Monday, February 27, 2012

Senior Mom

Many high school sports have become year-round activities, whether it’s open gym for basketball and volleyball or off-season lifting for football. My oldest son is a football player, and football is his only sport. Next year he will be a senior.

Derek came home from lifting recently and announced that all of the other seniors (this year’s juniors are now considered football seniors) were either playing baseball or running track. He, therefore, was the only senior at the off-season workouts. I commented that it was up to him to provide senior leadership to all of the under-classmen. He’s not big on leadership, and he gave me one of his “yeah, right Dad” looks.

More interesting was the reaction of his mother. In an expression of combined fear, disgust, and constipation, she erupted, “Does that mean I’m supposed to be a senior mom?” The mothers of the senior players, you see, play an important behind (and sometimes in front of) the scenes support role for the team. It’s a role that my dear wife clearly is not looking forward to.

I’m not sure what senior dads do.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Church Flatulent

Quote of the day (yesterday, actually) has to go to Professor Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College. Writing on Ricochet, Prof. Rahe closes a post on Abortion and Contraception thusly:

Persecution can be and often is good for the Church. In its absence, the Church Militant has a way of turning into the Church Flatulent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Suddenly Lent

SNAP! Just like that, the liturgical season changes, and it’s Lent. With Advent, you’ve got the wind down of the previous year with the celebration of Christ the King and the secular shift toward Christmas. After Christmas, we’re eased gently into Ordinary Time with Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. Lent is different. We’re cruising along through Ordinary Time when Ash Wednesday jumps out of the bushes at us in the middle of the week. We are told that we have to fast and abstain, and suddenly the atmosphere becomes penitential.

Can you tell that I don’t take fasting particularly well?

There are some cultural (i.e., non-liturgical) precursors to Ash Wednesday. There’s Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday (I admit to indulging in a Fat Tuesday ritual of taking lunch at a Chinese buffet). But these celebrations aren’t any kind of transitionary preparations. They are the equivalent of hitting the accelerator just before smashing into a wall, which makes the collision that much more jarring. It is much more appropriate that the feast follow the fast, as Easter follows Good Friday.

For me, Lent comes just in time this year. The emphasis on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting calls me to reform areas of my life in which I have grown lax. It’s not as though Christians only do these things during Lent. We should do them year-round. Lent, however, is a season for renewed observance. We are reminded just how far we have relapsed and invited to make good things habitual once again.

Yes, the onset of Lent is like a slap in the face – a slap that’s needed to restore our spiritual senses to the real world. It is time to re-focus our vision and discipline on what really matters.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Avoid Giving Offense

I had to allow myself a private chuckle this morning as I read today’s selection for the first reading at mass. Recall that last Sunday, we heard from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.” (1 Cor 10:32) Contrast that with these words from the epistle of St. James: “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:20)

These are the New American Bible (NAB) translations used by the Catholic Church in America for her liturgies. Other translations provide a little less contrast.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bad Publicity

In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear of a leper who approaches Jesus and is healed. Jesus tells the leper to present himself to the priests in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Jesus also warns the man (sternly!) to tell no one anything. The ex-leper disregarded the warning and “began to publicize the whole matter.” The passage, Mark 1:40-45, was the gospel pronounced at masses this past weekend.

Many commentators have offered their thoughts regarding why Jesus wanted the incident kept secret. I find the most plausible explanation to be that He knew what would happen when the word got out. People would come from far and wide seeking healing of their every infirmity. Their focus would be primarily selfish, and would interfere with his mission of proclaiming the Good News. Indeed, Mark shares some of these consequences in his Gospel. “He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” (Mark 1:45) The crowds get to be so bad that the disciples and family of Jesus begin to worry (Mark 3:21).

The Church has been entrusted with continuing the mission of Christ in the modern world. Just as Jesus faced threats to his ability to communicate his message, the Church today finds itself faced with unexpected obstacles. Foremost in my mind currently, given the events of the last few weeks, are the legions of contracepting Catholics who disregard Church teaching and then blab about it to every pollster who calls. Their very public disobedience causes people to discount the Church’s teaching authority: either it’s not important, it’s not binding, or it’s simply incorrect.

The Church has been, to some extent, acquiescent in allowing a very large proportion of its members to dissent from her teaching. The pontiffs, of course, from Pius XII to Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, have consistently taught the moral truth about abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Most Catholics, however, don’t read papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, or catechetical lectures. They depend upon their local pastor to steer them to spiritual safety. Aside from a few brave souls, the branch managers of the universal Church have been hesitant to broach the subject, lest the contrast with secular orthodoxy lead the luke-warm to bolt for the doors.

The same collection of readings that saw the proclamation of Mark 1:40-45 for the Gospel used Psalm 32 for the Responsorial Psalm. Verses 8 and 9 of the Psalm evoke a powerful image that I believe fits the majority of contracepting Catholics. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” Those who reduce Church teaching to “Thou Shalt Not . . .” without attempting to understand the basis for that teaching are naturally going to resent what they see as interference in their personal lives.

In my mind, I can picture a personification of the Church, desperately trying to be heard amid a sea of equine beasts wanting to spit out their bits and straining at their bridles. We are one body in Christ, and there is no such thing as a purely private sin. Every sin harms the entire body, and some serve to rob the body of its voice. For those who have sinned, forgiveness is freely offered. But for the love of God, don’t make things worse by going around happily publicizing your sinfulness.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Two-Front War

I had thought that the 2012 elections were going to be about economic issues – unsustainable government deficit spending and the inflationary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. This was supposed to have been an election cycle where the social issues became secondary, to be dealt with after the existential threat had passed. Mitch Daniels, the Republican Governor of Indiana, famously called for a truce in the culture war due to the rising tide of red ink that was threatening to drown the country.

Suddenly, though, the social issues are back. It’s as if the scales have not fallen from my eyes, they’ve been ripped off, taking my eyelids with them. The creeping tyranny of an Executive Branch that is weary of having to follow the Constitution has become every bit the existential threat that Daniels’s red tide is.

The latest target is the First Amendment, guaranteeing Freedom of Religion to every citizen of the Republic. First, the Obama Administration tried to claim that churches and religious institutions could not discriminate in their employment, even of ministers. They tried to make it the law of the land that the Catholic Church would have to open the priesthood to women. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against them 9 to 0. Not even the most liberal justices would condone such a naked usurpation of religious freedom.

Now we have the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that all employers, including religious institutions, but excluding narrowly defined churches) must provide all employees with free contraception and sterilization. This is clearly a violation of the consistent moral teaching of the Catholic Church, and the bishops of the United States have unanimously and loudly objected, stating that they would not and could not abide by the ruling. President Obama, who during the debt negotiations was willing to see the Federal government shut down before giving up federal funding of Planned Parenthood, doubled down. Most of the mainstream media mis-framed the argument, clearly with a bias in favor of the administration. Now, he has announced an "accommodation" which is no compromise at all, since all employers will still be required to provide health insurance that provides free contraception and sterilization. It is a blatant assault on liberty and an affront to Catholics who take the moral teaching of the Church seriously.

At the same time, a private cancer-research fund, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, announced that it would suspend financial support for Planned Parenthood. The Planned Parenthood goons went into overdrive, even going so far as hacking and defacing the Komen website, leading Komen to sheepishly apologize and restore funding.

Yes, the culture wars are alive and kicking. We focused on one front of the war and neglected the other, allowing the forces of evil (and I do not use the phrase lightly) to attack us in the rear. Now we have to fight a two-front war, and I fear that the momentum is against us. If we can't reverse the course of recent history, our government will cease to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. The Constitution will become nothing more than words on parchment, and the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution will be worth no more than the paper on which they are written.