Tag Archives: faith

Keats, Baseball and Crisis

March 29, 2014

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image

The English poet John Keats expressed the idea of negative capability in a letter to his brother In 1817. He described it as the capacity for accepting uncertainty and the possibility that certain questions might never be resolved. The great writers, according to Keats, are those with the greatest negative capability. He credited Shakespeare with the greatest talent in this regard, and thought that the dynamic tension created by perpetual uncertainty made for the most interesting characters and depth in story.

I came across this term while watching a baseball documentary called “The Tenth Inning”that addressed the steroid scandal from a few years ago.  In the documentary, sportswriter George Wil says “Now we live in a sports age and a baseball age, where nothing’s more valuable than negative capability because if we’re just in a rush, if we can’t wait to see Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, or whoever it is, as right or wrong, then we’re missing the complexity of these people and the difficulty of the age that they’re living in.”

What does this have to do with the Catholic faith or anything to do with this blog?
Well, we are in a scandal of our own locally. I much darker and serious issue than baseball and steroids. Living through it can be a full time chore and the idea of negative capability intrigues me. I have to admit my cycles of anger, frustration, despair and a few “What were they thinking!” moments as I read, along with everyone else, the accounts reported by certain radio stations and other media outlets.  Working for the church does not make me immune to or “in the know” on anything, in fact, working for the church seems to make every news report of a fallen priest or a seemingly poor decision feel like a personal affront to my faith and work.

So how do you hang onto your faith when your church is in crisis?

I have been trying to tap into that Negative Capability.  It is a strange name and since I am not a literary intellect, I’ve never read Keats or studied Shakespeare and I am surprised at how I am drawn to this odd literary term.  But it seems to describe a way I aproach my faith life.  In my early stages of (re)conversion to the Church, I hungered for knowledge and devoured books.  Knowledge of the one I loved, the one I sought – so much like Song of Songs.

On my bed night after night I sought him

            Whom my soul loves; SOS 3:1

But in wanting to know God – in wanting to know Christ, I wanted to understand and figure out the complexities and abserdities of a virgin giving birth, the irrational math of the trinity and  duality of transubstantiation.  In my desire for knowledge, I couldn’t rest in faith.  I wanted proof. I wanted answers. In my struggles I could only hope for Divine Grace to step in. I needed to learn to rest in that negative capability and enjoy the tension of this amazing church that isn’t about either/or – but lives in the and/also of a faith based on a Man who is also the Son of God who really is present in the Mass.

Crisis of Faith

In regards to our current clergy abuse crisis, I have also had to yield to this negative capability in a darker way. I have to rest in questions that may never be resolved. I have been sickened by the reports. The victims are tragic and the deeds and actions of a few priest are abominable. It is very easy to paint a black and white picture of the people involved, but the personalities are as complex as are the times in which they live.  We are called to see everyone through the eye that God sees us. Through the fullness of who they are.

In all of this we are called to pray for the victims, but also the perpetrators. We are called to love our good priests and also the fallen. We must love the whistel blowers, the reporters, and the angry Catholics who have left the church.  Only in this strange church filled with the hard teaching are we called to forgive and love and carry on. (all while protecting the inocent and sin no more)

Only in this lovely faith called the Catholic Church could we celebrate the Friday that Christ was crucified and call it Good.

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Families are Messy…

November 25, 2013

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Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

As we approach Thanksgiving and our opportunities to be with extended family, there is one thing we need to remember – families are messy.

I am not talking about Uncle Bob who never does the dishes or the spilled gravy at the kids table; I am saying that family relationships are messy.  Some families have a no politics and no religion rule on conversations at their family gatherings.  That may help with the tension of hot button topics like same sex unions and abortion, but as people of faith we cannot put on and take off our religion at will like a sweater.  We wear our faith all of the time!

How do we deal with some difficult situations this Thanksgiving like -

Your sister and her boyfriend, who are living together,

Your uncle who is in a same sex relationship,

Your cousin who complains about the church’s teaching on contraception,

Your nephew who has left the church because of the current Clergy abuse scandal in the news…

Jesus had the answer – He loved more!

Since I have a fondness for food and mentions of food in the bible – I am taken by this quote every Thanksgiving…

Matthew 11:19, The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

I think the most important thing to remember in this passage is that WE all are the sinners.  If our church only let perfect Catholics in – the pews (and the pulpits) would be virtually empty.  I am so grateful that Jesus (and my family ) eats with me!

So set the tone with a prayer of humility and gratitude and respect and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your messy family and LOVE MORE!

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving

God of all blessings,
source of all life,
giver of all grace:

We thank you for the gift of life:
for the breath
that sustains life,
for the food of this earth
that nurtures life,
for the love of family and friends
without which there would be no life.

We thank you for the mystery of creation:
for the beauty
that the eye can see,
for the joy
that the ear may hear,
for the unknown
that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder,
for the expanse of space
that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.

We thank you for setting us in communities:
for families
who nurture our becoming,
for friends
who love us by choice,
for companions at work,
who share our burdens and daily tasks,
for strangers
who welcome us into their midst,
for people from other lands
who call us to grow in understanding,
for children
who lighten our moments with delight,
for the unborn,
who offer us hope for the future.

We thank you for this day:
for life
and one more day to love,
for opportunity
and one more day to work for justice and peace,
for neighbors
and one more person to love
and by whom be loved,
for your grace
and one more experience of your presence,
for your promise:
to be with us,
to be our God,
and to give salvation.

For these, and all blessings,
we give you thanks, eternal, loving God,
through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Recovering from my broken leg with St. Ignatius of Loyola

November 22, 2013

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broken leg

Recommended reading whether or not you have a broken leg: the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Photo/koishikawagirl Licensed under Creative Commons

One morning in October as I was walking across a street near my home, a man in a truck didn’t see me as he crossed the intersection and hit me in the crosswalk.  The truck’s bumper broke my right femur like a karate block.

A week later, when my head cleared from the hospital, surgery and pain meds, I wanted to read about St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. I knew that he broke his leg and had a faith conversion during his recovery.

I’m convinced that when saints come to mind it’s because God’s already dispatched them to help us.

It turns out that St. Ignatius also broke his right leg–the shin bone–almost 500 years ago. After reading about the horrifically bungled medical treatment he received, I didn’t feel so bad about the titanium rod in my leg that now stabilizes the healing leg bone. I also couldn’t help noticing that St. Ignatius bore his pain very stoically. I compared that to all my inner and outward groaning.

Just as I read about his life during my recovery, St. Ignatius read the lives of saints during his.  Reading his story just inspired me but when he read about the saints he thought about outdoing them in works of penance. Since he hurt his leg while fighting as a knight, I guess he was still thinking competitively at that time.

Before his leg was healed, St. Ignatius had a deep conversion that resulted in a complete change of heart and a new direction for life.

That’s not to say that from then on he practiced only heroic virtue. One account states that he nearly died from his injury. Then he spent time in a cave battling his scruples and stubbornly refusing to eat until God granted him peace. (His confessor made him stop.) Later he wandered around asking himself what he was supposed to do next.

But beyond those times of weakness, St. Ignatius led an extraordinary life. I was amazed by his continual perseverance in seeking and following God’s will, his great courage in founding the Society of Jesus despite innumerable obstacles, and his faith in writing his Spiritual Exercises, which have helped many grow in faith.

St. Ignatius was pursued and accused a number of times during the Spanish Inquisition. He made a long, terrible journey to the Holy Land only to be ordered right back onto the ship to Spain once he got there. He was beaten, thrown in prison and almost always harassed for his efforts but he kept going.

St. Ignatius inspired me but in reading about his life I thought that the only thing we have in common is that we both broke our legs. He seemed too big to imitate.

Then St. Therese of Lisieux, also a patron of the missions, came to mind. I think she would tell me that there’s plenty of opportunity to practice heroic virtue right where I am in the ordinary challenges and inspirations of daily life.

Good things that have come from my injury include meeting up with this great founder of the Jesuits who broke his leg and also remembering the insights of another great saint, the Little Flower, who reminds me that my own path to holiness begins right here.

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Take a peek inside the Vatican

March 8, 2013

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Vatican Diaries coverJohn Thavis, who covered the Vatican as a journalist for 30 years, betrayed his Minnesota roots when he wrote, “Attending these Rome academic conferences was like fishing on a slow day — you waited a lot and hoped something would bite.”

Thavis, a native of Mankato, Minn., and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, hooked an author’s dream: His book on the inner workings of the Vatican was ready to be released when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his decision to retire.

Viking moved up the release date, making “The Vatican Diaries” as timely a read as a writer might hope for.

Thavis, whose byline ran in The Catholic Spirit for many years, retired just last year as Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

That post and the many friends and sources he made in and around St. Peter’s often put him in unique position to observe and hear of any number of interesting goings on, some foolhardy, some machiavellian, some scandalous.

Anecdotes, even atrocities

There is, for example, the blatant disregard for an ancient cemetery by one Vatican City functionary, who is intent on bulldozing the monuments and the remains to add more parking to the cramped tiny space.

A lengthy chapter on the finally denounced, cult-like Legion of Christ gives a vivid picture of how power works in the Vatican, and it’s not a very nice portrait.

Thavis details how the once-revered founder of the Legion of Christ was protected by people in high places who refused to believe accusations made against him over the course of decades, and it was only when Father Marcial Maciel Degollado’s double life was revealed — that he had fathered children by two women, sexually abused his own son and hidden secret assets of nearly $30 million — that the Vatican finally intervened.

The incident has left an obvious black mark on the late Pope John Paul II’s record, but Thavis presents insight here that echoes in other Catholic locales around the globe.

He writes, “To a good number of Vatican officials, the calls for transparency and full accountability [in the Maciel case] were typical of moralistic (and legalistic) Americans, but not necessarily helpful for the universal church. . . As one Vatican offical put it, ‘We have a two-thousand-year history of not airing dirty laundry. You don’t really expect that to change, do you?’ ”

Thavis dives into the ongoing squabble over the ultra-conservative, breakaway Society of St. Pius X, sharing probably more than the typical Catholic would want to know about the battle over the validity of Vatican II by this hard-core group of naysayers.

Superb reporting, writing

There’s a terrific chapter that’s really a personality profile of the American priest who was one of the Vatican’s top Latin language experts — the fun, enlightening and eccentric Father Reginald Foster.

Foster — Thavis eschews his title throughout — is a reporter’s dream, someone on the inside who knows a lot, isn’t afraid to share and shares in colorful language. The chapter on “The Latinist” is of the quality of a piece you’d expect to read in the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker.

Thavis went along to some 60 countries with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and “The Vatican Diaries” includes hilarious anecdotes about life as a reporter on papal trips. There’s plenty about life covering the Vatican to enjoy reading, too, including the story about the pope’s preacher admitting he used Google as a source.

Readers will find that the halo they may have imagined above the heads of some high-ranking residents of Vatican City ends up, shall we say, “less glowing,” to describe it the way a Vatican official might, avoiding the use of the more accurate “tarnished.”

And that may be what Thavis does best here.

Important contribution

He offers sound reporting and analysis, to be sure. But he’s at the top of his game explaining how “The Vatican” sees things.

He translates Vatican-ese, putting in plain language what official statements really say, and in many cases what those statements say by not saying something directly.

Even when he gets into such minutia of a story that you wonder if all these details are necessary, Thavis seems to perfectly sum it up by interpreting the event’s significance. It’s as if, without using these words, he’s says, now here’s why this is important.

“The Vatican Diaries” is not only informative and entertaining. Published as the Catholic Church prepares to welcome a new leader, it gives us valuable insight into the organizational challenges the new pontiff faces.

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Looking back on 2012

January 2, 2013

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Many people are diving in to their New Year’s resolutions right now, with almost a full year ahead to test their resolve.

But, it’s not a bad time to look back, either. This year was one of my best ever in the outdoors. The highlights are many, and reflections of an outstanding year in God’s glorious creation continue to bring a smile to my face.

Turkey time

The wild turkeys got active earlier than usual this past spring, with March feeling more like May. I began the gobbler chase in April with my son, William, during the Wisconsin youth weekend.

Although we left the woods without a bird, it turned out to be an action-packed hunt. We had numerous birds gobbling on the roost not very far away, then had a group of birds come in our direction after flying down. They hung up, but eventually we had a group of 1-year-old toms (called jakes) come in, along with two hens. William got two shots off, but failed to bring down a bird. I would later redeem that hunt by getting what I think was one of those jakes a month later. On  the same piece of property, I had four jakes come in, and was able to get one of them.

I added a Minnesota longbeard to the harvest, and it didn’t even take an hour. I heard a bird gobbling on the roost, then slipped in to about 50-60 yards from the bird. He flew down and came right in. As I stood over the nice tom after pulling the trigger, and my watch read 6:21 a.m.

A wonderful surprise

With the hunt over so fast, I decided to head over to Wisconsin to see if I could fill my other tag. The state went from a series of five-day hunts to seven-day seasons. That meant my Minnesota and Wisconsin seasons overlapped by a day.

So, I registered my Minnesota bird in Red Wing, then crossed the river into Wisconsin. I tried hard to get my second bird, traveling to three different properties. On my last stop, I saw hens but no toms. I decided to try one last spot on this small farm, and saw something brown on the ground in the corner of a field. It turned out to be a morel mushroom. And, there were many more.

I filled my turkey hunting vest with them and headed home with an unexpected bounty.  I ended the day with fried mushrooms, plus a mushroom-and-cheese omelette at the home of Chris Thompson, academic dean at the St. Paul Seminary. He is an avid mushroom hunter, and he almost freaked out when he saw what was in my vest.

Saving the best for last

If someone had told me in early September that I would still be without a deer on Nov. 11, I wouldn’t have believed them. With the archery season beginning in mid September, I figured it wouldn’t be a matter of if I took a deer, but how many.

Yet, there I was in my deer stand on the afternoon of Nov. 11, the last day of the Zone 3A firearms season, hoping I would not get skunked. I had seen very little throughout the gun season, and failed to tag a deer during my numerous trips to the woods, despite hitting two deer with my arrows.

With gusty northwest winds pounding me all afternoon, it was a test of endurance. But, I still had hope, as the last hour of legal shooting hours can produce strong deer movement.

Sure enough, with only about 10-15 minutes left, a buck appeared out in a picked soybean field 180 yards away. Almost magically, he turned and trotted right to me, stopping and turning broadside at about 70-80 yards. I hit him several times, and when I found him just inside the woods, I realized I had just killed the largest buck of my life. He’s now at the taxidermist, and I can’t wait to see the finished mount.

I give thanks to God for some outstanding memories – and some great food in the freezer. Wild turkey, venison and morel mushrooms – who could ask for more?

 

 

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The Empty Manger

December 22, 2012

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The Empty MangerIn these last few days before Christmas, life can get hectic.  I have wrapping to do, Christmas cards to send, cookies to bake and my house to clean.  It is very easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas and remember what we really need to do to prepare for the coming of Christ.

The empty manger was set out earlier this week at our parish.  This was done for convenience, as the turn around time from the bare and purple Advent feel of the church to the bright and joyful church filled with evergreens and gold is very short for those who set up the church decorating.  I was in charge of this transformation at our church for 6 years and I know that it can add it’s own layer of hectic to the preparation for Christmas.

But it was the emptiness of the manger that struck me.

Along with scripture, I sometimes find that it is pieces of art or architecture that moves me to prayer and meditation.  This empty manger caused me to reflect on how well I am prepared to be filled by Christ’s love.  It is clean, swept out and ready for the next occupant.  Growing up on a farm I know that a stable has lots of muck to be hauled out. I am thankful that I made it to confession lately and cleaned out some of my own muck.

I also reflect on “who would I be” on the way to this manger scene? What is the Shepard doing today? He has no idea that he will be led to this manger by angels.  The wise men are traveling to see a great king.  Their expectations will be met, but not in the way they expect.  A lot of my life turns out that way.  Will I be able to see the true path to the manger and Christ child or will I get distracted by the idea of a different kind of King on a throne? What would Mary and Joseph be thinking the days before the birth of our Savior?

“Waiting in joyful hope.”

Every week we hear those words as part of the liturgy.  This season of Advent is a reflection on that joyful waiting.

I will take time in the days and hours before Christmas to do just that.  I hope to spend this time of preparation for Christmas to also prepare the empty manger in my heart for the coming of the Christ Child.

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Turning to our Mother in Times of Tragedy

December 17, 2012

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Madonna and Child

In the wake of the school shooting on Friday, I went to find solace in daily Mass on Saturday.
As I entered the church, the first thing I noticed was the Our Lady of Guadalupe picture in the sanctuary. The picture was left there as a remnant of the Wednesday night celebration. It was then that it occurred to me that the tragic killing of the 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut is not something unique to our culture today. At the time of the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego in 1531, child sacrifice was common place. After her appearance, eight million natives were converted to the Church in the next 7 years – virtually eliminating the Aztec practice of sacrifice. Is our wonton cultural lack of seeing life as precious any different? Is this tragedy any different than the atrocities of child sacrifice?
In the wake of this recent tragedy we are left asking why, but maybe more importantly we should be asking what should we do? Stricter laws concerning guns –yes, more help for the mentally disturbed – of course, but maybe we should be turning to Mary in this year of faith to help bring about the conversion that was seen in Mexico 500 years ago.
In this Year of Faith I have made a personal commitment to get to know our Blessed Mother better. I have always been one of those people who just didn’t “get” Mary. I never had an aversion to praying for Mary’s intersession like some of my Protestant friends, but I just didn’t quite understand why I needed an intercessor – why not go directly to the ‘Big Guy?”
To get to know Mary better, I have started with memorizing some of the Marian prayers that I have never gotten around to knowing by heart.
I have been working on memorizing the “Hail Holy Queen.”
In the wake of this tragedy  it was the first prayer I turned to. Maybe it is something about telling your heart ache to your mother and if anyone knows the heart ache of the loss of a child, it is our Blessed Mother. The words are especially haunting; calling us all the “poor banished children of Eve” and the description of  “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears” is what drew me to first look to Mary in this time of tragedy.
If you read this blog post, maybe you will join with me in asking Mary’s intersession.

 

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ

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When you least expect it, God shows up

November 26, 2012

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God puts us where he wants us.

He puts others where he wants them, too.

Sometimes our stories and those of others become enjoined, our “where” and the “where” of others come together, and God makes his presence felt. That’s what seems to happen in ”Unexpected Presence,” a gathering of a dozen stories destined to awaken one’s spirituality and remind us we’re all part of a greater story.

In less than an hour you’ll breeze through this little, pocket-size ACTA Publications collection that’s subtitled “Twelve Surprising Encounters with the Divine Spirit.”

These are first-person pieces, the longest only 13 pages and a couple only six. Every one is a winner, though, a credit to Dave Fortier who wrote one of them and edited the rest.

A few of the writers are published authors, but not all.

Alice Camille, a well-known Catholic writer and religious educator,  shares the time when, burned out on church work and temporarily employed at an incense factory, she had to explain the parable of The Prodigal Son to her co-workers. It’s an unforgettable anecdote you’ll find yourself re-telling others.

Charlotte Bruney is a lay pastoral administrator in New York who writes about the Holy Week she spent not at the church services she loves but as chaplain in a university hospital with a very busy trauma center. She notes, “Its steady diet of tragedy felt to me like an eternal Lent.” Instead of attending the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday or venerating the cross on Good Friday, Bruney tells of baptizing an infant with a massive tumor, of holding the hand of a suicidal heroin addict going through withdrawal, of bringing communion to a woman with an irreversible condition, of encouraging a scared teen to go through with a bone marrow transplant — and finding God in each setting. She writes:

I was not where I wanted to be that week; it was not what I wanted to be doing. Still, should I really be so surpassed to find the Divine One lurking in the darkest of places?

These are heartfelt and heart-warming stories all. You love the punch line from Donald Paglia, the head of a diocesan family life office who finds that parenting is the last thing he wants to do one evening.

Fortier’s own “confession” is a worthy entry, too, one that will make readers reflect on, as he puts it, “the greater story” often hidden as we make our judgments about those whose lives touch ours. These are stories that reveal God alive in our world, and that’s something we all need to be reminded of. — BZ

 

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Here’s a book for when you haven’t got a prayer

November 26, 2012

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There’s a misleading subtitle on a wonderful new book, “Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer”; although writers are certainly the target audience, the collection isn’t just for writers, it’s for anyone.

Prayers come from a wide-ranging list, names you know and names you’ve more than likely never heard. There’s Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton, e.e. cummings and Bernard of Cluny, Thomas Aquinas, Jane Austen, John Donne, T.S. Eliot, Henri Nouwen, John Henry Newman, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and so many more.

But there’s also American poet Otto Selles and novelist Sandy Tritt, South African political activist Joe Seremane, Luci Shaw, Macrina Wiederkehr, Frank Topping, William J. Vande Kopple and Scott Hoezee.

Though they pray from different eras and in many different styles, a base of belief undergirds them all. As editors Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney note, “These are the prayers of those who love words and who love God’s world and who love the ways in which the words and the world may come together. These prayers are acts of devotion, are expressions of frustration, are pleas for hope and understanding.”

Hoezee, a minister and theologian, penned a few of those that spoke to me. In one, for example, he asks the Lord:

Help me listen to the ordinary things people tell me. Make me attend to how they speak and to the yearnings of their hearts that emerge in such daily conversations. If I need fresh language and new metaphors, let them emerge from the ordinary as well as from the extraordinary so that the words I wrote may, must so, speak strength and grace into the commonplace of people’s lives.

Topping, a methodist minister and playwright,  prayed one of those that non-writers will find of value:

Lord Jesus, write your truth in my mind, your joy in my heart, and your love in my life, that filled with truth, possessed by joy, and living in love, your integrity, your humor, and your compassion might be born in me again.

Artists of all kinds will appreciate these lines from Dag Hammarskjold, the late United Nations’ general secretary:

Thou takest the pen — and the lines dance. Thou takest the flute‚ and the notes shimmer. Thou takest the brush and the colors sing. So all things have meaning and beauty in that space beyond time where Thou art. How, then, can I hold back anything from Thee?

There are dozens just as meaningful and touching as these, prayers by Dom Helder Camara, by Rainer Maria Rilke, by the ancient composers of the psalms.

Schmidt and Stickney have organized them into eight categories with teasing introductions to each that will whet your appetite to dive into the batch of prayers that follow.

The writers’ way with words glistens in nearly every single one. Some are more formal and pietistic, some more earth-bound and in everyday language. You’ll find many you’ll want to pray over and over, but let me share just one more example from this Eerdmans paperback ($16). It’s credited to the conference of European Churches:

Lord God, we have given more weight to our successes and our happiness than to your will.

We have eaten without a thought for the hungry.

We have spoken without an effort to understand others.

We have kept silence instead of telling the truth.

We have judged others, forgetful that you alone are the judge.

We have acted rather in accordance with our opinions than according to your commands.

Within your church we have been slow to practice love of our neighbors.

And in the world we have not been your faithful servants.

Forgive us and help us to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Savior. Amen.

— BZ

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What does the Church have to do with politics?

October 4, 2012

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Photo/KitAy. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s been an interesting year and I’m not surprised that I’ve heard some interesting questions like,  “Why are the bishops interfering with politics?” and, “Why is the Church trying to tell me how to vote?”

These questions reveal concerns that the Church is trying to manipulate voting and that it’s placing itself in the political sphere when it shouldn’t.

In a culture unreasonably fearful of Church encroachment on the State–even though the founding fathers proposed separating the two mostly for the opposite reason—some are skeptical when the Church speaks on controversial social issues, especially near an election.

What is the Church trying to do and where in Church teaching does say she has the authority?

History of speaking on policy issues

The bishops have long spoken out on issues affecting public policy. During World War I, they created a council to enable U.S. Catholics to contribute funds for the spiritual care of Catholic servicemen. For the better part of a century in this country, they also have promoted Church teaching on issues including education, care for the poor and immigration.

The Church should always have the freedom to preach the faith, to proclaim her teaching about society, “and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it,” the Vatican II Council Fathers wrote in the document Gaudium et Spes.

Informing Catholics—and even non-Catholics—about Church teaching on important social issues is especially the U.S. bishops’ responsibility, they write,

The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

While the Church’s position on certain important social questions is motivated by our faith-based moral conscience, it is on the level of the social and societal impact of these issues that the Church addresses them with us and our fellow citizens with a view to promoting the common good of all, according to Father Timothy Cloutier, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Faith helps us see more clearly the truths we discover through reason regarding the sacredness of human life and the dignity of each person, which is the heart of Catholic moral and social teaching, according to the bishops, who add,

“Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square.”

Why so outspoken about the HHS Mandate?

Why has the HHS Mandate, the federal government’s requirement that many employers who fall outside the government’s definition of a religious institution must cover contraception and sterilization through health insurance, so essential that the U.S. bishops have been so outspoken about it?  Especially since polls say a majority of Catholics think employers should supply this coverage in their health plans?

Of course, it’s a complicated issue.  There is the Church’s opposition to contraception.  Most notably, the bishops have emphasized that they are speaking out for protection of the Church’s own institutions, “the care of the souls of the individual faithful, and with the common good.”

Of especially great importance in this case is the freedom to practice religion. According to another Vatican II document it’s a matter of human dignity—one of those core teachings the bishops mention.

As for the Church trying to tell us how to vote, I’m pretty sure there will never be a sample ballot stuffed into my parish’s bulletin telling me how to choose  “Catholic-approved candidates.” Also, IRS law prohibits clergy from preaching at Mass about political candidates.

Helping to form consciences

But by illuminating and clarifying Church teaching on important issues, the Church helps me form my conscience so I can make sound moral voting judgments based on the truths of the faith.

Whatever you think of the Church’s involvement in the public arena, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est that it’s not her place to directly enter politics to make a more just society. At the same time, she plays a role in promoting justice. The Church:

cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

 

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