Thursday, November 29, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on the November Bishops' General Assembly and referred to the expected publication of the Faithful Citizenship document. I was deeply disappointed (though unfortunately not surprised) by the way this document was portrayed in the media and have heard people summarize it based on those reports as saying those who vote democrat are putting their salvation in jeopardy (i.e., are going to you know where!). I would strongly urge Catholics to read the statement itself rather than news reports about the statement! If you find that statement too long (43pp.), at least read the summary version, which is only ten pages long! Not only did the document not say any such thing, it actually says the opposite:
In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote.
The statement does add that
as Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths.
What the statement does do is raise concerns that all Catholics should be concerned about when they consider the candidates who are running. The statement reminds us that
responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.
The bishops recognize that no candidate or party fully shares the Church's viewpoint, but emphasize that rather than being discouraged by that fact, we should be motivated to work within our parties, contact our elected officials, and even run for office ourselves! Nonetheless, the statement makes it clear that we must always oppose direct assaults on human life and dignity, including (but not limited to) abortion, euthanasia, genocide, torture, racism, cloning, etc. (all of which are examples the bishops give in the statement). The bishops maintain that as Catholics
we revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God.
The bishops point out two temptations that distort the Church's teaching on the defense of life: first to make "no ethical distinction between the kinds of issues involving human life and dignity," and second "the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity." The bishops clarify that while
a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position. . . . There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.
They go on to add
as Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
The statement concludes by looking specifically at the issues that are involved in the seven key themes of Catholic social teaching: the right to life and the dignity of the human person; the call to family, community, and participation; our rights and responsibilities; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God's creation. They state that
these themes from Catholic social teaching provide a moral framework that does not easily fit ideologies of "right" or "left," "liberal" or "conservative," or the platform of any political party. They are not partisan or sectarian, but reflect fundamental ethical principles that are common to all people.
The bishops recognize that voting in our culture presents us with some very complex dilemmas, and for that reason they offer this statement to help Catholics inform their conscience so that they can ultimately vote in accordance with that conscience. (By the way, just because I quoted extensively from the statement does NOT mean that you should not read the statement yourself!!)

Monday, November 26, 2007

PRAY FOR PEACE!!! Tomorrow is the beginning of an international peace conference in Annapolis, MD to work towards peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Cardinal George, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking all Catholics to pray for peace in the Holy Land. In his letter, the Cardinal eloquently states:
This call to prayer has a special timeliness this week, but the path to a just peace will be long and will stretch beyond the peace conference itself. In the weeks and months ahead may we persevere in prayer for a just peace for Israelis, Palestinians and the whole region.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This past weekend, I watched the movie Schindler's List. Now I realize that I am about 14 years behind everyone else in seeing this movie, but that did not lessen the profound impact it made on me. I had not seen it because I knew that I would be deeply disturbed and saddened by watching it, and so everytime I was in the video store and considered renting it, I would put it off. Now in the days of renting online, I had it on my online list of movies so that it would eventually just be mailed to me, and I knew once it was that I would in fact watch it. Needless to say, I was deeply disturbed and saddened by watching the film. The weight of carrying around the renewed knowledge of the evil of which humanity is capable throughout the weekend was horrible. And yet I believe in the importance of being reminded of that fact from time to time. It is dangerous to forget what we are capable of perpetrating or simply ignoring when we do not want to face evil being done in our midst.

A couple of things struck me in the movie. One was the hatred of the general population for the Jewish people - yelling names at them, throwing dirt at them or spitting on them, things that are violent without necessarily doing actual physical harm. I was struck by the way that the general population cooperated in dehumanizing a group of people. Even those who did not actively persecute them simpley ignored their suffering and did not protest their treatment. Obviously there were exceptions who did protest, many at the cost of their own lives. But it made me wonder, who do we dehumanize and demonize in our society? The immigrants? The Muslims? The poor who live in our inner cities? To what extent do we ignore their suffering? To what extent are we culpable for the conditions in which we live?

Oskar Schindler was not an extraordinary person, which is actually what makes the movie so profound. He was a person like you and me, living his life, not wanting any strife or conflict, trying to get along and even enjoy life besides, trying to get ahead. He doesn't start out with the idea that he is going to save Jewish people from the concentration camps. He actually starts out using them as cheap labor so that he can make a bigger profit. He is almost forced to do the good thing, the right thing because he is more and more confronted with an evil that he cannot ignore. He cannot simply stand by and do nothing and be able to live with himself. One of the most moving scenes in the movie, with one of the most important insights for me, is the scene at the end when he realizes that he could have saved more, he could have done more. This scene speaks to all of us - we can always do more. Short of actually sacrificing our lives, we have never gotten to the point where we have done all we can do to fight injustice, violence, racism, poverty, and all of the other forms evil takes in our world. We can always do more. On the flip side of that sentiment is the fact that we have to begin by doing something. If all of the people living in the Nazi occupied countries had done something to help, to protest, how much of a difference might it have made? We can start with something small, but we must start. That is the moral imperative of our religious belief, of being disciples of Jesus Christ. I want to leave you with a quote from theologian Elizabeth Johnson in her book Consider Jesus:
There is a traditional axiom which claims that to live a good ethical life one must "do good and avoid evil." The emphasis shifts today, slightly but very dramatically, to make us realize that this is not enough. In fact, it can end up being a shirking of responsibility. For in the light of the compassion of God revealed in Jesus, we must "do good and resist evil." There is a call to the Christian conscience here not to hide our face from evil, not to walk around it, or pretend it is not there; but to face its massiveness in spite of our feelings of powerlessness or insignificance and to become involved in transforming it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I have a special prayer request this week, that all of you prayer for the United States bishops as they hold annual Fall General Assembly from Nov. 12th-15th. The bishops' agenda this year is varied discussing everything from the curriculum for high school students to the Faithful Citizenship document that is published every presidential election year, from the most recent reports on the abuse scandal in the Church to the revision of the guidelines for music at mass.

One of the unique items on the agenda is that the bishops will vote on a stewardship brochure directed toward teens. This brochure invites the teens to share their time, talent, and treasure with the Church. How wonderful it is to see the Church specifically reaching out to our incredibly talented teenagers and working to incorporate their gifts into the life of the community. It is also important for teens to understand that being Christian involves more than just showing up on Sundays (a point all of us can probably be reminded of from time to time). In their press release, the USCCB states that
The text encourages teens to pray, especially with Scripture, to make an inventory of their gifts and to rejoice in the ways they are already using their talents, adding that “even the smallest act of kindness can bring joy and relief to another.” It also thanks them for the gifts of energy, idealism and zeal that they already share with the Church, and tells them to not be afraid of asking the Church to “do more.” “Stewardship” the document says, “is the call for all of us to do more, to be more and to love more!”
I especially like the call for teens not to just do for the Church, but to challenge the Church to do more!

A difficult topic under discussion this year is the draft for the Faithful Citizenship document this election year. The bishops consider this topic so important that for the first time they are bringing the document for a discussion and vote by the entire assembly, whereas in the past the document has been written and approved by a committee. The specific focus of the document this year will be the formation of conscience, a factor that will be included in the title itself, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility." The document will again emphasize that our political responsibility goes beyond casting our votes on election day. The document has to walk the fine line between political partisanship in a day and age where none of the candidates represent a consistently "Catholic" position. While upholding the preeminence of issues that involve the direct ending of human life, such as abortion, active euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, the bishops also emphasize that those issues do not excuse us from being concerned about issues such as war, torture, and economic justice. The press release from the USCCB on the draft document states that
the draft affirms the importance of participation in political life. It explains the necessity of opposing actions that are intrinsically wrong, such as abortion and euthanasia, and affirms the obligation to promote the common good by combating such threats to human life and dignity as hunger, poverty, racism, unjust immigration policies, and unjust war.
As "faithful citizens" who are democrats, republicans, and independents, it is our job to call the candidates in these upcoming elections to a higher standard and challenge some of the presuppositions of our respective parties. Only in this way will we stand a chance of really having an impact on the political landscape of our country.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today is the Feast of All Saints! The word "saint" simply means holy or holy one and comes from the Latin sanctus (holy), the root of which is sancire (to make sacred). In biblical times a saint was simply a Christian, one who is holy, who is called to be holy. The New American Bible usually translates this word, (h)agios as "holy ones" but other translations use the word "saints" following the Latin translation which was sanctum or sancti. When the term is used in the Bible, it more frequently refers to those living than those who have died. All of us are saints.

One of the true gifts of our Catholic faith is the teaching on the communion of saints, a belief that we express each week in the creed. The communion of saints simply expresses the fact that as Christian community, we are in relationship with all those who have gone before us and all those who will come after us. Our relationships transcend time and space. Hopefully we experience this intuitively when someone we love dies. Our relationship with that loved one does not end at death. The relationship is transformed, but does not end. When I am explaining the communion of saints to those who are becoming Catholic, I start with our relationships to the living. If I am struggling with something, I might ask my friends and family to pray for me. Because our relationships do not end at death, when a loved one dies, I can continue to ask him/her to pray for me. Taking it a step further, I have a grandma who died before I was born. While I have never met her, I feel as if I know her because of the stories that have been told about her over the years. I ask her to pray for me in the same way I ask the grandparents I knew to pray for me. The canonized saints are like that. They are Christians who have gone before us as models of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. While we have never met them, we come to know them through the stories that our family, the Church, passes down about them. We form relationships to them through those stories and traditions. We ask them to pray for us in the same way we ask our family and friends to pray for us. We do not technically "pray to them," we ask them to pray to God with us. Also implied in that statement is that we do not ask them to pray to God instead of us praying to God ourselves, but rather we ask them to join their prayers to God to our prayers to God. The fact that a saint is canonized simply means that the Church has definitively declared the person to be in heaven with God. It is important to note that the Church has never definitively declared anyone to be in hell.

All Saints Day is a great day to reflect on those in our lives who have been examples of what it means to be a Christian and to thank God for the gift of those people in our lives. It is also a great day to reflect on what it means to each of us to be a saint. Do we make the world a holier place through our words and deeds? Do people experience something of God's love when they encounter us? Do we image Christ for others? Ultimately that is what a saint, canonized or not, is and is called to be, an image of Christ in the world. Have a blessed All Saints!