Author Archives | Susan Klemond

About Susan Klemond

I'm a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the Catholic Faith, local issues and people. I love the challenge of learning about the Church and discovering the reasons behind her teachings.

Going up? St. Thérèse was confident in her elevator to heaven

October 1, 2013

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Elevators aren't always reliable but St. Therese had great confidence in hers--the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Elevators aren’t always reliable but St. Thérèse had great confidence in hers–the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m not as eager to take an elevator as I was before I got stuck in one with five other people on a hot July night. We waited only 40 minutes before the power was restored but it seemed like a lot longer as we called for help on the elevator phone, wondered if rescuers were coming and worried about whether the elevator had an air vent.

One saint who had more confidence in her elevator was St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast day we celebrate on October 1. Elevators must have been more novel in the late 19th century. I’m not sure how many St. Thérèse actually rode on or if she had any experiences like mine.

The Little Flower’s elevator wasn’t designed to take her from floor to floor in a building; it was meant to take her to heaven—on God’s power, not her own. The “button” she pushed to call the elevator was her confidence in the Lord, especially in light of her littleness and weakness. It was this confidence in God that would be a centerpiece of her much loved and imitated spiritual work, the Little Way. She wrote in her autobiography:

We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs … I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. … The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.

The foundation of St. Thérèse’s confidence, as her autobiography states, was recognizing her own nothingness and expecting everything from God as a small child expects everything from its father.

Our misery attracts God’s mercy, St. Thérèse believed. “She regarded her faults as “reminders of her weakness and of her essential need for Our Lord’s constant support; they caused her to turn more completely to Him that He might alone be her sanctification. … her confidence, now unhindered, carried her swiftly towards perfection.” (Spiritual Childhood by Vernon Johnson, p. 103)

St. Thérèse became so confident in the Lord through the assistance of the indwelling Trinity, according to Johnson, who states, “Confidence is a gift of the Holy Spirit, refused to none and granted in proportion to our faith.”

This confidence is the key to Jesus’ Heart and He opens His arms, but it doesn’t disregard our shortcomings. The Lord continues that work of purification. (I Believe in Love by Père Jean du Coeur de Jésus D’Elbée)

In order to purify and sanctify us, Jesus needs only our humility and confidence, D’Elbée writes.

And your confidence will be in proportion to your humility because it is to the extent that we realize our need of Jesus that we have recourse to Him, and we sense this need to the extent that we justly realize our unworthiness.

We need this confidence when receiving the sacraments, including confession, according to D’Elbée.

We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, in the consuming and transforming furnace of his Heart, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.

St. Thérèse’s faith in the Lord’s love for her gave her complete confidence. At the same time she didn’t forget that He was doing the good in her.

When someone told St. Thérèse near the end of her life that she was a saint, she pointed to the tops of the trees in the garden, which looked golden in the setting sun.

“My soul appears to you to be all brilliant and golden because it is exposed to the rays of Love.  If the Divine Sun stopped sending me His fire, I would immediately become dark and full of shadows.”

(Autobiography, D’Elbée)

Our elevator eventually brought us to our destination and of course, St. Thérèse’s brought her to heaven. During her elevator ride through life, her autobiography reveals that she also had to wait sometimes. Even so, St. Thérèse never lost confidence in the One running the elevator.

St. Thérèse, help me to have complete confidence in God’s care for me today.

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Women’s roles change, not inherent worth and dignity

September 24, 2013

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For many women changing roles means changing outfits. But the feminine genius about who women are as well as what they do. Photo/Steve A Johnson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If changing clothes is part of changing roles, I think women wear a lot of hats—and outfits–in a day. From mom-in-sweats to workplace wear to work out to soccer match casual.  I’m not a mom but I’m used to changing clothes often for different roles in life.

Beyond the roles women find themselves in, there is much to be said about their inherent importance and dignity.

In the much publicized interview released last week in America magazine, Pope Francis again brought up the issue of women’s role in the Church and called for a new theology of women.

The pope said that deep questions need to be answered. But he distinguished between women’s importance as persons and their roles when he talked about the Blessed Mother:

Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.

He echoed Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 25-year-old apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem in which Bl. John Paul writes that women represent a particular value because they’re human persons and at the same time, that they’re particular persons because of their femininity. This he calls the “feminine genius”, notwithstanding capabilities, accomplishments—or roles:

“…The Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women…for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love…”

As strong and beautiful as the feminine genius is, it reaches its fullness together with the masculine genius, as the two are complementary, John Paul II writes.

 …together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

Whatever women are doing, they offer their being to help the Church and the world, according to Deborah Savage, theology and philosophy professor at St. Paul Seminary who spoke recently in St. Paul on Mulieris Dignitatem at an event sponsored by the Siena Symposium, an interdisciplinary faculty group at the University of St. Thomas dedicated to rebuilding families and culture through scholarship and insights of the Catholic faith.

Are we, you and I, at the center of the salvific work that could be and should be taking place in our homes, our workplaces, our culture? Are we reflections of the supernatural reality that is the full expression of the feminine genius?

Even in this era of androgyny, not all outfits fit everyone, and some roles are suited for feminine or masculine genius. But there are many roles and the Church needs women’s unique gifts for this salvific work. According to Pope Francis:

 “The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. …We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

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U.S. air strikes and Church teaching on war, peace

September 13, 2013

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 St. Joan of Arc followed God's direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

Whether or not she studied just war theory, St. Joan of Arc followed God’s direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

God only knows if the U.S. will launch a military strike against Syria, but it looks like the threat has been averted for now.

As negotiations aimed at convincing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons continue, Catholics may be asking what the Church teaches about an attack. Would it be justified?

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken quite a bit on the subject of war. At last week’s prayer vigil for peace in Syria, he said:

  …look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!’

‘Never again war’ probably would be most people’s desire, but are there times when an armed conflict is morally permissible such as in the case of self-defense or to avoid a greater evil?

Conditions for Just War

The Church holds that there are strict conditions requiring rigorous consideration for legitimate defense by military force. The Catechism states, “the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.” (CCC 2309)

The conditions are laid out in the Catechism as part of just war theory, developed by St. Augustine and later by St. Thomas Aquinas. According to this theory about acts of war, at one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of        nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be          impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (CCC 2309)

According to the Catechism, those with responsibility for the common good in their “prudential judgment” are to evaluate these conditions.

Resolve conflicts together

Since the US government’s potential action would not be for its own defense and because it could act together with other nations, the Church says that such international or regional organizations “should be in a position to work together to resolve conflicts and promote peace, re-establishing relationships of mutual trust that make recourse to war unthinkable,” according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

The best outcome of this crisis would be for our leaders to continue their current talks and reach a peaceful solution. If they exhaust that possibility, hopefully they will follow the tenets of just war theory in making any decision on the matter.

At Vatican II the Church Fathers left no doubt about their hopes regarding war:

 Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and they will make these words come true: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Gaudium et Spes 78)

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First Friday devotion–a dialogue between two hearts

September 6, 2013

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Jesus pours out many blessings on those who have devotion to Him in His Most Sacred Heart. Photo/San Antonio Abad Parish Maybunga, Pasig City.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Jesus pours out many blessings on those who have devotion to Him in His Most Sacred Heart as part of the First Friday devotion. Photo/San Antonio Abad Parish Maybunga, Pasig City. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The Catholic Church has no lack of devotions. We can choose from dozens of novenas, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for the intercession of the Blessed Mother or almost any saint. But whether we lack devotion–the whole point of praying the prayers—is another question.

For a long time I bypassed the First Friday devotion. When the first Friday of the month came up–like today–It just seemed like another thing to keep track of when I had enough trouble getting to Mass on time (still do) and making time for prayer.

First Friday devotion, I’ve learned, is about Jesus. He should be the main focus of our love, so a devotion that centers on Him and His Sacred Heart is set apart from other devotions, according to the Sacred Heart Legion. First Friday devotion started in the 1600s when Christ began appearing to a French Visitation nun named Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

So what exactly is the First Friday devotion? Most simply, it calls for receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist on the First Friday of nine consecutive months in honor of His Sacred Heart. That sounds easy enough, but along with that we should have:

  • A true love of Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart, the source of His excessive mercy, help, graces and blessings.
  • Special respect for, and veneration of, the Blessed Sacrament.
  • A desire to make Reparation for the neglect, indifference and ingratitude of the majority that results in Jesus Christ being left alone, abandoned and forgotten on our altars, never visited to offer consolation for such neglect, though He has given us the miracle of His Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament as a supreme gift to us in His desire to be always with us. (Acts of reparation to pray on First Friday are available to download.)

If necessary to receive communion in a state of grace on First Friday (or any day), we should go to confession before Mass.

Many graces available

The Lord offers many graces to those who have devotion to His Sacred Heart. As Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical Haurietis Aquas, (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart):

It is altogether impossible to enumerate the heavenly gifts which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues.

Among these heavenly gifts, the Lord gave St. Margaret Mary 12 promises for those who are faithful to the First Friday devotion:

1.“I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.”
2. “I will establish peace in their homes.”
3. “I will comfort them in their afflictions.”
4. “I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death.”
5. “I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings.”
6. “Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.”
7. “Tepid souls shall grow fervent.”
8. “Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.”
9. “I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored.”
10. “I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.”
11. “Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.”
12. “I promise thee in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving the Sacraments; My Divine heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”

Evidence the Lord reaches out to us

The point of First Friday devotion is to show real devotion to Jesus and His Sacred Heart but the promises are an added incentive. They are evidence that the Lord is reaching out to us in our busyness and indifference.

Biographer Rt. Rev. Emile Bougaud wrote about this in his “The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,”

“Every new evidence of coldness on the part of man causes God to descend a degree in order to touch the heart from which He cannot succeed in detaching Himself.”

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Church job or not, ultimately we have the same Employer

August 30, 2013

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Parish sanctuary renovation in progress. Work done directly for the Church or for a secular employer is all work for God.

Parish sanctuary renovation in progress. Work done directly for the Church or for a secular employer is all work done for God.

Renovation of my parish’s sanctuary began this week, and along with fellow parishioners I enjoy checking out the progress. As workers rebuild the altar, lay marble tile and complete other project tasks working directly under the sanctuary crucifix, they clearly are laboring for the Church.

But next month when these workers are laying tile at a car dealership or in a private home, will they still be working for God? What about the rest of us who hold jobs in secular professions, is the Lord in our work as much as He is in that of a priest or others working for the Church?

God and our work

Since Labor Day is about celebrating the economic and social contributions of workers, I thought it would be a good time to look at the role God plays in our work.

Regardless of whether our work is manual or intellectual, religious or secular, we engage our whole selves—body and spirit–in what we do, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work.)

There’s much more of a spiritual connection than we might think because ultimately, our work is really a sharing in the Creator’s work, Bl. John Paul wrote:

The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man in a sense continues to develop that activity, and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.

As Creator, God alone can bring something out of nothing, Bl. John Paul wrote in his Letter to Artists. “The craftsman, by contrast, uses something that already exists, to which he gives form and meaning.”

Creator and crafts-person

Even though we’re not all artists or craftspeople, we are co-creating in some way with God when we work. Bl. John Paul illustrates the relationship between Creator and crafts-person/worker by pointing out that the Polish word for craftsman, “Tworca” can be formed from the word for Creator, “Stworca”.

As we share in God’s work, we also need to share in His rest, as Genesis tells us He rested on the seventh day. And we should be aware that we’re participating in God’s activity even in our smallest ordinary tasks.

Work isn’t just about making and improving things, we also improve ourselves by working. We learn, develop our faculties and transcend ourselves, according to the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes. This growth is more important than the value of what we produce and the document goes on to say,

“Technical progress is of less value than advances towards greater justice, wider brotherhood, and a more humane social environment. Technical progress may supply the material for human advance but it is powerless to actualize it.” (35)

As a worker Himself, Jesus undoubtedly made technical improvements in his carpentry work. In his preaching he spoke frequently about ordinary jobs done by men and women. Bl. John Paul writes in Laborem Exercens that we unite with the Crucified Christ when we go through the toil of work and in a way collaborate with Him for human redemption.

A “new good” from our work

Whatever work we do, when we take on our work we accept a small part of the Cross and “accept in it the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us.” As a result, according to Bl. John Paul, a “new good” springs out of our work which is a kind of foreshadowing of heaven.

Sometimes after a long week it’s hard to imagine “new good” springing out of work. But when we consider the Source and object of our work, whether or not it’s directly for the Church, it’s easier to understand its spiritual and temporal value.

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It’s not Lent–do we have to give up meat on Friday?

August 23, 2013

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Photo/bitslammer. Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/bitslammer. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s a warm summer evening and you’re sitting on your friend’s patio sipping a cold drink as he puts steaks on the grill. It’s Friday, finally, and steak is going to taste so good! You remember those meatless Friday dinners during Lent. Thank goodness Catholics don’t have to give up meat on the other Fridays of the year.

Or do they?

Contrary to what quite a few Catholics believe, Vatican II did not do away with most meatless Fridays. It’s no longer a sin to eat meat every Friday as it used to be, but the Church still asks us to abstain from meat or do some other form of penance each Friday because it’s a mini-Good Friday, an anniversary of Christ’s death.

We’re asked to do penance in order to suffer with Christ so that someday we will be glorified with Him. To remember our sins and those of the world and help expiate them in union with the Crucified Lord, according to the U.S. Bishops in their 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence:

Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Canon Law states: “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.” (§1250)

It is also a universal law of the Church to abstain from meat or another food, according to Canon Law which goes on to say, “It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.” (§1251, 1253)

What do the U.S. bishops say about Friday penance?

They have given the option to abstain from other things instead of meat that might be more penitential for some. They recommend additional penitential works:

It would bring great glory to God and good to souls if Fridays found our people doing volunteer work in hospitals, visiting the sick, serving the needs of the aged and the lonely, instructing the young in the Faith, participating as Christians in community affairs, and meeting our obligations to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our community, including our parishes, with a special zeal born of the desire to add the merit of penance to the other virtues exercised in good works born of living faith.

During the Year of Faith, the bishops have asked Catholics to join them on Fridays in praying and fasting for renewal of a culture of life and marriage, and for the protection of religious liberty. They send participants a weekly text reminder and post on their website an intention for prayer, as well as a call for fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays. Visit their website for more details or text “FAST” to 99000.

The Catechism offers more ideas:

These “intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice … are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works). (CCC 1438)

Steak might be the right thing on a summer Friday evening but maybe not in the future. England’s episcopal conference of bishops recently revised their law to return more completely to the universal norm of abstinence. Comments from USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan point to the possibility the U.S. may do the same. For now, we need to make sure some form of penance is on the day’s agenda.

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The Assumption: Our Earthly Bodies and Heaven

August 14, 2013

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Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD.   Photo/Jim, the Photographer.  Licensed by Creative Commons.

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD. Photo/Jim, the Photographer. Licensed by Creative Commons.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the Blessed Mother experienced the wrinkles and pains of old age. She was human and by all accounts didn’t have an easy life. The Church tells us she had no pain when she gave birth to Our Lord, but during the rest of her life there must have been some hardship and suffering.

The dying who suffer terribly in their bodies are not always sad at the prospect of leaving them to meet God. Yet the Church teaches that the Lord did take His mother’s aged body to heaven at the Assumption.

As the angels bore her body there, maybe the aging process went in reverse so that by the time she got there she looked the way she has in her apparitions. That’s not to say she wasn’t equally beautiful in her later years on earth but she has mostly appeared to us as a younger-looking woman.

Why bring her earthly body to heaven?

God could have made a new body in heaven for the Blessed Virgin. Why did he choose to bring her earthly body which, if it’s like mine, came with runny nose, bad breath and hangnails? The most obvious answer is that her body was the tabernacle of the Most High, Christ’s first earthly home.  According to Father Canice Bourke, OFM Cap.:

The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust.

Another reason appears in what we profess in the Apostles Creed: “The resurrection of the body…” This essential Christian doctrine is explained in the Catechism:

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a “spiritual body.” (CCC 1017)

Our Lady was the first to receive the fruits of our redemption in her Immaculate Conception. She did not sin and it is believed that her body was immune to corruption. Would she not also be the first after Christ to experience the resurrection which all the faithful will experience?

Cremation for the Blessed Virgin?

According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of saint biographies, Our Lady’s body was placed in a tomb for three days after her death (though whether she did actually die has been disputed by scholars for centuries). During that time, some who thought Christ was a traitor sought to burn her body.

It’s hard to imagine someone actively destroying the body of the Mother of God. And it makes me question whether we should do this to our own bodies, which St. Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Church does allow cremation, “provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (CCC 2301)

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to the body of the Blessed Mother. According to the Golden Legend, Christ and a company of angels came to bring Our Lady’s body to heaven. St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours wrote in 594 AD:

“The Lord…commanded the body of Mary be taken in a cloud into paradise; where now, rejoined to the soul, Mary dwells with the chosen ones.”

I hope to be one of the chosen ones, up there in my body. Hopefully without the dry skin and wrinkles.

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Looking at the Church’s immigration teaching through a personal lens

July 26, 2013

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Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

It seems like Catholics are all over the map when it comes to their views on  immigration reform. Attitudes and laws regarding the undocumented can vary considerably by state but the Church takes a pretty clear position.  Personal experience with immigration also affects how we look at it.

I know how it feels to be an immigrant because I spent almost two years as an undocumented worker in a European country. I wasn’t compelled to leave my own country for economic or political reasons, as are many who come to the U.S., but I have in common with them the fact that I was seeking something I couldn’t find at home.

Like many who come to America, I didn’t have too much trouble finding work – in a job that most of its citizens weren’t qualified to do. I was paid pretty well though not as well as I would have been if I’d had papers. Not all migrants in the United States are so fortunate; some have to deal with very low wages and substandard living and working conditions.

The Church’s view

Personal anecdotes and media spin aside, what does our universal Church say about a global phenomenon that’s garnered so much national attention lately?

Are undocumented workers wrong to come to countries that restrict their participation in the official economy and civic affairs?

According to the Catechism, governments have two responsibilities in regard to immigration: to welcome the foreigner and to secure their borders. It doesn’t say much about how to integrate those responsibilities, however, which might be one reason  for the divergence in public opinion.

In his 1996 Message for World Migration Day, Bl. Pope John Paul II affirmed undocumented migrants’ right both to emigrate and to immigrate:

The Church acts in continuity with Christ’s mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate.

How to treat immigrants

The Catechism also gives guidance on how we should treat immigrants, especially those who come to escape poverty or suffering in their own country:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his own country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. (CCC2241)

That doesn’t mean governments shouldn’t restrict immigration. It also doesn’t exempt those coming to a country from obeying its laws, the Catechism continues:

“Public authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” (CCC2241)

The U.S. Bishops and immigration reform

The U.S. bishops have had quite a bit to say about immigration reform. In a 2011 statement they supported earned legalization with a path to citizenship, a future worker program, family based immigration reform, restoration of due process rights, addressing the root causes of migration and the legitimate role of the government in enforcing security.

For the undocumented who are already working here, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church stresses that immigration must be regulated according to “criteria of equity and balance.”

Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign laborers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination.

Along with not exploiting workers, countries should respect and promote the right of family reunification, the Compendium states. But it also emphasizes that they should help foster increased work opportunities in immigrants’ country of origin.

I eventually returned to my native country and so do many immigrants who come to the United States. While immigrants are here though, the Church makes it clear both that they should receive fair treatment and that they should follow our laws.

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Separating human-made law from natural law

July 11, 2013

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There's a reason behind every law--even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

There’s a reason behind every law–even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Cross the Minnesota border with a duck on your head and you may face legal consequences. Tap your foot to the music in a New Hampshire tavern and you’ve violated the law. Throw pickle juice at a Rhode Island trolley (if you can find one) and you could receive a citation.

These old laws must have made sense when they were enacted but now we just wonder what legislators were thinking.

Those studying our laws 100 years from now might also scratch their heads at some of our statutes—and they may already feel the effect of some of our human-enacted laws that diverge from God’s natural law.

All human-made statutory laws are considered positive law. What exactly is positive law? What’s the difference between positive law and natural law? Do they have anything to do with each other? And what happens if positive law doesn’t align with natural law?

The term “positive law” was first used by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 work “Leviathan:”

Positive, are those which have not been for Eternity; but have been made Lawes by the Will of those that have had the Soveraign Power over others; and are either written, or made known to men, by some other argument of the Will of their Legislator.

Positive law also refers to the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group.

According to one legal definition:

Positive laws may be promulgated, passed, adopted, or otherwise “posited” by an official or entity vested with authority by the government to prescribe the rules and regulations for a particular community. In the United States, positive laws come in a variety of forms at both the state and federal levels, including legislative enactments, judicial orders, executive decrees, and administrative regulations. In short, a positive law is any express written command of the government.

Positive law can also be divine. Canon law and other Church laws are humanly instituted but inspired by God’s revelation. Natural law, on the other hand, refers to God’s laws governing the nature of things. Positive divine law can’t contradict natural law, instead it confirms and further defines it.

Separable or inseparable from our nature?

Natural law is proclaimed to us by the natural light of reason and is inseparable from our nature, whereas positive law is made known by outward signs—word of mouth or writing and is not inseparable from our nature.

Natural law is the foundation and root of the obligation of all positive laws. We can’t violate the natural moral law and the positive laws that are rooted in it without opposing God’s will.

Human-enacted positive laws can be amended or rescinded. Natural law, however, comes from the unchanging God and can’t be revised or avoided. When a positive law violates natural law, as sure as the former is temporal and the latter is immutable, there will be consequences.

A law governing pickle juice and trolleys doesn’t challenge the natural law, although maybe someone was spared inconvenience or even injury because of it.

Defying natural laws

But positive laws that disregard natural law are still subject to it, much the way someone who exercises a legal right to “fly” from a 15-story building will quickly become acquainted with the more established law of gravity.

In the case of some of our newer laws, especially those dealing with sexual morality, it just might take a little longer to hit the ground.

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In defense of Christian music

March 5, 2013

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Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is Christian music really Christian? Is it even any good?  Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I had a discussion with a music student once about whether there was such a thing as an “African sound” — popular music with an identifiable sound produced in a number of African countries. This person had studied different forms of indigenous African music and argued that it would be impossible to pick out one “sound” for the continent.

A visit to the iTunes Store reveals how many “sounds” or musical genres are out there—African pop music falls under “World.” Christian music also has its own category along with hip-hop, classical and heavy metal.

Do we need a Christian category?

Does Christian music have its own “sound”? Isn’t all music somehow inspired? Don’t we serve God by writing about life without having to say Jesus’s name all the time? Do we risk ghetto-izing Christian music by creating this category? Isn’t the Christian category just a place for musicians who aren’t good enough for the real musical world?

The blogger at Bad Catholic Read or Die raised these questions in their recent post, Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music. While I think they’re right to say that some Christian music isn’t that great, I’d like to argue in favor of keeping the Christian category.

First of all, I assume the criticism was directed at contemporary Christian music and not the work of masters such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Palestrina or King David of the Old Testament, all of whom wrote overtly God-centered music.

The biggest defense I would give for any self-identified Christian music is that it points us toward God and helps us become better Christians.

What we listen to matters

St. Paul gives us an idea of what music is best for our souls: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

This doesn’t mean we should only listen to songs eligible for a Dove award but it does seem to exclude music that focuses on hook ups, break ups or anything else that draws us away from God. Of course there are quality artists writing morally meaningful songs on secular radio but often you have to sit through a lot of junk before you find something beneficial.

Music is a reflection of what’s in the heart of the musician. It can be beautiful but sometimes it’s not so good morally. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II draws a distinction between an artist’s moral and artistic self:

“It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art’s specific dictates. This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character.”

Can’t  get regular air time?

Why is there a separate category for Christian music? Not because all the Christian musicians decided to go off into a corner to sing only to the “saved.” It’s because the secular world doesn’t have much tolerance for messages about God unless they’re critical or derogatory.

If you love someone, you want to talk about them. That’s why people write songs about God. Expressing their faith is real life for Christian artists. If we did away with the Christian category, musicians would have to write codes into their songs to express their faith. Maybe some are already doing that. Living under persecution, the early Christians communicated with codes; I hope it doesn’t come to that again.

It seems to me, the biggest reason the blogger thinks Christian music should be scrapped is that they think it’s bad. They apparently believe Christian musicians copy their “successful” secular counterparts to create insipid, formulaic songs about angelic praise, clouds and how “Jesus saves.” Some of it is like that but I would challenge anyone who thinks this to listen to Christian radio for more than five minutes and check out artists such as Matt Maher and For King and Country.

According to Bl. John Paul II, the Church does need music that explicitly expresses the faith:

“How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.”

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