Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Word became flesh!

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 28, 2010:
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Fr. John was known for his homilies. They were known to be very long and very boring. The parishioners would struggle just to keep their eyes open during one. But then, one Sunday, at the end of a particularly long homily, Fr. John announced that he had been transferred to another parish and that, in prayer, Jesus’ Himself told him that he should be move that very week. After he sat down, the cantor announced to the congregation, “And now let us all sing, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’”

My friends, “Stay awake!” This isn’t a warning that anyone wants to hear at the beginning of a homily, and yet, we hear this theme repeated in our Scripture today. Our second reading told us that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Jesus was more direct in the Gospel passage saying simply, “Stay awake!” They say that a good homily should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible! I’ll do my best today to keep you from dozing.

Today, of course, we begin a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” of course, means literally “coming.” Ask the average person “What’s coming during Advent?” and you’ll get the response, “Christmas is coming!” And of course, that is true enough, Christmas is coming and Advent is the run-up to the celebration of Christmas.

But, there is so much more to Advent than that. Advent is a very deep season and a very strange season. Deep because there are many layers to it; and strange because it is a celebration that can’t make up its mind; Advent is constantly facing two ways. Imagine a head with two faces. It looks both backwards and forwards. It contains the past and the future. Advent looks backwards to Christ’s first coming on earth 2,000 years ago; and it looks forward to His return; His second coming at the end of time. And that is the side that is emphasized in today’s Gospel, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

As our Scriptures look forward commanding us to be awake and vigilant so that the Day of the Lord doesn’t pass right by us, I want to take a moment on the other side of that coin and look back at the first Christmas. Theologically, we refer to Christmas as the Incarnation – a word that means literally “to be made flesh.” In the first Christmas, God is made incarnate; God becomes man; the Word becomes flesh. Or as John puts it in his Gospel, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

What does this mean for us? Overwhelmingly, I think that the Incarnation is an incredible comfort to us. Just a few months ago, I was visiting my last assignment back in Connecticut and had an opportunity to visit and anoint a dear friend who was dying in the hospital. Fran was coming to the end of a long and difficult struggle with cancer and she had, literally, hours to live before returning to the glory of her Heavenly home. She was an incredible example to anyone who met her of both how to live; and more importantly, how to die. She was a woman who surrounded herself with the love of family and friends; and most importantly, the love of Jesus in and through prayer. As we went to the hospital that night, her room was full beyond capacity. She was, as she had been, surrounded by her family and her friends, and continually surrounded by prayer. There was, of course, sadness in that room; but there was also joy and love and fellowship and thanksgiving for the life of this beautiful woman. As we anointed her and prayed over her, there was a sense of comfort that came over the room. We weren’t filled with the anxiety that often comes at the loss of a loved one; but rather, somehow, we all knew that Fran would be alright – and we would too. Jesus was there – in His priest, in His sacrament; in His people – right there in that room the Word was made flesh to comfort us and love us and to let us know that everything would be alright.

My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, our Lord comes in from outside to join us too. Perhaps not in a hospital room but from eternity, to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For, my friends, this is how God loved the world: he gave His only Son. And, that is the point of Advent – Christ’s coming; the Word made flesh; is and continues to be a great comfort and hope to us. So, let Jesus wrap you – your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments – in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be made flesh for you; to comfort you and share His profound love.

Ironically, or perhaps on purpose, Advent comes to us during what is for many, the busiest time of the year. Jesus wants to penetrate the busyness of our lives and be made flesh for us once again; to be made flesh on this altar as the bread and the wine become His very Body and Blood for us; to be made flesh in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.

In our Opening Prayer today we said, “Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.” My friends, let us stay awake so that we may see the Word made flesh in our world, in our hearts, in our lives and let that presence of God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jesus, remember me

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING, November 21, 2010:
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Anyone who subscribes to the Catholic Digest knows that every issue usually contains a story or two describing how someone became a Catholic or returned to the practice of the faith. There was one story not too long ago about a young man who grew up in a strong Catholic family and had been very active in his church during his young years. So strong in faith was he, that he eventually entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. But, then came the turmoil of the Vietnam years, college protests, race riots, the resignation of the president. Suddenly, everything seemed unglued. The young man left the seminary, joined the antiwar movement, left the Church and began to ridicule the faith he once so proudly proclaimed. His family was shocked by his change, and when his behavior became more and more hostile towards religion and the Church, they all but gave up hope.

Then came Holy Week and Good Friday in 1974. The young man, now 22 years old, was driving past a Catholic Church. He recognized the name of the priest on the sign in front of the Church. It was a priest he had once respected very much. Something prompted him to stop his car and go inside the Church. As he walked through the door, the Good Friday adoration of the Cross was beginning. He sat down in the very last pew and watched the people file up to the front of the Church to reverence the Cross while the choir sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Then something remarkable happened. The young man wrote, “Something inside me snapped and I began to cry. Overcome with emotion, I remembered the peace I had felt years ago in Church. The simple faith I was witnessing now seemed more meaningful to me than what I had been professing. I got out of my seat and went down to kiss the Cross. The priest recognized me, came over, and hugged me. On that day, I became a born-again Catholic.”

I like that story because it fits so perfectly with the readings for today’s Solemnity of Christ the King. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Our Gospel passage today from Luke describes another angry, irreligious young man whose life was completely turned around on the very first Good Friday more than 2,000 years ago.

And what turned that young man’s life around was the same thing that turned the life of the young seminarian around. It was the crucifixion of Jesus; the crucifixion of Christ our King. And what the crucified Christ said to the young man on the cross next to Him, he also said to the young seminarian: “Amen, I say to you. You will be with me in Paradise.”

There could hardly be a more appropriate reading to bring our Church year to a close today. It summarizes why Jesus came into the world. It was to forgive sinners, like the young criminal next to Him, like the young seminarian 30 years ago. And, what Jesus did for those two young men, he also wants to do for each of us. He wants to forgive our sins, no matter how great they are or how long-standing they may be. He wants to say to us what he said to the good thief, “You will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the good news contained so simply in today’s Scripture: Jesus wants to enter our lives and do for us what he did for them. St. Paul expresses that good news in this way in the second reading today, God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is the heart of what we have celebrated for the past 52 Sundays of our Church year – that we say continually to Jesus, “Remember me,” and He responds to us, “You will be with me in Paradise.” These words sum up and celebrate this past year of grace and growth, this year of joys and sorrows, this year of pain and gain. Let us make these words our daily prayer as we head into the new Church year ahead. Let us begin each day saying, “Jesus, remember me,” and “Today, you will be with me.”

May God give you peace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pope calls healthcare an "inalienable" human right (Yay!)

By Sarah Delaney | Catholic News Service

(CNS/Paul Haring)
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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.

Access to adequate medical attention, the pope said in a written message Nov. 18, was one of the "inalienable rights" of man.

The pope's message was read by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, to participants at the 25th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry at the Vatican Nov. 18-19.

The theme of this year's meeting was "Caritas in Veritate - toward an equitable and human health care."

The pope lamented the great inequalities in health care around the globe. While people in many parts of the world aren't able to receive essential medications or even the most basic care, in industrialized countries there is a risk of "pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism" that leads to "a cult of the body," the pope said.

"The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights" are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

Because an individual's health is a "precious asset" to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by "dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access."

"Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions," he said, cautioning that protecting human health does not include euthanasia or promoting artificial reproductive techniques that include the destruction of embryos.

Care for human life from conception to its natural end must be a guiding light in determining health care policy, the pope said.

In his own written statement, Cardinal Bertone had strong words in support of the need for governments to take care of all citizens, especially children, the elderly, the poor and immigrants.

"Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care," he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is "commonly accepted as a fundamental human right."

Governments are obligated, therefore, to adopt the proper legislative, administrative and financial measures to provide such care along with other basic conditions that promote good health, such as food security, water and housing, the cardinal said.

Private health insurance companies, he said, should conform to human rights legislation and see to it that "privatization not become a threat to the accessibility, availability and quality of health care goods and services."

Cardinal Bertone recommended that government leaders in poor countries use their limited resources wisely and for the good of their citizens.

The governments of richer nations with good health care available should practice more solidarity with their own disadvantaged citizens and help developing countries promote health care while trying to avoid a "paternalistic or humiliating" way of assisting, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Bertone warned of the "war of interests" between pharmaceutical companies and developing nations who have little access to medicines because they can't pay for them. He said that those manufacturers should not be driven by "profit as the only objective" in the creation and distribution of medicines.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said in opening remarks that to have good health "is a natural right" recognized by international institutions.

Despite such recognition, he said, great imbalances persist and developing nations find themselves with inadequate structures and without the ability to provide basic medicines to their people. Wealthier countries, on the other hand, have a "technical" approach to the sick, which ignores "the sick person in his entirety and dignity," Archbishop Zimowski said. 

The council, created by Pope John Paul II 25 years ago, will continue the church's mission to serve the sick and promote health for all, the archbishop said.

END



Copyright (c) 2010 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Memo to the Bishops | America Magazine

A call to preach the fullness of Catholic doctrine
Vincent Miller | NOVEMBER 22, 2010

As the bishops meet in Baltimore this week, the political climate and economic crisis demand they consider the effectiveness of their teaching the full range of Catholic social doctrine.

Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching. This has consequences for both American public life and for the church.

Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.

These Catholic teachings are under fire: Glen Beck warns millions of faithful listeners to run from any church that preaches social justice. Anti-immigrant extremists like Sherriff Joseph Arpaio are folk heroes (a textbook case of the Catholic definition of causing “scandal”). Tea Party denunciations of socialism and tyranny form public opinion on the legitimacy and scope of government. A new Republican majority in the house, led by a Catholic Speaker, plans to respond to the economic crisis by extending tax cuts for the rich and defunding health care reform—which means those portions that subsidize insurance for the working poor. These profound rejections of Catholic teaching and corrosion of the common good demand an effective episcopal response, yet too often, no response at all is given.

Two recent church statements are striking by their juxtaposition. On Nov. 3, Pope Benedict called for a committed mobilization of the laity “to study, spread and carry out the social doctrine of the Church” so that they may dedicate “themselves to the common good, especially in the more complex realms such as the world of politics.” On Nov. 8, panelists from the U.S.C.C.B. announced that that the Bishops policy agenda was “unchanged” by the election results.

The panel comments display the U.S.C.C.B.’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the partisan complexity of the American political context. The comments of John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, are exemplary. “Nobody talked about [the poor and vulnerable]—Democrat or Republican.” Carr’s perennial “pox on both of your houses” rings a bit false after the massive conservative media machine and Tea Party serving Republican candidates have been howling “socialism” against any government attempt to serve the common good for the past 18 months. It is not the Democratic Party that is demonizing those who support programs for the poor. Taking an “even-handed” tone is possible only if the U.S.C.C.B. washes its hands of what has actually happened.

And it has happened with their cooperation. Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.

Yet precious few bishops are willing to be as forceful on the rest of the church’s social doctrine. Callous lack of concern for the poor and unemployed; dismissals of the positive role of government in serving the common good; inflammatory scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, or the poor—none of these elicit a high-profile ecclesial challenge. Yes, of course the U.S.C.C.B. secretariats issue press releases and testify before congress on a broad range of issues. Bishops and staff repeat the mantra that the church’s teaching does not conform to either party. But, absent a serious media strategy to have them be heard, these have almost no effect on public life or the faith of Catholics. The bishops are unwilling to directly confront policies and Catholic partisans who dissent on other points of social teaching.

The reality is that these aspects of Catholic teaching have been systematically sidelined by neoconservatives seeking to subordinate the church to their own program and by a mainstream media all too willing to accept conservative framing of religion. To break through this frame, to teach the Catholic fullness of the faith with effect, the bishops must be willing to be forthright and specific in their defense of all Catholic social doctrines. Names and policies should be named here as well.

Problematically, the bishops have been painted into a corner through a reductionist use of the category of “intrinsic evil,” which is applied not to the full range of intrinsic evils, but only to abortion, embryonic cell research and same sex marriage—issues of profoundly different levels of moral gravity. On these matters they do not hesitate to wade fully into the weeds of policy language, no matter how hypothetical the connection. Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.

The bishops need not reduce abortion to one issue among many in order to subject other policies to scrutiny. Putting Catholic social teaching into practice is enormously complex. It demands both teaching and exhortation from the bishops and the hard work of lay experts and politicians. This is precisely the sort of grand “service to the truth which sets us free” that Benedict outlined as the church’s social mission in Caritas in Veritate. Truth demands attention to the dignity of the human person. It also demands honest and careful constructive policies to serve the common good in a time of crisis. The latter has withered under episcopal neglect.

Much more than politics is at stake. The bishops are failing to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith to the church as well. Both the 2007 Barna study and Robert Putnam and David Campbell's recently released American Grace find that young people who have come of age in the past two decades identify Christianity with the conservative side of the culture war and nothing more. A minority finds this appealing. The rest do not. This is one of the reasons that they are walking away from the church in numbers that exceed the declines of the sixties and seventies.

Our failure to communicate the fullness of the Catholic faith to this generation deprives many of the church heritage that resonates with their deepest moral and political convictions. It also deprives them of the reasons to stay that could help them cross the bridge to other teachings they find more difficult. It deprives those who do stay of full demands of the Catholic faith.

The U.S. bishops are failing in their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic doctrine. Some attribute this to their ideological commitments, others to the difficulty of speaking effectively in the current media climate. Whatever the motivation, in a year when Sister Carol Keenan is singled out for censure and the torrent of toxic anti-government rhetoric receives no response, the perceived message is all too clear. The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine.


Vincent Miller is Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton.


http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12576

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The end is near....or not!

HOMILY FOR THE 33rd  SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 14, 2010:
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With global warming out of control, meteorologists were predicting a new flood, on the scale that has not been seen since the time of Noah. Their message was simple: The End is Near! They were certain that nothing could be done to prevent it and in six days the waters would wipe out the world. The religious leaders of the world took to the airwaves to give the people their best advice. The Dalai Lama went on television and pleaded with the world to become Buddhist – this way, they could at least find peace in Nirvana. Pope Benedict got his time on the airwaves offering a similar message, “It’s not too late to accept Jesus Christ and live forever in Heaven.” But, it was the Chief Rabbi of Israel, of a sect that doesn’t believe in the resurrection, who took a different approach. Given his moment to address the world, he said, confidently, “We have six days to learn how to live under water.”

My brothers and sisters, the end is near! Actually, there are a lot of endings that are near. As we embrace the Fall, we know that the warm weather is more-or-less over and cold of winter is around the corner. Thanksgiving in a week and a half reminds us that November is almost over. The Christmas decorations that are, believe it or not, out in the stores already, tell us that Christmas will soon be here and that another year is almost over. As I said, the end is near!

And, of course, today, we enter into the final two weeks of our Church year. Two Sundays from now, we embrace Advent once again, a new Church year, and so today and during these next two weeks our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!” In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And He is asked, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”

I think He is asked these questions because we all have a natural anxiety about “the end.” We ask, will we be ready? Will we be among the chosen? Will we make it to Heaven? I’ve been working with the members of our parish preparing for Confirmation in a few weeks, and last week they had the opportunity to write down any question they’d like me to answer. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of questions about this very topic – they wanted to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. We see this in our culture periodically. Ten years ago at the turn of the new millennium there were lots of articles about the end of time; and even now there are those focused on the so-called Mayan prediction that the world will end in 2012. If we choose to look at the negative in our world – the financial crisis, the many wars – we can read those as signs of the end.

This is nothing new. Historically, just about every age has thought it would be the last. And to all of this, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

I don’t know about you, but I find these to be very comforting words. I think Jesus wants to convey basically two things to us today. The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world. We tend to do this far too often, and when we entertain this train of thought, we are not following the word of God. We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties. We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives. Our God is not a God of fear and anxiety – He is a God of love.

The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. I think of some of the televangelists that you see on TV who tell you exactly when the end is coming. But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come. Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets. Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.” The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Even the political dialogue in our country, which thankfully has quieted down a little bit since the election, seems to be one that seeks to tread upon our fears and anxieties about the future. Our world is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices. Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.”

So, what are we to do? Well, a true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us. To a world that proclaims, “The end is near,” our God counters, “Be not afraid.”

And this is what Jesus says today; that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. These seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life. Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth. “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”

My friends, the end is near….or not. But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

50th Anniversary of JFK's election

NOTE: Last week saw the 50th anniversary of our first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy.  To mark this occassion, I thought it would be worthwhile to present here a speech that he delivered on September 12, 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.  One of the claims lobbed against Kennedy as a candidate was that, as a Catholic, he would merely be a puppet of the Pope in the White House.  His was one of those landmark speeches that are worth revisiting.  Perhaps it contains some wisdom we could learn from today.  Here is the text:
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Reverend Meza, Reverend Reck, I'm grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.
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While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles from the coast of Florida -- the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power -- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me -- but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe, a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it -- its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him¹ as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty; nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to fulfill; and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a divided loyalty, that we did not believe in liberty, or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened -- I quote -- "the freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches -- when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes, and McCafferty, and Bailey, and Badillo, and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition -- to judge me on the basis of 14 years in the Congress, on my declared stands against an Ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools -- which I attended myself. And instead of doing this, do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here. And always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed Church-State separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you?

But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the State being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution, at any time, by anyone, in any country. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their Presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland, and the independence of such statesmen as De Gaulle and Adenauer.

But let me stress again that these are my views.

For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President.

I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views -- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith; nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I'd tried my best and was fairly judged.

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency -- practically identical, I might add, with the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can, "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution -- so help me God.

Here is the video of the same talk:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you ready for the resurrection?

HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 7, 2010:
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One day, a zealous young preacher came upon a farmer working in his field. Concerned for the farmer’s soul the preacher asked, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?” Not even looking up at the preacher the farmer replied, “No sir, these are soybeans.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of interest, the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin’ for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.” The determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?” “No sir! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer. Frustrated the preacher asked, “Are you prepared for the resurrection?” Finally, this caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?” Thinking he had accomplished something the preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.” Wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”

Are you prepared for the resurrection or, another way, what happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? Is death simply the end, like a candle that has burned down to its last? Or if there is life after death, what is it like? I’m sure there isn’t one among us who hasn’t asked these questions at some point in our lives. It’s timely to think about these issues on this November Sunday as the leaves have fallen, our vibrant blue skies have turned gray and the vegetation around us comes to its end. It is a good time to hear today’s Gospel and Jesus’ own words about what lies beyond earthly death.

The resurrection from the dead is the most central part of what Jesus came to bring us. “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” Many people today think that being a modern Christian includes jettisoning the belief in things that cannot be scientifically proven – like resurrection. After all, when was the last time some one you know rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But what people like this don’t realize is that this questioning of the resurrection is not modern at all. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely Jesus second favorite target after the Pharisees, the Sadducees.

In today’s gospel, some Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with the story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.

Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life whereas Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. There is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not breathe life into life like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.

Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fearful understanding of death. Our belief is based on the very nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism. Materialism focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, the accumulating of money, the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at that and says, “so what?” Our God loves us individually. He has counted even the hairs on your head He knows you so well, and He wants you to be with Him forever. The story is told of an American tourist who visited an old Italian priest. Astonished to see that his home was only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Father, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” came the reply. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” The priest smiled and said, “So am I.”

What will heaven look like? We simply don’t know. We have to wait and get there to find out, and that should be our goal, not our fear. The day we were baptized reaches its fulfillment in the day we return to Heaven, a full circle – you have come from God and will return to God. All we can say is that in heaven we will be as happy as is possible for us to imagine, because we will be in the direct presence of that God who is Love itself. Heaven is God’s best kept secret, God’s special surprise for us.

Let us thank God today for revealing to us the mystery, the wonder, the joy of the resurrection. Let us reaffirm our belief in the life of the world to come, since this is the most effective means to escape the stranglehold of materialism in our lives here on earth. Do we understand exactly how things will be in the life of the resurrection? Certainly, not. For we are talking about “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Jesus does not give us the final answers about heaven, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. The Eucharist we celebrate today and every day is our best means for preparation. Here today we receive a foretaste of the happiness we hope to share forever with the God of the living.

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Open Letter to Future Members of the 112th Congress

NOTE: Very well done blog on the next Congress by fellow friar Dan Horan, OFM.  Wanted to share this with everyone and say, take a moment to check out his blog: Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century 

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Dear Honorable Senators and Representatives of the 112th Congress of the United States,

I write this letter on election day 2010, the results of which will significantly shape the composition of your legislative body. As of this writing the polls are still open and the elections undecided. It is with that uncertainty about the partisan construction of the next Congress that I write unswayed by party agendas and respective majorities/minorities in the House and Senate. I am interested in expressing my concern to whomever is selected by the voters today. My outlook remains the same and my advice unchanged in the face of the possible electoral results.

I am a Franciscan friar, which is a Roman Catholic religious who professes the three evangelical vows (poverty, chastity and obedience), lives in community and serves the Church as a public minister. It is from my location in society as a Franciscan and as a Catholic Christian that I write.  While I have deep respect and reverence for the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of others who confess another creed (or not), what I have to say comes directly from my commitment to “follow the Gospel [i.e., "Good News"] of Jesus Christ, according to the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi” (the summary of our religious rule of life).
The Gospel has particular content and is not simply an amorphous resource for people to ground their personal interests — as is often the case.  Instead, the Gospel presents us with the message and illustration of Jesus of Nazareth’s (who Christians hold to be the Incarnate Word of God) proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The meaning of the Kingdom of God, which is indeed good news, is found in the actions or deeds and the preaching of Jesus. It is the expression of Isaiah’s summary of God’s mission on Earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  It is an upside-down presentation of the values of popular culture, Roman (at the time, U.S. today) society and Hellenistic (at the time, perhaps ‘secular’ today) philosophical worldviews.

God’s way, it is made clear, is not our way.  But it can become our way.  At least, that’s the point of the Christian good news.

It becomes our way when we live as God has intended us to live, following the example God set forth in the Incarnation and the subsequent mission of Jesus.  I believe that it takes shape in several ways, each of which provides insight into how you might approach your legislative duty beginning on January 3, 2011.
  1. God is humble.  The Greek word Kenosis, or “self-emptying,” is what is used to describe the God of all Creation entering our world in a new way, as a human being.  You too should strive to live as humbly as possible.  Empty yourself of the delusions of grandeur, importance and perpetual re-election to enter into a world in need of your service.
  2. Maintain a preferential option for the poor. For those of you who are avowed Christians, this is imperative.  For those of you who are not, I appeal to you as a person of good will. Perhaps the most poignant illustration of God’s desire that we serve the poor first is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt 25. It is those who care for the least among us — clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty — that God raises up.
  3. The Gospel shows us that God is a God there for the outcast, misunderstood, marginalized, sinner, criminal and abused. We too need to be people there for those least among us. It will be tempting to be a legislator who is there for the wealthy and powerful — they can repay you. But it is just and right to be there for those who have no or little means to repay you. Sometimes this is a monetary issue, and sometimes it’s simply political capital. Do the right thing to advance the rights of all people, even if it means you risk losing the next election.
  4. Jesus spoke of providing for the stranger and alien. Perhaps because he too felt like a stranger and alien at times with nowhere to rest his head and no honor in his own land. WWJD when it comes to the immigrant, stranger and alien?  Welcome them. Be attentive to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Unless you are a Native American or a descendent of a slave or indentured servant, you came from one who was once an immigrant to this land – don’t lose sight of our collective history as a nation, nor of our individual responsibility to take care of all people.
  5. In line with everything that has been said above about the Gospel imperative to look out for the least among us, know that access to healthcare is not simply a privilege that should be limited and available only to the wealthy. Is that what God would have us do? Prohibit our fellow women and men from the care they need to live flourishing human lives? The Gospel suggests no. Jesus does not heal only the wealthy and powerful, but often times the person on the outskirts — the sick, disabled, forgotten and unloved. These are the ones in need of healing, these are the ones you should work to protect.
  6. Jesus dined, conversed and worked with all sorts of people.  You should too.  Don’t let partisan loyalties and superficial issues get in the way of doing what is right.
To those who have read this little letter, I am grateful. Know that I join you in a spirit of prayer in our joint efforts — you in your legislative way, and me in my own way — to make this world a better place.  Do what’s right. Live in the pattern of the Kingdom of God.

Peace and Good,
Br. Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Monday, November 1, 2010

Santo subito!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2010:
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“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this Solemnity of All Saints, this question that we heard proclaimed from the Book of Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Or perhaps, closer to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did they become saints?

If you recall the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II’s in 2005, one of the most amazing scenes was of the numerous signs and the vocal chants in St. Peter’s Square of, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst. “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.

But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. Ironically, perhaps, today’s celebration is actually not about all of the holy men and women who have gone before us and now enjoy an eternity in God’s presence; but rather it is about the common call that each of us who are baptized share to become one of them. All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints.

The famous mystic Benedictine, Thomas Merton, once asked a friend, “How does one become a saint?” The answer, “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” We must first desire to be saints, instead of saying to ourselves that sainthood is out of our reach.

So, how do we show that desire? How do we become saints? Jesus gives us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. The 144,000 we heard about in the first reading followed that good instruction. They are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. What instruction did they follow? The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Few of us would expect chants of “Santo Subito” at our funeral. If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus. But, our human life in this world is destined to become eternal life with God in the next. We must live as though we believe that, as though we desire that. Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit. With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory. It was once said that, “there is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”

My brothers and sisters, we celebrate this day all of those saints, those women and men who have successfully lived that life of faith all the way to glory, and we remember that we too are called to that same glory. We remember that to be a saint, “All you have to do is desire it.”

May God give you peace.

Catholics As Citizens | America Magazine

NOTE: This article deals well with the complexities of an issue that most people over simplify.  It's worth a read.
M. CATHLEEN KAVENY | NOVEMBER 1, 2010
the cover of America, the Catholic magazine
May a good Catholic vote for a political candidate who is pro-choice? In the last two presidential elections, some Catholics, including a few bishops, argued that it was always wrong to do so, at least if a pro-life candidate were running in the same election. In making this claim, however, they were being more rigorist than the current pope, whose answer to this very question was not “never” but “sometimes.”
In 2004, in his capacity as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger dusted off the old moral theological framework of “cooperation with evil” to address the question of voting for pro-choice politicians. That framework was developed in order to assist confessors in evaluating the complicity of penitents in the wrongdoing of others. Although the technical terminology can be frustratingly abstruse, the underlying distinctions continue to be useful.
Cardinal Ratzinger states that a good Catholic cannot vote for a candidate because he or she is pro-choice. In traditional terms, such a vote would constitute formal cooperation with evil. Because it is a type of intentional wrongdoing, it is always morally impermissible. But what about voting for pro-choice candidates despite their stand on the life issues? According to Ratzinger, “when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”
To understand this statement, three points need to be kept in mind. First, and most important, unlike formal cooperation, in cases of material cooperation the cooperators do not intend to further the wrongdoing of other agents. Instead, they act for their own legitimate ends, foreseeing but not intending that their action will facilitate that wrongdoing. Second, while formal cooperation is always prohibited, the permissibility of material cooperation is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends upon a variety of factors. How grave is the wrongful act in question? Does the act of the cooperator overlap physically with the act of the wrongdoer? If not, how much distance is there between the two acts in terms of time, space and causal connection? Will the wrongful act take place anyway, regardless of whether the cooperator goes forward with the act of material cooperation? Is the cooperation an isolated act or an ongoing pattern of involvement? Will my cooperation cause “scandal”?
Third, holding one’s nose and voting for a pro-choice politician (or any politician who publicly advocates immoral policies) falls under the subcategory of “remote material cooperation.” It is remote because it is extremely removed in terms of time, space and causation from the wrongful act in question (enacting permissive abortion laws), and even further removed from the underlying wrong (the act of abortion itself). As Cardinal Ratzinger indicated, remote material cooperation can be justified by “proportionate reasons.”
Some Catholics have argued that nothing is proportionate to the great evil of abortion, functionally turning the cardinal’s qualified permission to vote for pro-choice politicians into an absolute prohibition. This approach, however, misapplies the criterion. In assessing proportionate reason, the focus stays on the particular act of cooperation and its particular consequences; it does not migrate to the global evil with which it is associated. We cannot simply set 1.5 million annual abortions on the negative side of the equation as if they are entirely caused by one vote. A single vote for a pro-choice politician is not likely to make any significant difference to any particular woman’s decision for or against abortion, given that abortion is currently a constitutionally protected right in this country. In fact, we might well judge that voting for a candidate who supports a large safety net for mothers and dependent children would be a better way to increase the number of children brought to term, especially at the state level.
In response, some pro-lifers might argue that while a vote for a pro-choice politician may not cause many new abortions, a vote for a pro-life politician, particularly a pro-life president, is the way to prevent them. Even here, however, the causal chain is tenuous. A president may not have the opportunity to make appointments to the Supreme Court; if he/she does, no president has control over how justices vote once they are seated. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, many states will legalize the procedure on their own. It is not at all clear that voting for a pro-life president will prevent abortions in any significant number, particularly if other executive policies make it harder for women facing crisis pregnancies to have children. They can simply travel to a state where abortion is legal.
Finally, pro-life groups might argue that whether or not electing pro-life politicians is sufficient to outlaw abortions, much less to reduce their number significantly, it is certainly a necessary step. Given the constitutionally protected status of abortion, the pro-life movement must convince a majority of voters not only to oppose abortion, but to make opposing it in a coordinated, disciplined fashion a top political priority.
This argument might work as a pro-life political strategy. It is, however, largely irrelevant to the traditional matrix of cooperation with evil. The point of that matrix is negative; it aims to identify the actions that must be avoided in order to avoid sinning. It is not meant to provide the positive engine for a program of social reform. Still less is it meant to use the threat of sin and eternal damnation in order to promote the coordinated action necessary to overcome systemic injustice.
But that’s not the end of the story.

An Emerging Problem in Moral Theology

Not only does the traditional category of cooperation with evil offer little assistance in addressing the question of voting for politicians who favor abortion rights; it also does not help us evaluate other questions, like whether we should shop at big-box stores, whose goods are less expensive because they are made in sweatshops. It is also not very useful in thinking through the issues involved in paying taxes that support an unjust war. Do these examples mean that the actions involved raise no moral problems? Absolutely not. Rather, it means we need to develop new ways of analyzing the involvement of individuals in systemic structures of complicity.
Of course, the idea of structural complicity is not new to Christian thought. The doctrine of original sin has long pointed to the common human plight of failing to live up to our obligations to God and one another. St. Augustine, Pope John Paul II and liberation theologians have all examined how individuals can be caught up in social practices marred by entrenched sinfulness. It seems to me, however, that individual involvement in structural wrongdoing has garnered more attention in the present era. Why? For one, residents of developed countries are enmeshed in increasingly complicated webs of production and consumption. We buy goods made on the far side of the globe. We ensure our safety not only by deploying U.S. soldiers but also by forging alliances with other nations and private contractors. Our network of relations is increasingly pluralistic. We do not share the same values with all members of our political community, still less with those in our global economy. Finally, thanks to the Internet, ordinary individuals know far more about these political and economic relationships than in the past. Coordinating action, including boycotts and other protest campaigns, is far easier than it used to be. In short, individuals are not isolated agents. Nor are they totally immersed in their own families or churches or communities. They are networked agents.
How does the “networked self” experience moral responsibility? Catholic moral theology has done a good job analyzing the actions of individuals and small groups, on the one hand, and the social structures that contribute to just and unjust societies, on the other. There needs to be more reflection, however, on the intersection of these two realms: How should we think about the actions of individuals and small groups in relation to larger social structures? Can we say anything more helpful than that it is “remote cooperation with evil,” justified by “proportionate reason”? Making progress on these questions will require more sophisticated theoretical treatment of three issues.
1. Aggregated agency. Remote material cooperation is a large category. It describes the citizen voting for a politician who supports unjust policies, a big-box store customer buying cheap goods made by slave labor and a worker paying taxes, some of which will go to support an unjust war. It also covers taxi drivers delivering drunk passengers from the airport to the Las Vegas strip. What sets the first three cases apart from the last one, however, is the pressing problem of aggregated agency that they raise. Taken by themselves, my individual vote, my isolated purchase and my tax payment are largely inconsequential. But taken together, the actions of voters, consumers and taxpayers have a significant effect on the practices they facilitate.
When should I think of myself primarily as a member of a class in evaluating my action, and when do I take into account my own particular needs and desires? This question is relevant for two distinct purposes. The first has to do with the development of my own character and the characters of others for whom I am responsible, like family members. What sort of barrier should I set between myself and the large social evils of our time? How can we express solidarity with those harmed by those evils? If we need to shop at a big-box store because of the prices or location, is there any countervailing action we can take to offset complicity, like donating to an organization that combats child labor? If we vote for a pro-choice politician, can we find time to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center?
The second purpose is related to bringing about social reform by coordinated action. What means should be used to bring about change? Letter writing or something stronger? In essence, the bishops who tried to forbid all Catholics from voting for any pro-choice politician were trying to organize a political boycott. A boycott is a legitimate method of agitating for social change, as Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous boycott of the segregated bus system in Montgomery, Ala., demonstrated. It is not always, however, an appropriate or successful method, as Dr. King found out a few years later in Albany, Ga., when his broader and more diffuse protests not only failed to produce the changes he sought, but also engendered frustration and violence. When is a boycott a legitimate method to protest injustice, and when are its ancillary costs, including harm to innocent parties, too great?
2. Currents of action. How should we think about broad causal patterns and our place within them? Systemic injustices cannot be analyzed by looking solely at the actions of individuals. We are dealing with the actions and reactions of corporate agents, including nations, transnational regulatory bodies and multinational corporations. Moreover, these do not always act independently; they respond to incentives and pressures created by the others. Corporations, for example, move production facilities abroad when they cannot continue to make a profit for their shareholders at home.
The Catholic moral tradition has done a very good job analyzing the practical reasoning and deliberations of individual moral agents. More work, however, needs to be done both on the manner in which corporate agents can be said to “act.” In particular, we need to consider how to evaluate the “wake” of the actions of corporate agents—the manner in which they shape the context in which other agents, both corporate and individual, plan their own actions. We need to think about how corporate agents affect the common good not only directly, but also indirectly by creating incentives for other agents to act.
3. The inbreaking kingdom of God. As Catholics, we know that the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection; we also know that it will not be fully realized until the end of time. Until then, Christians need to keep two values in creative tension by honoring the insights of two groups of devout Catholics, which I call the prophets and the pilgrims.
Prophets emphasize the importance of clear, unambiguous witness to the transformative power of the inbreaking kingdom of God. They believe that the purity of their witness to those values will be compromised if Catholics, especially Catholic institutions, appear resigned to the great systemic evils of our time. Consequently, in evaluating questions of complicity, they are likely to stress the need to maintain significant distance from the wrongful acts of others, particularly if significant portions of the population do not agree that those acts are wrongful—for example, abortion or extramarital sex.
In contrast, pilgrims are acutely aware of just how far human society still remains from the kingdom of God and how difficult the journey continues to be. The consequences of sin and the sting of death are still all around us. The only way to ameliorate those consequences is by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. It is not enough to avoid sin; we have to love and serve our neighbors. Ameliorating injustice and practicing the corporal works of mercy often involve contact with, and sometimes cooperation with, wrongdoers. We cannot expect to avoid such contact until the end of time. Until then, as St. Augustine reminds us, the wheat and tares will grow together.
The different eschatological sensibilities of prophets and pilgrims account for their different judgments on such issues as whether it is permissible to provide condoms in developing countries to prevent H.I.V. infection or whether Catholic hospitals may ensure their financial stability by affiliating with systems that perform sterilizations. In the best of circumstances, the tension between prophets and pilgrims can be creative, pressing us to think more deeply about both requirements for following Jesus Christ. But we must guard against allowing creative tension to become mutually assured destruction.
M. Cathleen Kaveny is the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.