Friday, October 26, 2012

The HHS Mandate revisited

Nobody wants to cry "wolf" if it is not necessary. However, throughout the bible there is a rich tradition of prophets calling their people back to God. Time and time again the Israelite people turned to idols and each time it led to their eventual overthrow. Cardinal George of Chicago has been speaking prophetically. In his latest column to the Chicago Archdiocese he said that "the secularizing of American culture is a much larger issues" than political causes or the outcome of the presidential elections. "The world divorced from God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It's on the wrong side of the only history that finally matters." He notes that the 2012 political campaigns have brought to the surface "anti religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country for several just communism's better scrubbed bedfellow." Perhaps more disturbing is his remark "I am correctly quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my succesor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." He said he was trying to express in "overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization" of society would bring. Why the alarm? Apparently many Catholics are not aware of the implications of the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for Catholic institutions. As a refresher, the HHS mandate requires that employers provide insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization abortion-inducing drugs, and related education and counselling. All of these practices are against Catholic teaching. Any employer that does not comply will incur substantial fines that may result in eliminating the employer's ministry. This is an unprecedented attack on religious liberty. The HHS mandate determines whether an employer is religious enough and leads the way toward redefining religious liberty as the freedom to worship. But what about the supposed "Accommodation?" On February 10, 2012, responding to intense opposition to a broad spectrum of religious institutions all over the country, including all 181 Catholic bishops presiding over a diocese, President Obama announed that there would be an "accomodation" for religious institutions opposed to facilitating practices contrary to their moral teachings through their employee health plans. In the so-called accommodation, insurance companies-not the religious employers themselves-would be forced to pay for the abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. However, since any funds the insurance companies would use to make such payments ultimately come from the premiums paid by employers, Obama's "accommodation" is nothing more than a kind of economic shell game. In the final analysis, the so-called "accomodation" still forces religious institutions to provide employees with health plans covering free "services" that violate their religious convictions-or face crippling fines should they refuse. President Obama's HHS Mandate violates freedom of conscience, a right that is guaranteed by the First Amendment and even several federal laws. The right to practice one's religious beliefs is protected by the Bill of Rights. The Obama administation's attempt to force all Americans to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience. Never before in US history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase a product in contradiction to their moral and religious beliefs. Having fled religious persecution in Europe, America's Founding Father's cherished religious liberty as the most precious of values. In his work "Forged in Faith" Rod Gragg notes: " For the cause of liberty-that uniquely American faith-based freedom-America's founding fathers were willing to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, and would do so with a firm reliance on Divine Providence. More than a few of them would lose their fortunes. Some would lose their lives-but the sacred honor they defended would remain intact. the founding document they risked all to create-the Declaration of Independence-would long endure as an American commitment to the self evident truth 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." What are you willing to sacrifice to maintain religious liberty?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John of Capistrano-An excerpt from the Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living

The following excerpt comes from a book by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak titled "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living." Today is the feast of St. John of Capistrano. He is the patron of military chaplains. This is the excerpt from their book. They dub him the patron of Homeland Security: "No, he didn't breed swallows or found a mission in California. The exquisite church that bears his name was given it by his fellow Franciscan Fr Junipero Serra, who founded this mission in 1776 among twenty others that dot the state. San Juan de Capistrano is the oldest building still in use in the state of California. St. John was no swallow, but a tougher bird entirely-more like an imperial eagle. Born in Italy to a family of warriors, he ruled the city of Perugia on behalf of the king of Naples. Captured in a war he was trying to mediate, he discovered a call to religious life and got permission (from his wife as well as the church) to annul his marriage and join St. Francis's order as a priest. He walked up and down the length of Italy, preaching and attracting crowds-one as large as 126,000. We've been to TAFKAP concerts smaller than that. John's preaching made him famous and got him appointed papal nuncio (ambassador) to Austria, where he led a movement against the popular proto-Protestant heresy of Jan Hus. When Turkish forces invaded Serbia (are you seeing a pattern here?), the pope appointed John to preach and lead a crusade to turn them back. At age seventy, he personally led seventy thousand men into battle, defeating the Ottomans outside Belgrade in 1456. He is customarily pictured stomping on a turban-an image that now appears in the official seal of the Department of Homeland Security." I guess his story gives new meaning to the expression "onward Christian soldiers."

Finding God in the mountains II

This was written in August. With Winter Storm Warnings in Squaw Valley I decided to revisit my words. I have a love affair with the mountains. I first climbed Mt Washington in eigth grade with a group from the Science Center in New London. In recent years it has been a semiyearly ritual with some friends to make the climb. Today as I glanced at Mt Granite Chief in Squaw Valley it was as if He were challenging me. Come on....give me the best that you have. I was hesitant, alone, and yet, felt one with the universe. Hawks were circling overhead. Well...if I don't make it at least they will have a meal. I huddled under the remaining tree and said yo myself...this is good enough. Then I got up ....why...only anyone who has faced a challenge can relate. I trudged forward step by step and before I knew it I was there. The feeling is universal-perhaps it is someone going through rehab and intensive physical therapy. Perhaps it is someone fighting cancer. Maybe it is one of our country's great heroes....the soldiers who return without limbs and broken psyches. Whatever it is, we all have our mountains,our crosses to bear. St John of the Cross wrote his most moving and beautiful poetry while in a jail. His own religious order imprisoned hom in Toledo Spain because they did not like his spirituality. He drew a picture of the Ascent of Mount Carmel. The straight path to the summit of God is nada, nada, nada.(nothing,nothing,nothing). All the virtues, all of our good works, all of the external things we rely upon are nothing if we do not rely upon Him. Many people turn to God when everything else fails....a marriage...loss of a on and so on. That is ok, but God wants to be our Abba, our daddy.He knows we will fall but he wants us to trust Him and trust in His love. Today as I approached the summit I realized how exposed and vulnerable I was and still am. "To the heights" Blessed Pier Giorgio said.Our Lord wants to lead us, like Elijah, to Mt Horeb, the mountain of God. This is something that is accesible to everyone. Why? Because one does not need to go to the mountain. All that is necessary is that we wash the feet of others where we are right now. In the book "The Eighty Dollar Champion "Harry de Leyer spent his life looking for a thouroughbred that would make him a winner. The thoroughbred never came, instead it was a work horse with great undeveloped talent that was waiting for him to be the one to make him a champion. If you want to reach the heights of love of God and neighbor...heed the words of St John of the Cross :"where there is no love put love and you will draw out love....and "I went so low, so low, to go so high." Harry de Leyer went low....he cleaned the horses...did the grunt work...spent the time to train, cutivate a horse with tremeondous untapped talent. The result? One of the most successful horse jumpers in American history. "Snowman" was just moments from going to the slaughterhouse. He was so grateful his life became one great hymn of praise. St. Paul has a phrase in his letter to the ephesians-a phrase that should inspire all of us-"For the praise of His glory." That is why you and I exist. Our life is to be a hymn to the "praise of God's glory." This can be done on a mountaintop, or this can be done in cleaning the stall of a work horse. All of us can make of our lives "something beautiful for God."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

October is Respect Life month in the Catholic Church. It is also the month of the rosary. In an election year it is helpful to reflect on what our faith teaches about our commitment in society. Our faith is not a purely private faith. It is meant to be lived in community. This is our understanding of God-the Trinity-Father, Son, and Spirit, is a communion of persons. At the core of Catholic social teaching is the "Dignity of the human person." What does this mean? Today is the feast of the North American martyrs, Oct. 19th. St. Isaac Jogues and companions brought the faith to North America and gave their lives for the faith. What would compel someone to do such a thing? Today's gospel gives the answer: " I tell you friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you: be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." (Lk 12:1-7) Fearlessly St. Isaac Jogues and his companions taught the native North Americans about the one true God. They taught them that they were created in His image and that they were and are "Fearfully and wonderfully made" as the Psalmist says. This is what the church means when it speaks about the "dignity of the human person." It is not based on what we do. It is based on who we are, children of God. Cardinal Wuerl of Washington DC has a book titled The Gift of Blessed John Paul II. In this book Cardinal Wuerl notes: "The dignity of the human person does not derive from any achievement, accomplishment, productivity, or external talent or attribute. We are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to a divine destiny, which transcends earthly life. As such, every human from the moment of conception to natural death is to be cherished and considered worthy of reverence and respect. It is for this reason that the Church defends so intensely the dignity of persons against all forms of slavery, exploitation, manipulation, and domination, whether these be inflicted in the field of politics, economics, medicine, science, or from cultural or ideological demands." (p. 160). This is why it is not accurate to call the Catholic pro-life position anti-abortion. At every stage of life from embryonic stem cells to workers in society, to the poorest of the poor, those on death row, and those about to enter eternity-all have an innate dignity which must be respected. Blessed John Paul II spoke about some of the threats to this teaching in modern society in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). If you have never read it, please do. It is an epic work that shows how the teachings of the Catholic church on life are not just "one issue" among many. The church teachings on life are the only teachings that matter. He says quite boldly in the opening paragraph: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message." Note, he does not say it is one issue among many...he says it is at the heart of the gospel message. The following passage I will quote at length. Pope Benedict XVI in one of his opening addresses as Pope noted that our current age is facing a "dictatorship of relativism." Here are his predecessors words: "Freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion, or indeed, his selfish interest and whim. This view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society. If the promotion of self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds." Don't we see this happening on the evening news every day? People are living in fear of one another. By rejecting objective truth and promoting "freedom of choice" we end up creating a society where everyone is wary of and fearful of their neighbor. Blessed John Paul II cuts through the rhetoric of contemporary politics with the wisdom of a prophet. Listen to these words:" The democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations:'How is it possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations practiced: some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and others are denied that dignity?' When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the state itself has already begun. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and to recognize that right into law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom." As long as abortion is legal in the United States we will not be free individuals. Plain and simple. The Pew research forum last week published results of a poll showing that a majority of Americans see themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious." This is consistent with sociological models that have showed a greater distrust of institutions and organized religion among the Generation X'ers and Busters (basically the young people in our society). What was disturbing was the stat that 52% of those feel the Church has no moral authority to speak on the issues of the day. Blessed John Paul II touched upon this in Evangelium Vitae:" But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity (abortion) has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self deception In this regard the reproach of the prophet is extremely straightforward: 'Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness' (IS 5:20) Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as 'interruption of pregnancy,' which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the direct and deliberate killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth." Strong words. How do we change from a "culture of death" to a "culture of life?" Simple. We need, each and everyone one of us, to stop and thank God for creating us in His image and likeness. We need to first realize that "we are worth more than many sparrows," that God's spirit lives in us. When we realize that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" we will recognize that our neighbor is as well. We will change our language and no longer call an innocent unborn child a "choice." We will have networks of support groups to help women overcome their fears and make the right decisions. "Nothing is impossible with God."

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Year of Faith-the new evangelization

Yesterday, October 11th, 2012, marked the opening of a "year of faith" in the Catholic Church. It has been Fifty years since Blessed John XXIII opened the doors of the church to a renewal in the Spirit. In the words of one of the chief documents, Gaudium et Spes, " At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task." What are the signs of our time? There is a new Pew research poll that shows a high percentage of Americans view themselves as "spiritual" but "not religious." What accounts for this? Amazingly, Gaudium et Spes, written in 1965, seems to answer this question directly: " A change in attitudes and structures frequently calls accepted values into question. This is true above all of young people who have grown impatient at times and, indeed, rebellious in their distress. Conscious of their own importance in the life of society, they aspire to play their part in it all the sooner. Consequently, it frequently happens that parents and teachers face increasing difficulties in the performance of their tasks. Traditional institutions, laws and modes of thought and emotion do not always appear to be in harmony with today's world. This has given rise to a serious disruption of patterns and even of norms of behavior. As regards religion there is a completely new atmosphere that conditions its practice. On the one hand people are taking a hard look at all magical world views and prevailing superstitions and demanding a more personal and active commitment of faith, so that not a few have achieved a lively sense of divine. On the other hand greater numbers are falling away from the practice of religion. In the past it was the exception to repudiate God and religion to the point of abandoning them, and then only in individual cases; but nowadays it seems a matter of course to reject them as incompatible with scientific progress and a new kind of humanism. In many places it is not only in philosophical terms that such trends are expressed, but there are signs of them in literature, art, the humanities, the interpretation of history and even civil law: all of which is very disturbing to many people." What the Vatican II document says in short is that "secularism" is the enemy of religion. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about this and you see it rampant in American Society. This is why we need to "re-open" the doors of the church to the world. Addressing students at an outdoor mass St. Josemaria Escriva addresses the dichotomy between the church and the world. He states: " This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatalogical significance of the Eucharist could however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth. When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means being taken up in ecclesiastical matters in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. the doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history without ever really meeting it.......Surely this confirms in your minds, in a tangible and unforgettable way, the fact that everyday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind." Wow! St. Josemaria's words leap off the page and speak right to our generation. To be "religious" in the minds of most Americans is to do Church things. Being "spiritual" however, means you can find God outside of a church. We need to address this! The Catholic church does not disagree. We need to convince those who are not attending church that they can have an encounter with Christ-it is not an either/or proposition, it is both/and. Sadly, I think in many circles of Catholic Christianity we expect the world to come to us. That is not the Gospel message. We must bring Christ to the world! This past weekend it was a great joy to celebrate mass on the banks of the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. My altar was a downed tree branch and I had a green stole over my waders. With 32 men in attendance we read the readings, the gospel, I preached a homily, and celebrated the prayers of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Where moments before men were arguing with one another over who had which fishing spot, now they were exchanging the sign of peace. After 25 minutes the mass was complete. Heaven had come down to earth and we brought Christ to that part of God's creation. This is what we must do in each and every situation. Let us be missionaries of God's love to a world that does not know Jesus Christ. "They don't want me because they don't know me" Jesus said to Mother Teresa. We must make Jesus Christ known. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: "May the gospel reawaken in all the baptized the awareness that they are missionaries of Christ, called to prepare the way for him with words and with the witness of their lives."