? Can you be Jesus to other people and let God be project superintendent (teamwork)?  If there is a "yes" in there somewhere you may be ready for a rebuilding project of your own.  Most important is to trust in faith and not lose hope.  Do not doubt that all things are possible once placed in God's hands.  Remember what beauty there is in hope.  Recall the poet Emily Dickinson who wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

     You will soon begin to experience days when the hope of God comes to rest in your soul; when you know that your "project" is in the right hands.  I will leave you with a favorite scripture passage which I think says it all.  God bless and have a faith-filled week.

"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God,  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  -- Philippians 4:6-7.

 

 

 

The Perfect Christmas

     How often do we find ourselves caught up in the maddening pace of of the holidays doing everything we can to create the "perfect" Christmas for ourselves and our loved ones?  Year after year we begin sometimes even before the Thanksgiving turkey has even cooled to insure that we won't miss a thing. Christmas cards need to go in the mail, (which ones are prettiest? --and don't forget to pick the right stamps!) the Christmas list must be written, (and fulfilled!) there are decorations to hang and a tree to be lit. Of course, it just wouldn't be Christmas without cookies, so we probably should bake about eight different kinds...five dozen of each ought to do it.

     The to-do list seems endless.  We want the right stocking stuffers and need some new clothes; there are parties, relatives, and don't forget the eggnog!  Did I mention that some of us have volunteer commitments and full-time jobs while all of this is going on?  If you are anything like me, it's hard not to become completely exhausted by the time Christmas day arrives.  And yet, for all the gifts, the food and trappings, was Christmas really perfect?

     Let me digress to a day that took place earlier this year before the Christmas rush began.  I asked my parish priest one day how a person goes about tapping into that abundant grace that all of heaven has to offer.  In other words, how does one become virtuous? 

     "Two things," he said.  First, it's a matter of habit. If you practice virtue, you will become virtuous." (So far so good.)

     "Second, you have to want it."

     His words burned straight into my soul and have stayed with me ever since.  Why?  Because I and others like me probably have a lot of miles to go between where we are now and "virtue."

    Even with the realization that "formation" is not just for the professionally religious, this virtue thing is pretty daunting.  How does one become prudent and charitable?  How do you keep the love of God in your heart day in and day out?  And, just as in the answer to the old riddle, "How do get to Carnegie Hall?" the answer is, "Practice." 

     What this all has to do with Christmas is not clear quite yet, but we will get there, I promise.

     Around this time of year there are a lot of low-budget Christmas movies shown on television, especially on the women's channels.  They are always kind of schlocky, the girl always marries her sweetheart and everyone lives happily every after.  Some of the stories have supernatural characters, like angels or elves with special powers to grant wishes, and all are dressed as ordinary folks, but magical things seem to happen whenever they are around.  So I began to think, wouldn't it be great if you had a magical phone that texted you every time you were about to say the wrong thing or do something you shouldn't?  Wouldn't it make a funny movie if, just when the leading lady was about to tell somebody off, she heard, "Bing!"  and sees a text message.  Sender "H.S." says, "Do you really want to do that?" So she stops and bites her tongue instead. 

     Fast forward to the next scene in our would-be Christmas flick.  Our gal starts to boil when a stranger cuts the waiting line at the department store. "Bing!" It's H.S. just checking in again.  She goes home and her kids act annoying. "Bing!" The dog is barking. "Bing!" Pretty soon it's "Bing! ... Bing! ...  Bing!"

     Of course the story is one of internal transformation, not unlike Dickens' A Christmas Carol or so many other tales involving mercy and redemption. What happens in this imaginary movie is that our primary character learns compassion.  Pretty soon her special phone rings less and less, and little by little, the people that she loves start to love her back. The climax comes when she commits a terrible wrong, unintentionally of course, but is mercifully forgiven by those whom she loves.  As the credits roll, the cell-phone is passed to a stranger who seems to be having a terrible, very bad day.  Fade to black..The End.

     In the real world my friend's bathroom has a sign that reads, "The Most Important Things in Life Aren't Things."  The quote is attributed to a young motivational speaker named Anthony J. D'Angelo.  So, if the most important things aren't things, what are? Are they people?  Kind of, but not exactly.  It is how we treat people that is important.  And that includes ourselves. 

     So when Christmastime rolls around, we all start thinking about how great our house, our table, and our clothes need to look.  We want to give the best presents (because that makes us look good) and we want to get the best presents (because that makes us feel good).  But no matter what kind of show we put on at Christmas, it cannot magically transform us, not even for a day.  The fact is, while we're sipping our eggnog and roasting our prime-ribs, we are still the frustrated, complaining people we are the other 364 days of the year.  We just seem to hide it a little more for appearances sake.

     What does the real perfect Christmas look like?  What do you think would bring us contentment as we celebrate the birth of Christ?  Do you know?  What if, starting today, we began planning for our next "perfect" Christmas 365 days from now?  What if we made a promise to ourselves and to God that we would show more mercy to the people around us each and every day?  Could we make that a habit?  Could we maybe just forget about ourselves and be the light that the next person needs?  If we practiced compassion, understanding, and mercy each and every day, we would have much about which to rejoice when next Christmas rolls around.  Our hearts would be thankful that the one who loved us showed us the way to love others, and that he showed us how to be loved in return.

   To all my friends and family, I hope you have a very merry next Christmas and a blessed New Year!

 

    

    

 

Getting Rid of Your Demons

     Birthdays sometimes have a funny way of making you look at yourself, especially as we approach our golden years. We start to ask ourselves some funny questions.  What is my legacy?  What will I have accomplished when it is all said and done?  Was I good person?  Such were the thoughts I kept to myself as wrapped up the leftovers of my half-eaten cake a day or so ago.

     Lately I have been trying to get at the root of something that had plagued me all of my life.  It all started with a blog post I read at Godless in Dixie, a popular atheist site. Actually, it started before that, but it's funny sometimes how events occur together to get you moving in that certain direction in which you need to go.  The post I stumbled onto was entitled, "Evangelical Christianity and Low Self-Esteem" written by Neil Carter.  The piece was about how contemporary Christian music, popular with evangelicals, always seems centered around our worthlessness as human beings.  After having been exposed to a veritable overload of this musical genre in public places all across Mississippi, the author felt it was time to just vent a little about how destructive such a constant theme can be. The article made its point and I naively contributed to the discussion posts which followed the story before I realized I was on an atheist's blog. 

     About that moment I read the commenting guidelines and realized that I may have just violated every one of the posted rules: "No preaching, no proselytizing, etc." Ouch! The amazing thing was that the moderators didn't throw me out and we all learned a few things about the world and the people in it. I might even say that some of the atheists I met at Godless in Dixie were nicer than some other people of faith whose only mission is to bash Catholics.  My chats with the atheists lasted for more than three days and I never once was spoken to in a bad way about sharing my beliefs.  Sure there were lots of questions about believing in something I cannot prove exists and about how I could support the Catholic church after the sex abuse scandals, etc., but as I told one of the commenters, "I'm not as emotionally invested in proving that God exists as you are in proving that he doesn't."  So after we shared about the things that make us tick, and elevated our understandings of one another, we parted ways on a relatively amicable basis.

     That same weekend I realized I needed to prepare my assignment for the upcoming catechism class in which I am enrolled at my local parish. It was about the beatitudes and freedom from sin. Now this is a little tricky to explain, so bear with me.  Question six if this particular lesson asks, "According to the Catechism, what is freedom"?  The answer: "Freedom is the power rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act...to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility.  Freedom obtains its perfection when directed toward God." Maybe not so tricky after all.

     The Christian worthlessness bemoaned by the atheists seems to be misunderstood by them in some way because, rather than seeing the joy and freedoms that the God-inspired life brings, they see a message meant to deprecate and demean us. And I jumped into the fray, incidentally, because the Catholic message focuses us more on the joy that God's love brings than the weakness we suffer without it.  That was my point in going there: to balance out this criticism of apparent negativity surrounding Christianity. 

     But back to my birthday reflections, for a moment. This thing that has plagued me all my life is a kind of anxious restlessness that feels like self-loathing at times.  "I've got to stop this," I've often said to myself. The anxieties I have suffered for decades never seem to leave me.  They are like some ubiquitous, annoying friend that I can never seem to get away from. So I started looking around the topic of self- hate in search of what causes us to feel "not good enough" as the atheists would say. What I found was that each of us carries around certain childhood scripts that guide and inform our thinking.  If we have any negative scripts (and these may be false messages that we have mistakenly written for ourselves), we go about our lives feeling as if the people around us are about to jump on us for who we are or what we believe.  We compensate by over-achieving at every chance we get.  We draw attention to ourselves by being the smartest one, the richest one, or the proudest one in the room.  It becomes an addiction and, sadly,  a way of life.  And like any addiction, the ways in which we choose to self-medicate are never enough.

     What is the cure for self loathing?  First we need to get a handle on what our life scripts are and if there is any truth in them. For anything that is a lie, we need to get rid of it; the quicker the better.  For our real shortcomings, the healthy thing to do would seem to be to deal with them honestly. Put them is perspective and stop hating ourselves for the things we can never be or change. Lastly, if there are genuine failings that we have never made right in our lives, now we be a good time to start working on them.  This system is embodied in the twelve-step programs and serenity prayer given to us by Alcoholics Anonymous, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to accept the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."  How often have we all heard these words but failed to understand that the "things we cannot (or can) change" are interior things as much as they are circumstances around us. These "things" about ourselves are what we must focus on.

     Once we get a healthy perspective of who we are and how we are, we can stop overachieving and overcompensating for the negative concepts that have made us feel unworthy all our lives.  We will no longer have the need for pridefulness because we will have forgiven ourselves for our self-loathing and we will have accepted God's grace for our failings.  When we reach that point we can offer our time, talent, and treasures for the greater good; because they are good in and of themselves, not because we need a balm for our wounded egos.

     Ending our addiction to pride brings humility in its place.  We will suddenly know that the love of our creator has enabled us to open our eyes to right behavior. If we cling steadfast to God's word our paths will be righteously made straight and our encounter with truth will most assuredly set us free.

 

 

 

“We Want Your Religion to Go Away!” … or “We’re Not Killing You So Our Brand of Persecution is OK!”

“The church should have the right to have its own convictions and values; if you don’t like those convictions and values [and] you totally disagree with it, don’t try to change my house, move into your own … and find somebody who gets what you get about faith.”  -- T.D. Jakes

             Say what you like about T.D. Jakes.  He was in the news recently because of his interview with the Huffington Post’s Marc Lamont-Hill where he discussed the black community and the sexual equality movement in general.  What seemed to many to be a middle-of-the-road stance about coexistence somehow turned into a pro-gay statement by black churches with Jakes speaking for the throngs.  Aaron Barksdale reported on the interview and quickly made Jakes seem like the darling of the gay-pride movement.  Late Sunday on August 9, 2015, Jakes clarified his position by posting this statement on Facebook (in part),

I briefly mentioned (we were running out of time) the word 'evolved and evolving' regarding my approach over the 39 years of my ministry to gay people who choose to come to our services.

I simply meant that my method is evolving—not my message. I was shocked to read that this was manipulated in a subsequent article to say I endorsed same-sex marriage! My position on the subject has been steadfast and rooted in Scripture.

For the record, I do not endorse same-sex marriage, but I respect the rights that this country affords those that disagree with me."

              It seems that publications like the Huffington Post push the envelope as far as they can, whenever they can to breathe their liberal agenda into every statement made in public.  The fallout is that people are accusing HuffPo of tabloid journalism and others are saying that Jakes is a wimp.

              For my part, I appreciate Jakes and his comments because I have run out of patience with folks who hate me for my religion.  Keep freedom for freedom’s sake when it comes to religion, I say, because no amount of shouting is going to change those whose beliefs differ from our own.  (I have always been a firm believer in our right to be wrong.) For my part, the best approach is to live and let live. Censorship can never win because that slippery slope will drag us all into pit of silence eventually.

              The current and popular treatment of religion is that only religions who accept same-sex marriage should be allowed to exist.  All others should just dry up and go away.  I have been trying to wrap my head around how to approach the pervasive and nagging proliferation of hate speech from the sexual equality movement especially with regard to some views about religion. The bigot card gets played so often by liberals that it ceases to have any meaning anymore.  What seems astounding, however, is that the ones who cry bigot are the champions of all hate speech towards organized religions.  I have read articles that purport to “put the final nail in the coffin of fundamentalism,” and comments that assure me that “Your kind won’t even exist in 100 years.”

             Excuse me, but did you just say, “Your kind?”

             Words like “hurt” and “discrimination” are free-flowing.  The “We shall overcome” mentality is now on the march.  If anyone is being hurt by this cacophonous din of over same-sex equality, it is those of us who are falsely accused of racial bigotry.  It is one thing to equate the sexual equality movement with the struggles of the racial equality movement, but to pointedly assume that those not in favor of same-sex “marriage” are also racial bigots is confounding. The LGBT movement may well see themselves as fighting the same fight, but to presume that all their opponents must all be racial bigots by default makes no sense whatsoever.

              The same-sex marriage movement would love nothing more than to have the black churches endorse it.  This pairing of oppressed groups would present a symbol of solidarity to the world. It would be saying in effect, “Your fight is my fight!”  No matter how much the LGBT movement would have loved an endorsement by a spokesman for black churches, their twisting of Bishop Jakes’ comments is soon to backfire on them. The only thing blacks and gays have in common is that both groups have been victims of hate. There is a chasm of difference, however, between one’s ability to procreate via heterosexual union and the color of one’s skin.  The proclivity toward certain sexual acts has nothing whatsoever to do with the color of one’s epidermis.

              Gay zealots are quick to bring up the case of Loving v. Virginia which centered around an interracial couple’s struggle to be legally married. What the religion–bashers often overlook it that it was the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church who supported and fought for the Lovings (who eventually won their case).  These churches backed the Lovings because they knew that there is no reason why a committed heterosexual couple should not be married when that is their choice.  Consider the alternative: the Lovings, if they lost, would be doomed to live in sin and their children would be born out of wedlock.

              Just as the gay movement should be brought to task for their accusations of racial bigotry toward conservatives, so too should they learn that the “born that way” theory is as of yet a mere hypothesis.  Medical science has yet to find the “gay” gene and many homosexuals themselves have admitted that they freely chose their lifestyle.  (The existence of a gay gene would also lead us to ponder what drives the behavior of those who bed both sexes, n’est pas?)  At any rate, people who do not possess any special DNA but who engage in a homosexual lifestyle would then need to be “outed” all over again as genetic wannabes.  In the end, there are other harmful behaviors, like substance addiction that are probably guided by genetics, but that does not validate their manifestations as socially acceptable or beneficial.

              None of this rational thought seems to have any effect on those who would argue endlessly in the multitude of com-boxes out on the Internet. Polite exchanges have gone the way of the floppy disk and the eight-track tape. Even the patronizing tones as in, “Now, now, you don’t want to be a party-pooper, do you?” have been abandoned.  The current state of affairs when it comes to commenting seems to be just the snidest, mocking, all out war being waged by a class of people with the emotional intelligence of a four-year-old.  Any poignant reminders that religious persecution belongs with the Nazis will be met with, “We’re not killing you so this shouldn’t matter.” Go figure.

The Catholic "Problem"

          Colin Israel, a gay actor, musician and writer asked, "What is your PROBLEM?" in his recently published, "A Letter To My Uncle Who Isn't Dealing Well With SCOTUS' Marriage Equality Decision" (Huffington Post Religion, July 18, 2015.)  Well, Colin, let me say this, it seems that your uncle is dealing just fine with the the SCOTUS decision.  He continues to be guided by his firm beliefs and is acting accordingly.  One's assessment of how another is dealing with a problem can be quite subjective to say the least.  (Since my ugly initial tirade on Colin Israel's Huffington Post piece could only be posted via FaceBook link, and I no longer subscribe, I have been saying prayers of thanks that I am no longer part of the FaceBook community.)

          At the heart of this "problem," as Mr. Israel calls it, is not the redefinition of marriage per se, but the redefinition of sin.  When a person presumes that his lifestyle should be accepted and validated by everyone, he is ignoring one's freedom to live by a stricter code.  To the people with firmly held religious beliefs, homosexual activity is forbidden.   If we were to substitute "lying" or "stealing" for the words "homosexual attraction" we would see how shockingly ludicrous it is to ask the deeply religious  to condone such behavior. 

          Consider this: "I knew from an early age that I was a liar.  This tendency was a part of who I was and I knew that as I was growing up.  My family said they still loved me, but they also knew they could not go along with my lying behavior.  In school things were no better.  I was bullied and beaten up for being a liar.  But now that lying is legal in all 50 states, I just wish people would get over themselves.  What is their PROBLEM?"

          The LGBT community refuses, it seems, to tolerate other points of view grounded in a particular community's religious beliefs.  We are not asking the world to tolerate some hedonsitic, satanic, or evil mindset.  Conservatives are asking for nothing more than tolerance of a conservative Christian set of traditional values.  How utterly and gallingly arrogant it is then for anyone to comment on the religious practices of a particular sect?  Would you tell the Jews that their dietary restrictions are wrong?  How about going up to some Muslims and telling them, "Well, you know, you really don't have to pray five times a day.  That's not what God would have wanted for you."  It makes no difference what you think about someone's belief system.  People can rant all day.  Unless you are the spiritual head of someone's religion, you have no right to tell them how to construct their beliefs. 

          The Navajo smoke peyote in their ceremonies and their class action was the basis for the RFRA. Suppose I approach them and tell them that they are wrong to smoke peyote?  I suspect that they will respectfully (or not) tell me to “get lost!”  You do not have to agree with what a particular sect believes, but you have to respect their beliefs under the law.  I wish someone would tell me how a person’s self-proclaimed definition of right behavior is allowed to re-define what another group believes?  Jesus himself declared that “It is not so much what goes into the mouth as what comes out of it,” when criticized for breaking Kosher laws.  And yet, who among us would dare to approach our Jewish brothers and sisters and force them to abandon their laws?  Sticking to strict doctrine is their right.

          The last two weeks I have spent a lot of time in com-boxes countering moles with names like "Catholic Thinker" and others.  Their views are anything but Catholic and their constant condemnation of Catholicism is tiresome, to be generous. There will be no getting through to them that how we behave based on our beliefs is our right.  A particular sticking point is the non-believers' mental block about the whole "aiding and abetting" thing as I like to call it.  Strict traditionalists do not attend non-sacramental weddings because it is, at least to us, a show of support for something which we hold as sinful. To support something that is sinful is also sinful.  Why?  Because the support of something sinful is a declaration before God that we renounce his teachings.

          So the wedding cake war raged on for a good six days with little inroads made.  Steven D. Greydanus produced a good piece called "Gay 'Marriage' and not Making Jesus Your Sock Puppet" in the National Catholic Register on July 10, 2015. It was about putting words into Jesus's mouth to promote or validate non-biblical ideas. Throughout all these com-boxes was the pervasive notion that traditional religious views ought to change and that, since the majority of the populace holds the modern view, everyone else should too (as if what we believe must now be subject to majority vote!)

          The only "problem" Catholics have is the lukewarm faith practices carried out by its many adherents. Critics would just about have us throw in the towel on the gay "marriage" debate because they point to all the other lapses shown (and often not condemned) by Catholics.  They feel picked-on and play the hypocrite card as they point to the widespread use of contraception, the disrespect for the Sabbath, attendance at non-sacramental marriages, co-habitation, etc, etc, etc. I almost don't blame the critics for saying that using religion for not accepting the homosexual lifestyle is just an excuse to hate.  What they don't see is that devout people, who follow their beliefs in all things, exist.  But such people surely cannot not exist in their minds, based on what we have shown to the world.

          In the end, believers who know and understand their faith don't have a "problem" understanding homosexual behavior.  The "problem" belongs to the adherents of alternative belief systems who have made it their mission to destroy traditional beliefs and the people who adhere to them.

   

Is It Pointless to Argue on the Internet?

          Bob Kurland, writing for Catholic Stand, recently revisited a piece he wrote in 2014 entitled, “Evangelization: Don’t Argue on the Internet.”  His newer look at this topic is called, "It Doesn’t Pay to Argue on the Internet."

         I was intrigued by the title as were many, I am sure, because so many of us Catholics enjoy a thoughtful exchange and the ever-present challenge to keep a civil dialogue going while getting the chance to evangelize to some extent.  I'm not sure I agree that it is "pointless" to argue on the Internet, but the blogosphere can be a daunting place when once polite exchanges become heated.  Admittedly I have endured many an evening being "beaten and bloodied," as I like to call it, by liberals on social media and elsewhere.  Often I've gotten to that place where I too have thought, "This is pointless."  And yet, night after night, like moths drawn to a flame, there we are again trying to change people's minds.

          Probably the best places to exchange ideas are where there are more people who think as we do than not.  There are the ubiquitous "trolls" in every forum but we need not let them take us down into some devilish pit. What may start out as a friendly "lunge and parry" can quickly devolve into a mud-wrestling match if we are not careful.  Indeed, if we find ourselves in the mud, it is time to go for the towel and throw it in.  By joining discussions moderated by Catholics, we can help ourselves to a wealth of ideas provided by learned people who know their apologetics.  If the level of discussion is kept to a civil plane, there is also the chance to learn a genteel way of commenting as opposed to using sarcasm and insults.

          Imagine if every word you typed were being broadcast over the radio and that everyone listening knew who you were as you were saying it.  Most of us would probably take a different tone than the one were are inclined to use when guarded behind our anonymous keyboards.  Another thing to remember is that many of the same arguments are posited time and time again in chat rooms and on comment boxes.  If we go into a discussion thread unprepared, we will be disposed of handily by those whose arguments are more practiced and well-refined than ours.  It is best to know what you believe and why you believe it before you find yourself trying to defend your faith as you go along. 

          The most authoritative source for understanding Catholicism is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  A favorite sport of non-Catholics is to bait us with questions whose answers  they are sure will prove their points.  My experience has shown that a forgiving and understanding tone to these questions is the best approach.  What most detractors do not seem to understand is that we didn't just wake up one day and decide to jump on some bandwagon as as means to validate our conservative viewpoints.  By assuming we have, their approach toward us is to attempt to invalidate our beliefs.  For the uninitiated, what is missing here is the knowledge that our faith has been unchanged for two thousand years.  Added to that, we have centuries of teaching through the Magisterium.  The greatest theologians throughout two millennia have affirmed and "settled" for us what the church teaches.  You could no sooner get a real Catholic to jump ship than could you get a Jewish man to abandon his yarmulke.  Why don't these Internet interlopers ask the Amish to drive cars or force the Muslims to eat some pork?

          Part of the reason is that Catholics for too long have been casual about their faith.  Even many practicing Catholics will tell you that the domestic church did not exist in their childhood homes. Their basic catechism never resonated with them and no one stopped them from picking and choosing only the parts of the faith that suited them.  These "cafeteria" Catholics do not cling to their faith because its message was never fully heard by them.  The result is a whole generation of somewhat Catholic faithful who would defend their faith if they only knew how.

          In my personal journey, I decided to study the official Catechism of the Catholic Church because I wanted to know what I was saying "yes" to and why the church believes as it does.  I needed answers to the questions that were certain to arise from my family and friends. Without understanding, I would be as lost as any non-believer as to why Catholics do what they do.  I could never defend why, for example, it is reasonable to believe that God exists without hearing the explanations that the Cathechism gives. I jokingly say sometimes that if I ever find an answer that I don't think is right, I will let them know!  (So far I haven't.)

          My greatest wish is to keep the faith dialogue going, but to do it as a people of peace.  It will be pointless to argue on the Internet without relying on the truth and without a tone of civility.  You may catch some comments that contain apologies when things become heated; we are all still learning.  But for my part, I still say it is worth "arguing" on the Internet if we remember that we are connected as God's children charged to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

         

 

Who's Bullying Whom?

          My local newspaper has run several editorial pieces lately contributed the writers at OtherWords, a liberal think-tank.  In fact, these extremely left-leaning opinion pieces have appeared so frequently of late that I have begun wondering what has happened to the conservative voices around our town. There just seems to be no balance at all when it comes to opinion pieces, especially with regard to the topics we Catholics hold near and dear.

          Is the conservative viewpoint lacking because too many of us are committed to "going with the flow?" That is, if we speak out, will we lose our friends or our jobs?  Will we get lambasted, so to speak, by opinions from our opposers if we write?  Like the eleven apostles huddled behind locked doors on Easter morning, we are like scared sheep, afraid that we will be the next to be crucified.

          I am reminded of the late sixties when it was supposedly cool to "tune in, turn on, and drop out." "Sex, drugs, and rock and roll" was the mantra of the let-it-all-hang-out generation.  The Viet Nam war was "wrong" and liberals vilified the men and women who served in our armed forces in Southeast Asia.  Abortion became legal in 1973 and was a cornerstone of the explosive women's movement. If you were not on board with the liberal agenda you were just a "square," or a nerd, or at the very least the butt of a thousand jokes.  America was driven by a wave of moral relativism.

          And while I joined my pot-smoking, coke-snorting friends in my search for enlightenment, others were quietly pursuing careers in medicine, law, and engineering. When all was said and done, the business of living continued thanks to the people who knew what the world really needed and delivered it. Unless you were going to really make it as a rock-star, joining the "love" generation would prove to be a path to nowhere.  Like it or not, living on love could not put food on one's table or a roof over one's head.  As my generation matured, most found that the pursuit of materialism was more fun than dropping out, and making a living selling artwork or organically-grown vegetables became less and less appealing as time went by.

          Fast forward a generation or two. No longer are our veterans vilified whether they served in Viet Nam or anywhere.  War is still hell, but we stopped blaming those who answered their nation's call.  Nationalism is at a high point and political dissent is rarely linked to the Molotov-cocktail, flag-burning behaviors of our youth.  The rate of abortions is also slowing its pace as Americans gradually awaken to the sensibilities of a "kinder, gentler nation."

          My point in all of this is that moral absolutes have endured and will endure no matter which way the cultural winds may blow.  The phrases "Love is love," and "Love wins!" continue to irk me because they ignore God's plan for us as sexual beings. Supporters of the gay/transgender movement know this but don't care.  The reason Catholics consider homosexual behavior a sin is because our faith instructs us to honor the natural law as reflected in our unique biological formations as male and female. Love can have many forms and they need not all lead to sexual encounters, no matter how deep our esteem for another person.  Moreover, what many fail to realize is that by engaging in sexual behavior that precludes the creation of new life, we are turning our backs on our roles as people of God. "Be fruitful and multiply," is the command given to us.  Catholics hold the utmost respect for the sexual act as it relates to procreation and any abomination of the sex act is considered sinful.

          Now that we've all had a primer in how Catholics regard sex, two issues need to be addressed.  First, over and over we have heard people say, "If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't have one!" This is nearly always followed by the worn-out comment that same-sex unions do not affect me and that I don't have the right to impose my religious beliefs on others.  Well, there is a grave affect on my life and those around me now that gay marriage is the law of the land in all fifty states.  By legitimizing same-sex "marriage" we will face a new set of issues as a society. We must face the eventual psychological disturbances among the children of same-sex couples who ache to know their missing biological parents. We must face the conflicts that arise in our own children's minds when what they are taught in school is in direct opposition with what we teach at home. We must shutter our businesses when we cling to our firmly-held beliefs regardless of any ostensible protections contained in Religious Freedom Restoration Acts where they exist in various states.

          In our democratic republic, all free people have the right to have their opinions heard, regardless of what drives these opinions.  Certainly Catholics should and do let their religion inform their opinions.  To do otherwise would make us hypocrites. Given our right to free speech and even freedom of religious expression, we have a right to present our predictions on where the culture is headed with regard to this hot-button issue.  We have a right and a duty to attempt to shape our world according to God's natural plan for us.  And it would be nice if we had the right not to be the subject of continuous hate speech from the liberal left.

          My second issue with this debate is that the religious right, no matter how small, still deserves to heard and respected.  Depending on whose statistics you trust, fifty to sixty percent of Americans favor same-sex unions.  The unsubstantiated statistic published today by OtherWords managing editor Emily Schwartz Greco claims that "two-thirds of us support this decision."  Apparently the OtherWords staff would have the remaining (dissenting) portion of Americans just throw in the towel since we just don't seem to matter anymore anyway.  It is utterly ludicrous for conservatives to consider how the LGBT community has been marginalized when they describe conservatives as "stomping their feet and howling."  Mike Huckabee is regarded as a "tantrum-prone toddler;" Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent was "bizarre" and the GOP are a bunch of "sore losers." Who is bullying whom here? 

          So please don't tell me that we don't get to say who gets what rights in this country.  Prisoners can't vote, a person can't have two spouses, and bigots, while they have the right to free speech, should consider whom they hurt when they foist their hateful opinions upon peaceful people who only want to answer to a higher authority.

 

 

Gay “Marriage” and Faith: Inventing the Truth

          Marriage equality was made the law of the land in all fifty states on June 26, 2015.  I expect the next few days to be filled with rhetoric from all sides on this issue since it has been ever more hotly debated in recent times.  The media, of course, have all joined the halleluiah chorus of popular opinion while giving only a patronizing nod to those who oppose the high court’s historic decision.

          The major news outlets would have us believe that almost no one is, or should be, against this decision.  I shudder in expectation for the conservatives who are about to be roasted alive on this weekend’s talk shows for expressing their opinions.  I’m not saying that conservatives never engage in raucous and unfair “beat-downs;” all are guilty of the all-too-frequent shouting matches whereby no single voice can be understood above the din.

          In short, I don’t think we can solve the world’s problems within the rhetorical milieu by itself. Sure, it is a free country and the free exchange of ideas can only inform and enlighten us.  That is why I write…and read…and watch.  Trying to cull through the plethora of political and spiritual opinion is sometimes overwhelming. I digest things from a purely Catholic point of view; checking the barometer of public opinion is something I do daily. In all of this there are many of the same stories presented only with different covers from day to day.  I have yet to find, however, any argument that is convincing enough, well-written enough, or logical enough to get me to accept the liberal view of same-sex marriage.

          Consider the proliferation of articles of late entitled, “What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?” According to Google, this phrase was one of the top search phrases on the day the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision on same-sex marriage.  Suddenly some pastors, more than a few self-appointed religious “experts,” and several others have come forward with their liberal and perhaps backward interpretations of sacred scripture.  Catholics, of course, put no stock in any of these corrupt understandings of what the Bible has to say. 

          Unlike Protestantism, Catholicism is based on both sacred scripture and on our oral tradition.  That is, our deposit of faith, handed down from Jesus to his apostles, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Jesus never wrote any scriptures, but he used sacred scripture as a tool in his teachings.  Christ charged the apostles with preaching the gospel to all the nations. They were taught much that is not contained in the scriptures. The gospel itself does not purport to be all-inclusive.  In the final chapter of the Gospel according to John we read, “There was much else that Jesus did; if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose the world itself would hold all the books that would be written” (John 21:25). How ironic is it then that the followers of sola scriptura even exist!

          The unchanging teachings of the Catholic faith have survived intact largely because of the Catholic Magisterium.  This Magisterium is the teaching arm of the Catholic Church.  It is comprised of the Pope and Bishops.  The Magisterium arises out of Christ’s command as written in the Gospel of Luke: "He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10: 16). It is charged with preserving our deposit of faith as originally taught by Jesus himself.  Their findings are regarded by the church as infallible. The Catholic faithful take great comfort in knowing that the most learned theological minds have preserved, protected, and cared for the truth as we know it for over two thousand years.

          So what credence can we place in an article just published yesterday, last week, or even last year by someone who claims to have found the “real meaning” in sacred scripture regarding homosexuality? Serious Catholics would laugh if these twistings of God’s word weren’t so pathetically sad.  We have two powerful tools to help us stay the course in understanding God’s true words of love: our oral traditions and the teachings of the Magisterium regarding sacred scripture.  If ever there were a “settled science,” the teachings of the Magisterium should be the final word in what we understand to be the truth.  How pointless is it then for us to listen to these eleventh-hour philosophers and their new interpretations of the Bible.  Their opinions are not well-informed.  Rather, they are guided by their writers’ unattainable wishes to have Heaven validate their sinful behavior.

          I am saddened by the media’s propensity to showcase these items as if they were the only viewpoint that matters.  These columns that have appeared of late are tacitly condemning of traditional views.  The fact that Catholics and their teachings are rarely mentioned, except to portray them as messengers of hate, is grossly unfair. There is no balance when it comes to reporting on questions of same-sex marriage, only a vicious propaganda machine spun by the liberal left.

 

Clobbered by the Catholics

          I recently joined a comment thread at the National Catholic Register online (www.ncregister.com) and casually, okay, gratuitously mentioned my blog.  Amazingly, some folks actually linked to this page and read my post entitled, "Let's Be People of Peace." I never expected the dressing down I received from people who now think I am in favor of a "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy when it comes to the LGBT community!

          I now think I know what has caused all this hooplah.  It was my comment in “Let’s Be People of Peace” that reads, “Telling people you only hate the sin won’t stick anymore because it still judges their actions. Who among us could protect our self-esteem from people’s criticisms of how we act?”

          I never said I “love the sin” although I can see how people have now inferred that.  I’m only trying to say that this argument has failed miserably in my conversations with gays and gay supporters, because they still feel as though they are being personally condemned. Of course I hate all sin.  Of course I do not tolerate it either in my personal or public life.  I just think that there is a time and place to tell people how much and why we abhor sin of any kind. To refrain from telling someone what is a sin and what isn’t doesn’t mean that I won’t get to it in time.  I just would rather present myself as a kind and loving person first.  This is part of the “delicate” process Pope Francis speaks of.

          At the National Catholic Register I was exhorted to stop "tolerating" sin. I was quoted passages from scripture and excerpts from the writings of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen about how we must fight against sin. I was lectured on the differences between "charity" and "faithfulness." In short, the commenters would not be through with me until I was sufficiently clobbered.  One person was quick to point out how Christ made a scene when he cleared the temple.  I submit to you that the portrayal of Christ as an angry servant is the exception rather than the rule.   

          Christ was overwhelmingly forgiving in the face of sin. Recall the woman at the well. And what of the adulteress whose story contains the oft-quoted words, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?" In all of the gospels we see that there is a time and a place for anger. Moreover, if we are to follow Christ's example, our dealings with sinners must be charitable more than condemning. We walk a fine line, understandably, in how we present ourselves to those seeking grace. On the one hand, if we are not clear with others regarding our beliefs, people might assume that their sinful behaviors are being validated.  On the other hand, if we are abundantly clear in our beliefs, the "patient" may not survive the cure.

          My message in "Let's Be People of Peace" is that these dialogs we need to have with gays (and all sinners for that matter) cannot take place in any meaningful way if our message is one of condemnation from the outset.  Remember that perception is everything.  We may well understand that we hate the sin but not the sinner, but what does the sinner hear when we say it?  The answer is that they feel condemned as as person no matter what we just told them. I have suggested that we merely try a different approach. If we insure our feelings of love and respect for others first, sinners may be more open to performing an examination of conscience next.  Keep in mind that if we are not ordained ministers of faith, we have less clout when it comes to directing others. That is not to say that we are any less informed, it is just that the asking for and giving of spiritual advice is a sensitive matter that must be handled "delicately."  So I will say it here as I have said it elsewhere this week, let's all be people of peace. You will catch more fish with a net than with a whip.


Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/joan-desmond/card.-kasper-was-right-about-one-thing-synod-wont-alter-church-teaching-on/#ixzz3eGyMO6Sl

Let's Be People of Peace

There are so many issues at hand in our times that stir our emotions: abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, assisted suicide, and probably a few more. Catholics, of course, have a lot to say whenever a social trend conflicts with their teaching and traditions. Thanks to this electronic age, there is no shortage of space to leave comments on anything and everything that piques our interest.  Our online newspapers, social media pages, and other blogs like this are all crucibles of thought waiting to overflow.

I have been in the midst of many of these philosophical online wars and have yet to prove any one of my well-meaning points. The fact is, what we say and how we say it speaks volumes about who we are. The only good thing that has ever come from all the "commenting" is that I have seen how people at both ends of the political spectrum generally think. And for all the hate tossed in my direction, the good thing is that now I know.  I know what folks think of me and believers like me. I know how the "anything goes" lifestyle gets validated and how the "I have my rights" mantra seems to trump any argument of moral absolutes. And it begs the question, "How did we get to this place?"

Pope Francis was right when he commented that Catholics dwell too much on gay issues.  Many mainline Catholics (like me) were frustrated over this bit of wisdom because we wanted to continue beating everyone over the head about how they should conduct their lives. (Remember the story last week about being right versus being liked?) Well, maybe you can be both after all.  What good is being right if no one wants to listen? The fact is, what someone does in the bedroom is an extremely personal issue. Would you want to "out" the folks who contracept their fertility in opposition to the church's teachings? Are you going to organize a march to protest against everyone who has participated in in vitro fertilization procedures? Or maybe we should start a mass-media campaign against the evils of auto-eroticism? In seriousness, these issues of human sexuality are extremely personal and the discussion surrounding them belongs in the confessional, not on social media.

Maybe the turning point for me was when more than one commenter said, "Look, if you're really as Catholic as you say you are, shouldn't you be out changing bedpans somewhere instead of preaching about what is a sin and what isn't?"  In my mind my thoughts were sputtering, "But...but... gay sex is bad!  Oooh! How dare he!" But for all that, this commenter and those like him are right. Let's ask ourselves if wearing our religion on our sleeves hasn't turned us into a bunch of holier-than-thou people who have all but lost the right to dialog on these hot-button issues. And telling people that you only hate the sin and not the sinner won't stick anymore because it still judges their actions.  Who among us could protect our self-esteem from people's criticisms of how we act?

Now here's the biggest eye-opener.  If you are a believer, don't you want everyone to get to heaven? Don't you think every person who breaks a commandment deserves to be forgiven? Aren't you one? If you believe in the gospel, then you ought to be the gospel.  One of my favorite hymns is "In Remembrance of Me" (lyrics by Ragan Courtney).  In part,

In remembrance of Me, heal the sick.
In remembrance of Me, feed the poor.
In remembrance of Me, open the door
And let your brother in...

This is where our focus should be.  If someone is addicted to any sinful act, give them a hug. If they want to hear the Christian message, that can come later. First we should show that we are a people of peace above all else.  You will reap what you sow.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Don't FaceBook

Today marks a minor milestone in my life. I divorced myself from Facebook and decided to start my own blog. People always told me that my posts were too long and the content too heavy.  After about the dozenth time a commenter said, "Seriously, is this really the place for these drawn out posts?" I finally got the message. My Facebook page has now been disabled and will eventually be deleted once I rake some pertinent content from it. The fact is that FaceBook isn't the place to state one's philosophy of life, but a personal blog is.

At this point I have no idea who will read my ponderous musings, but if you landed here, I welcome you.  I hope you will find the content refreshing and maybe, just maybe, I can offer you something that will lead you to change your life for the better.

I consider myself a person of faith; a conservative and a strict Roman Catholic. I do my best not to judge or hate. The problem with being unashamed to openly live my faith is that the world assumes that I hate everybody who is not just like me. Worse yet, they presume that I want to convert everyone to Catholicism or that I will condemn anyone with a different world view. I have heard all the criticisms I'll ever need to hear about how my religion is stuck in the Middle Ages and how I need to "get with the times."

Emotionally beaten and bloodied, I have given up trying to enlighten my FaceBook friends and the friends-of-friends as to what it really means to be a believer. Most people I meet are part of the secular mass of unbelievers who generally "go with the flow" of popular sentiment. From a personal perspective, there is such a wave of ungodly sentiment in the world that I just couldn't take having to defend my viewpoint on a daily basis while all the while being bombarded and tag-teamed by well-meaning folks.

A while back I heard a speaker give a talk on personality types. A particular point that this speaker made early on is that sometimes people would rather be right than well-liked. That speech was an eye-opener for me because I realized that up until that point, that I was one of "those" people. I'd had a good education and was probably too self-important for my own good. Co-workers were polite, but none really wanted to relate on a personal level.  So I decided to listen, encourage, and be happier more and lecture, counsel, and opinionate less. It was then that I found out why we have two ears but just one mouth.

Decades later I renewed my Catholic faith. I found myself faced with the reality that truth as I know it will once again  push people away. Keeping quiet about the "best" way to cook an egg is quite a bit different from withholding what you know is truth from the divine perspective. To not say anything at all wouldn't be fair because people will presume I agree with them on matters that are clearly contrary to my beliefs. I would rather let folks know what I'm about from the start so as not to deceive them.  If anyone is of a like mind, then there is a bond. Where there are differences, I want people to know that I will respect them, but I don't always get respected in return.

If you have read this far, feel free to "like" or comment.  I only ask that you remain respectful. Everybody matters no matter who they are or what they believe, but respect must be recognized as a two-way street.   Welcome and may God bless you!