Friday, March 16, 2012

Just Between Me and the Pope

This Lenten season, I've been trying to focus more on spirituality.  After all, this is a season of renewal of faith.  As part of that, I've  been praying about and researching the Church's views on many current social issues.  As you know, there's a lot in the news lately about Catholic faith and public policy.  Catholics teach that you need to have an informed conscience in order to be a faithful citizen (and Catholic).  As part of that effort, I started going through the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website and came across a section on Faithful Citizenship and forming your conscience.  If you care to read it, it's a little lengthy but written in a bulleted style that you can skim quickly.

The first thing I discovered is that the Church believes and teaches many of the things that I believe, especially when it comes to social justice.  There are bullets on the right of workers to unionize, get a living wage, the right to access to health care, and fair treatment of immigrants and the poor (including a path to citizenship).  Reading those sections you would think that the Church are a bunch of bleeding heart liberals.

However, there were some areas I disagreed with.  One of them, the Church's position on contraception, I think I'll save for a different post since that's a very relevant topic right now and I have a lot to say.  The other two things I've disagreed with in the past are the Church's position on abortion and homosexuality.  To be clear, the Church's teaching on abortion is part of their "consistent life ethic", which includes being against the death penalty, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.  All of that I agree with.  I also agree that abortion is the taking of a life.  Life begins at conception.  That bundle of cells WILL become a person if left alone.  I personally doubt any woman that has an abortion doesn't realize they're ending the life of a child growing within them.  Mind you, not having a uterus, I don't pretend to understand the mind of a woman, but my wife tells me she believes the same thing.  Where I've always drawn the line is on whether abortion should be legal or not.  My reasoning goes back to saying not everyone believes what I do and that separation of church and state and all that.  Basically that the answer to stopping abortion is not to make it illegal but to make it unnecessary.

Then I did a little research that might cause me to change my mind.  The info was on the Catholic Bishops site but I verified it independently.  In 2010, 23.3% of all pregnancies in the US resulted in abortion.  The exact numbers are fuzzy because only 45 states actually report numbers.  But the reported numbers are around 800,000 and the actuals are probably well over one million.  That's just out of control.  It certainly lends credence to the thought that abortion is being used as a means of birth control.  So right now, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue.  I'm praying about it to see what the Lord is telling me.  But thinking about it makes me very sad.

Homosexuality (and all the issues that go with it such as "gay marriage") is another tough one.  The Church's teaching is pretty clear, and truthfully I think the message in the Bible is pretty clear.  Practicing homosexuality is a sin.  Not because homosexuals are sinners (any more than the rest of us) but because sex outside of marriage is a sin.  And Catholic marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman.  Sort of a catch 22 for homosexual people, I know.  What makes it harder is that I have homosexual friends and friends with homosexual children.  And they're all VERY good people, some of them with strong faith.  And I find it very hard to judge them.  So the teaching and the reality can be very difficult.  As a side note, I think the message our culture sends to kids these days that promiscuity is acceptable and that pleasure is good (why can't I have sex if I feel like it?) is a big part of the problem.  We don't teach our children about self control, the virtue of being chaste, and how sex really should be reserved for a deeply committed relationship (in my view marriage).  But that's a different topic all together.

So, as with the abortion issue, I will continue to pray about this.  I think at the end of the day, how we treat others really boils down to doing things out of love.  I firmly believe that even if we acknowledge that abortion and homosexual relations are a sin, that doesn't mean you should treat people badly or think they're evil because of it.  Everyone, especially those going through something difficult like abortion, need to be treated with respect and dignity, not as somehow a lower form of life than the rest of us.  And I think that's where our society REALLY falls short.  And we should all definitely pray for a better way to address these issues in the public realm.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

3/4/12

We had quite the adventure today.  One of our youth leaders wanted to expose the junior and senior high youth groups to Mass in other traditions so today we went to this youth minister's home parish to attend a Mass in Spanish.  She is from the Dominican Republic and her parish is in the middle of the city.  It's quite the multi-cultural parish.  The Mass itself was very interesting and while we understood very little, it wear really neat seeing how other cultures celebrate Mass and incorporate their heritage and music.  Plus, the church itself was very "old school" with the traditional cross shaped space, stained glass windows, and statues everywhere.  It really felt like a house of worship.

Afterwards, we met with youth from that parish and the deacon that is the pastoral administrator talked to us about their challenges.  It really opened my eyes as to how fat, dumb, and happy we are in the suburbs.  In our parish, our biggest concern seems to be raising enough money to make our "required" donation to the annual Catholic Ministries Appeal so it doesn't come out of the budget.  In this parish, they were running two food pantries, ministries to help the poor, and help for immigrants that were here due to political persecution in their home countries.  Talk about eye opening!  They're on the front lines in social ministry!

Then, we went to lunch at a Wendy's just down the road from the church.  First, there was a situation where an obviously poor (and perhaps homeless) person fell and cut his head.  A young lady (late high school or early college age) wanted to help and perhaps call 911.  This gentleman yelled at her not to call anyone and to go back to eating her food.  He was quite upset that she'd pulled out her phone.  Her parents also told her very vocally to let it go.  She ended up going outside in tears as she just wanted to help.  She got a rather rude lesson that some people, for whatever reason, just don't want to be helped.  Just before we left, another (most likely homeless) man asked me for a quarter for food.  I gave him whatever change I had in my pocket and suggested he get himself something warm to eat or drink as it was cold outside.  He thanked me and then left.  I thought it was a good lesson for the boys to sometimes provide help and let God worry about the rest.

All in all, I think it was good for the boys (and Ellen and I) to see how the "other half" lives.  It's easy to forget about the poor and underprivileged when you live in nice neighborhoods.  You hear about it on TV but experiencing it first hand is far different.  It also makes me wonder if God is calling me to do more.  Ellen and I haven't been fully happy at our parish.  I don't think we're seriously considering changing parishes, but I'd like to go back to this one and maybe visit some other parishes in the city.  Hearing the deacon take about the social ministries they're involved in struck a chord with me.  I don't know if it was God calling me to do something or just guilt at having so much when others have so little.  I've been doing reading on the lives of the saints and the author does talk a lot about the saints that helped the poor.  I think it will require more prayer and reflection.  If God is calling me to some sort of social ministry, He'll make sure I get the message.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

3/1/12

1 Pt 3:8-12 "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,


'Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.  They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'"

Even though I've read the New Testament several times, lately the Epistles have been speaking to me much more plainly than the Gospels.  Perhaps it's because it's Lent and I've been meditating on this more or perhaps it's that quiet voice talking to me, but this reading really hit home today.  I've been doing a lot of reading (and praying) and the concept of finding peace by doing the Lord's will is very powerful.  It's so easy to get spun up about stupid little things and have that spill over into personal relationships.  I realized long ago that you cannot find true peace in the "things" of the world.  But cultivating that peace is what I need to overcome the "evil spirits" that plague me.  There's a long way to go in Lent but perhaps this Lent season will really be a spiritual experience.