All posts by Meghan Garcia

Meghan is a 25 year old graduate student of English Literature. She has a passion for reading and writing, in tandem with a big mouth (though you'd never guess that). She has four younger siblings, a wonderful fiance, two dogs, and a penchant for Scottish accents, fairy tales, and baking. She overachieved in undergraduate by also majoring in Medieval History. She's also Catholic, a woman, and, thanks to a combination of homeschooling and college, prone to logic, and so is in the unique position of being sensitive to moral/cultural issues like feminism, abortion, marriage, etc, and being able to comment clearly, if not insightfully, on them.

Oil and Water: Catholic Mixed Marriages

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about mixed marriages–from friends, from Catholic bloggers, etc etc.  I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a little about them before but always hesitated because I didn’t want to write something like a diatribe, or something painfully tangential.  And I will say at the beginning of this article that

  • This is my application of what the Church has given us on this topic, and probably not an all-encompassingly correct one–I just want to present some food for thought;
  • My personal experience with non-Catholic relationships was dating and discerning potential marriage with a Protestant-in-name-only for 2 or so years; when contrasted with my current relationship with a strong Catholic, there is frankly no comparison in terms of unity, fulfillment, and peace of heart;
  • I do know a few successful mixed marriages (most notably my future mother-in-law), although most of them are successful because the non-Catholic has converted since the marriage began.

I’ll also state what I hope is the takeaway right here, up front: For a Catholic to enter into a mixed marriage is to put themselves into the almost-impossible position of balancing their Faith and their marriage, with their eternal salvation as the possible casualty.

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Yesterday the Facebook page for Ignitum Today directed me to this article, about dating and potentially marrying non-Catholics.  This section stood out:

“In my experience, interfaith marriages only work if one or both of the persons involved have no serious commitment to their religion prior to marriage. If one or both get serious about religion after the marriage, that has its own set of risks and problems.  So best to know where you both stand prior to
marriage.

Marriage is successful primarily if your love is built on close friendship, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, and compromise rather than religious affiliation.  But when it comes to religion, the non-Catholic party has more to compromise and concede to.  I know that’s a lousy deal, but that’s the way it is.  Much is demanded of Catholics, and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to decide what and what not to believe.” (emphasis mine)

This got me thinking about my own attitudes towards my Faith when I was dating a Protestant, and the attitudes of Catholic people I’ve known over the years in mixed relationships/marriages. Although the Church and moral law clearly require that if there are any real compromises of religion, they come on the part of the non-Catholic (Casti Connubi, Matrimonia Mixta, and the Catechism, among others, back this up–more on that later), it is sadly often the Catholics who end up watering down their Faith or losing it altogether.

But what I was thinking about, and what I’d like to write about here, is why. Why is a mixed marriage so dangerous?

Unity Recap #1: The Church & the Catholic Faithful

Casti Connubii (1930), section 82: “They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation…If the Church occasionally on account of circumstances does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provided against by suitable safeguards), it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage.”

Matrimonia Mixta (1970): Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the difficulties inherent even in mixed marriage between baptized persons. There is often a difference of opinion on the sacramental nature of matrimony, on the special significance of marriage celebrated within the Church, on the interpretation of certain moral principles pertaining to marriage and the family, on the extent to which obedience is due the Catholic Church, and on the competence that belongs to ecclesiastical authority. From this it is clear that difficult questions of this kind can only be resolved when Christian unity is restored.

The faithful must therefore be taught that, although the Church somewhat relaxes ecclesiastical discipline in particular cases, she can never remove the obligation of the Catholic party, which, by divine law, namely by the plan of salvation instituted through Christ, is imposed according to the various situations.

The faithful should therefore be reminded that the Catholic party in a marriage has the duty of preserving his or her own faith. Nor is it ever permitted to expose oneself to a proximate danger of losing it.

The Catechism (1985), section 1634: “Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed
marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home…The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.”

Thus, whether before or after the Second Vatican Council, with the slight relaxation of the Church’s complete forbidding of mixed marriages, the Church has been clear in issuing a grave warning against the marriages of Catholics and non-Catholics–even baptized non-Catholics.

As Casti Connubii makes apparent, this is not out of a harsh desire to limit or hurt the matrimonial chances or happiness of the Faithful, but rather, out of a deep respect for the sacrament of matrimony as the vessel for the physical transmittal of the Catholic Faith through the generations, and out of love and care for the salvation of the individual Catholic.

The attitude of the Church on this subject has not really changed, and I think a misunderstanding of this on the part of Catholic educators, marriage preparers, and individuals, is the first part of the issue common today in which the Catholic remits part or all of their Faith.  There is a perception that, after the 1970’s, the Church suddenly decided to take the stigma away from mixed marriages.  Sure, you can’t have a Nuptial Mass, and you have to jump through some administrative hoops to receive your dispensation, but those things are formalities that show respect for the tradition of the Catholic Faith, with no real modern application.

This is a strange and disproportionate understanding of the shift that occurred after Vatican II.  The Church did not make mixed marriage ‘ok’, it simply underscored the fact that dispensations existed, and that, in the interest of pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the flock, it would be less grudgingly granted than earlier times.  ‘Less grudgingly’ does not mean ‘without misgivings’ or ‘with enthusiasm’, but that is how this movement has been interpreted almost universally.  ‘The Church used to forbid mixed marriages but now it’s ok’.

But the Catechism and Matrimonia Mixta are far from enthusiastic about the marriage of a Catholic and a non-Catholic, and both reemphasize their warnings that Catholics avoid such unions.  This is not, in my opinion, something to take lightly, because the Church doesn’t generally issue moral warnings ‘lightly’ or for fun.

 

Unity Recap #2: The Catholic Faithful and the non-Catholic Spouse

So, if the Church is willing to grant dispensations for mixed marriages now more than in past years, why the continued warning? Why the attempt, in official Church documents on the topic, to preserve the stigma?  In short–why is it such a big deal? What is it about a mixed marriage that is intrinsically incompatible with the Catholic understanding of matrimony?

Having dated a non-Catholic very seriously, and now, engaged to a strong Catholic and going through the marriage preparation process with him, I have begun to understand at least one possible answer to these questions.  The summarized version is: the Catholic sacrament of Matrimony is intended to be as a complete a unitive sublimation of self as the union and sublimation of the Church with Christ.  You can’t have that between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, even if he or she is ‘Christian’.

The most common response I hear to my misgivings about mixed marriage is “He/she is going to support me in raising the kids Catholic; he/she totally respects my Faith and understands I am not going to change it, and is completely ok with that, so it’s all going to be fine.”

Even if those things are 100% true (and if they are, your Protestant betrothed is probably more of a saint than you are), you are still kidding yourself if you think this is going to be ‘fine’.  Entering into a mixed marriage with your eyes truly open should excite caution, steeling of the will for a kind of emotional battle, and a hunger for the strength that comes through prayer and resignation to God’s will–not complacency or nonchalance.  Saying “I know this will be tough sometimes” is not good enough.

Think about the unity of spirit that spouses are meant to have.  As Casti Connubii says, “By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises” (section 7).  Your souls are knit together in the bond of marriage!  This is why the Biblical description says “And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)

The Scriptural passage is key because it helps us understand the Church, and vice versa.  ‘Knit together’ highlights the individualism of the two who are married together.  They are two separate people, with two separate souls.  But the bond ‘more intimate’ than the union of their bodies makes them “not two, but one”.  Thus, the spouses are called to a a total sublimation of self in marriage.  This does not mean that they lose their personalities, or their individual soul, but that they should strive to unite their souls and hearts so completely that they move as one flesh towards salvation, where God and God alone will dissolve the bond.

But how can you achieve that kind of unity with someone who is not Catholic? To be sure, there is much merit in Christian unity–just read the words of Pope Francis or John Paul II.  That unity, however, is by nature limited, until the two become one in Faith.  A Catholic life–the kind we are supposed to strive for, the kind the saints have–gives you a Christo-centric perspective that places everything else in submission to Him and to His service and glory.  Since the Church transmits to us Christ’s instructions for how to live this kind of life, both in its generals and its particulars, only the Catholic Faith can properly focus your gaze.  A Christian–no matter how devout–will always diverge from a devout Catholic (though not always in terms of personal sanctity).  There are certainly Protestants who live a better example of Christianity than do some Catholics.  Yet no matter how well or poorly a Catholic executes his Christian life, the template which he is following is always more complete and correctly focused than his Christian brethren.

Thus, trying to have a marriage with a non-Catholic, and trying to get that unity of vision and Faith that the Bible and the Church described above, is almost impossible.  Like oil and water, the two individuals can never really sublimate; there will always be a membranous barrier that keeps them separate, at best floating within one another discretely, like a bubble.  The logical extension of this thought is that a ‘mixed marriage’ can only surmount that barrier of Faith and become truly unified through the conversion of the non-Catholic party.  This certainly happens. But it can only happen when the Catholic in the marriage has the right attitude and understanding of what a mixed union is, and lives a heroic example of their Faith.

So what is the right attitude?

First and most important, the Catholic in a mixed marriage must understand that they are obliged to be the spiritual leader in the relationship.  This is tricky if the wife is Catholic, because she feels the pull of traditional gender roles urging her to defer to her husband as the leader and head of the household.  But regardless of which spouse is the Catholic, they must shoulder the responsibility of spiritual leadership. This is not because the  Catholic is holier or smarter, but because respect and love for Christ and His Church require it.  If a Catholic would not be ashamed by their Faith in a public sphere, nor compromise or pretend about how Catholicism fits into ‘the world’, so much more so should they refrain from hiding, subjugating, or politely restraining their Faith in order to defer to the leadership of a Protestant in marriage.

Which leads to the second facet of a Catholic attitude within a mixed marriage.  How seriously do you want to keep and cultivate your Faith?  For a Catholic married to an agnostic or a weak Christian, like the ex-boyfriend I dated, it is easy to express a desire to staunchly keep your Faith, but hard in practice to care on a daily basis.  Obviously, if you avail yourself of the sacraments, frequent Mass, etc, God will sustain you, but it is difficult to be the only Catholic in as intimate a relationship as a marriage, receiving no encouragement or true support from your spouse.  Can you imagine being a mother or a dad, passionately serious about raising your children well, and knowing that your spouse was totally indifferent to your parenthood, unsupportive at best and deliberately sabotaging you at worst?

Even harder, if you are marrying a devout Protestant, you are faced with two alternatives:1. You deliberately and prayerfully choose to embrace the kind of marriage in which you know you will not have as complete or fulfilling a unity, and instead choose unity with Christ at the expense of the ideal Catholic marriage.  This sounds harsh, but if you are Catholic and your spouse is not, you can either choose your spouse or choose your Faith.  The two are certainly not totally mutually exclusive, but there will and must be a hierarchy, and a more pronounced one than the normal ‘God–family–country’ ladder that Catholics understand anyway.  This is a difficult choice to make, to understand that you will be a little lonely, a little less fulfilled on a marital level.  It may be relatively peaceful, and you may not notice it often, but be assured there will be times when it will feel unbearable. This is the “tragedy of Christian disunity” that the Catechism mentions. Catholics and Protestants, while linked, are not equal. Sadly, the kind of resolve necessary to very precisely choose salvation over spouse is nearly unnatural and therefore, at least nowadays I think, rare.  As human beings, our inclination is towards marital unity with our spouse, and sacrificial love for them.  While the first alternative definitely does not and should not preclude self-sacrifice and care for your spouse, it is the less comfortable of the two choices.2. The second choice is to try to fool yourself into thinking you have equitably balanced God and non-Catholic spouse.  You tell yourself you are respectful when you go to your spouse’s non-Catholic services, even taking your children.  You tell yourself you are being self-sacrificing when you don’t speak out for your Faith, or when you submit to the non-Catholic spouse as spiritual leader of the family.  You tell yourself you are fulfilling your duty to God and husband or wife by making your Faith utterly internal and personal.  In other words, you are watering down your Faith and lying to yourself.

Again–sounds harsh? It is. But it is also true.  While there is no need to aggressively shove your Catholic Faith down your spouse’s throat, compromising on ‘the little things’ that ‘don’t matter’ is, in essence, giving up and saying  ‘My Faith matters to me but it’s ok if it doesn’t matter to you’. In plain speech, “My Faith doesn’t matter as much to me as you.” 

When you consider martyrs like Maria Goretti, or the mother in Maccabees (2 Macc. 7) who watches her sons tortured and martyred, you realize that your Faith should be more valuable than the life of your most beloved human companion, be it spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, sibling–and more valuable than your own. There aren’t exceptions. To view a mixed marriage with nonchalance, therefore, and painlessly let go of things like Catholic ceremonies and traditions, to sit quietly by out of respect for your spouse’s ‘different opinions’ on moral issues or on the Church, etc, is a careless endangerment of your own Faith at best.  At worst, after years of daily compromise on the small things, you will lose the big thing–your commitment to your Faith.  You’ll find yourself asking if you really need to go to Church every Sunday, of if you can just have a hamburger with your family on that Friday during Lent–or use a contraceptive after you’ve had a few kids. It’s a slippery slope.

“But that’s not fair”, I have had friends say to me.  Well…ok. It isn’t about ‘fair’.  Not if ‘fair’ means going to your non-Catholic spouse’s church service on Sundays because he or she chooses to come to yours.  Not if ‘fair’ means nixing every nearly semblance of Catholic symbolism or tradition in your wedding (as a friend of mine did) so as not to make your non-Catholic spouse uncomfortable. Preserving the limits of your Faith means being uncompromising on certain issues, and that isn’t a bad thing.

St. Thomas Aquinas says (Summa, Question 58, article 9) that justice is not about passions (feelings getting hurt) but about operations–about what you do. True justice or fairness involves respecting your non-Catholic spouse, but it also involves respecting your Faith enough to be firm about what you can and can’t do.  I think the attendance at non-Catholic churches thing is probably one of the most insidiousness instances of ‘fairness’ that hurts Catholics in mixed marriages, because it scandalizes and confuses any children involved, and lulls both you and your spouse into a comfortable space of false ecumenism.

The more devout your spouse is about their religion, the more disenfranchised they are going to feel, and that’s unfortunately one of the costs of maintaining your Catholicism in a mixed marriage, which is why the article I linked at the beginning says it’s easier for couples neither of whom have a serious religious commitment.

Happy Ending?

So, can there be a happy ending to a mixed marriage, or will it always end in a loss of Faith for the Catholic, or the loneliness of spirit so painful that you might as well have not gotten married?

The simple answer is yes, but the work that is involved is much more complicated.  There are mixed marriages like St. Monica to St. Augustine’s father, which was difficult and painful for her for thirty years, but resulted in the conversion of her son and husband.  There are marriages like those of medieval queens and kings who separated for one or both to live in monasteries when their children were grown.  There are marriages like my in-laws, in which the example of my fiance’s Baptist mother converting to fervent Catholicism ended up reawakening her spouse’s lukewarm Catholic Faith to bring them both closer.

The caveat to the ‘yes’, then, is that you can live a fulfilling life of grace in the married state (should that be your vocation) with a non-Catholic spouse, if you are willing to embrace the consequences and to see them in realistic terms.  Your marriage cannot be about romantic love, or ‘how much you want to be with the other person’ if it is at the expense of your firm adherence to your Faith.  All the sincere love, desire, and self-sacrifice in the world are pointless if at the expense of your salvation.

For some, this is not news.  For others, this means a serious self-examination, and maybe even a very, very hard choice: choosing to trust the most faithful Lover to guide you to a spouse who He has chosen for you.  Not everyone who is in a serious relationship with a non-Catholic is called to a mixed marriage (no matter how ‘sure’ you feel!). Those who find themselves in one already and regretting it need to look to the grace of the sacrament to help them re-evaluate how they live their Faith in that marriage–to the benefit of all!  And those who are considering it should evaluate their intentions and their attitudes towards all of the above without excuses.  Walking away from a dangerous marriage is far less painful than waking up in one unprepared.

St. Monica & her son

 

Beating a Dead Horse for Life

The other day I got into one of those unfortunate situations known as a Facebook debate. Like reality television series, they are easy to be sucked into, nearly impossible to stop, and leave you wondering where the last hour and a half of your life went.

On my Facebook page, I posted this article about the investigative results that revealed the incineration of thousands of aborted babies’ remains to heat UK hospitals.  My intent was hopefully to alert people who either were not aware of such things happening in today’s world, or to re-alert and re-invigorate the people who were.

But a friend of mine took what I intended to be a sharing of information and launched into a diatribe against the pro-life movement as a whole.  (This is not an attack post! But my friend is not alone in her perspective, and it’s the perspective, not the individual person, that I’m addressing here).

She complained that all the pro-life movement, and indeed the vast majority of Catholics, ever talk about is abortion, abortion, abortion. We beat to death the topics of abortion, contraception, and gay “marriage”, at what she felt was the expense of other important humanitarian concerns, like social justice, income inequality, capital punishment, and war. If we were truly pro-life, she and others like her have challenged, we would be concerned with all these things and be far more even-handed in our activism.

She also argued that the pro-life movement was dead anyway, because it wasn’t accomplishing anything and wasn’t going to. Infanticide and abortion had been around since the dawn of time, and would remain with us for still longer. Finally, if we would insist on talking about abortion, why were we so concerned with the unborn, when the more fruitful area of ministry would be towards the mothers, towards those women who felt they had no choice but to abort?

I found myself, as did my soon-to-be sister-in-law, who had joined in the conversation on my side of the issue, arguing vaguely for hope and perseverance. Plus, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to stop other kinds of murder, or to give love and material support to expectant mothers with crisis pregnancies. But I found myself bucking against the idea that abortion-centered pro-life ministry was dead and done, and that we were somehow wasting everyone’s time and energy reminding the world that babies are still being killed.

So, following my Facebook discussion with my friend, I questioned myself squarely:

What justification do we have, as Catholics and Christians, for continued emphasis on abortion, specifically?

Two of the other big killers always brought up by the camp opposed to the modern pro-life movement are war and the death penalty. “Oh, so you only care about a human life being taken if it’s a fetus? What about all the soldiers? What about all those death row inmates?”  Well, consider the following:

  • Number of babies aborted in the U.S. since 1973: at least 55,772,015 (source: the Guttmacher Institute, a liberal thinktank who is more likely to underreport or report accurately than to overinflate the numbers)
  • Number of Americans who have died in all U.S. wars since 1776:  1,321,612 (source, which is citing all kinds of other sources)
  • Number of people executed by capital punishment since 1976: 1,362 (source)

This means that in just 40 years, we have aborted forty-thousand times more babies than we have executed criminals, and forty-two times more babies than Americans killed in all conflicts from our nation’s conception. Let that sink in.

For you visual people, take a look, or watch this video:

So as far as the more immediate concern, we have, on one side of the scale, the genocide of several generations’ worth of children, and on the other…well…let’s also consider the identity of the victims in all three types of violence:

  • Soldiers, who volunteer out of patriotism and courage to defend their country, knowing the risk.
  • Criminals, who have committed a violent crime and possibly murdered others themselves, and who have been deemed unfit to be returned to society, for society’s protection.
  • Unborn babies, who are totally innocent and have no protection, no agency, and no voice.

Does this mean it’s ok that there are soldiers dying in unjust wars? No! Does this mean it’s ok to execute a criminal as though his life has no value? No. (Or, not necessarily. This is a far stickier issue, and until the Church actively forbids it, I believe that capital punishment has its place in our society, and its justification in Aquinas as a charity).  But it does mean that both the soldier, who has a choice to serve, and the criminal, who has received just representation in a court of law, have far more of a fair shake than the baby, who has done nothing more criminal or deliberate than to be conceived.

Not that any of that makes the unborn baby’s life intrinsically worth MORE than anyone else’s, but rather, that it demonstrates that it is the most vulnerable, and clearly, as the numbers show, the largest casualty by leaps and bounds, and therefore requires our continued attention.

To ignore abortion or push it aside in favor of trendier crises, is to say to the Nazis, we see what you are doing to the Jews, but we would like to talk to you first about what you are doing to the Russians. Was the huge number of casualties in the Russian army that took place on the Eastern Front terrible? Of course! But was it larger in scale or more pressing than the wholesale, assembly-line style slaughter of innocent and defenseless Jews in the concentration camps? No.

And don’t forget the collateral damage of abortion–those mothers. One in every three women has had an abortion.  That abortion torments them–whether they realize it or not–emotionally, psychologically, and often, physically, for the rest of their lives (the fathers, too, assuming it is not kept secret from them). So for every one aborted baby, you have one physical casualty and one, maybe two, more psychological ones.

So should we ignore all other issues just to focus on abortion? Definitely not.  As Pope Francis said, we must have a context.  But the context at this moment in time is that abortion is taking so many more lives than any other type of moral or ethical issue against which we might, as Catholics, want to protest, that it is rightfully the most spoken-of and the most heavily activized.

I don’t particularly feel obligated to justify myself now when I post pro-life things to Facebook. I don’t feel the need to apologize or compromise with people who think we are ‘too obsessed’ with abortion.  If being  concerned about the mammoth-scale murder of children–about nine times as many children as the population of New York City in 2013–is obsession, then fine, I am obsessed.

This is not an issue where we are ‘choosing’ to prioritize one issue over another, any more than anyone else passionately moved to speak out against genocide feels that it is a ‘priority’. One cannot simply put aside the abortion issue like an old newspaper and pick up some other cause.  To reduce the defense of innocent human life to a preference does a grave disservice to those very soldiers being killed in the wars, and the society which a system of capital punishment seeks to protect.

It is certainly the duty of a Christian to try his hardest to champion all life, from conception to natural death, regardless of age, sex, race, creed, and condition.

But if we in the pro-life movement should be careful not to forget the born because we are so focused on the unborn, neither can those who are merely ‘tired of hearing about it’ neglect 55,000,000 children.

~

And by the way, war and capital punishment have been with us since the beginning of humanity too.

Honesty Alert: ‘So what if abortion ends life?’ 2.0

In a similar vein to my post about Duck Dynasty and A&E’s clear message to Christians, I wanted to recall attention to this article posted on Salon, “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” and examine the 2014 attitude towards abortion from those who defend it.

The piece is just about a year old now, but I think it’s still pertinent because it still represents a kind of new, chilling honesty lurking in the pro-abortion movement. For comparison, I’d like to present an article posted recently on New Statesman: “The biggest lie of the anti-choice movement is that it is they who deal in harsh realities”

Perhaps not every advocate of abortion would agree with Mary Williams, the author of the 2013 Salon article, when she says that she thinks the movement should admit and embrace the fact that abortion is murder.

“Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.” (emphasis mine)

In a nutshell, Williams’ article condones oppression of the weak. ‘It’s OK to kill someone as long as they aren’t the ones with the autonomy’, she is saying, which was the same logic used by Hitler, slave owners, etc. Honestly, one of my favorite and most prophetic quotes from Orwell’s Animal Farm is here re-appropriated by Williams, and touted as a positive reality: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (What if the woman who in this scenario is ‘the boss’ is at the mercy of a man who is raping her? In this moment, since he is now ‘the boss’, do her rights and her life no longer matter? I was not aware that human rights were predicated on spheres of power.)

Anyway, Williams’ article contained so much contradictory logic and coldness that I’m sure even some pro-abortion supporters felt the need to disassociate from such a view point as “I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”

Yet I think she’s revealing a trend that is evidenced by the more recent article by blogger “Glosswitch” on the New Statesman, published last week.

“The alternative to abortion is not a new life in the abstract, but the experience of pregnancy and labour, and a lifetime of consequences that will be experienced in hugely variant social and economic settings. If we valued pregnancy and birth as greatly as we claim to, we would recognise the importance of allowing those faced with unwanted pregnancies to make their own decisions. However, there is a point at which anti-choice rhetoric cuts loose from any engagement with women’s lives at all.”

This is a seductive argument, at least on the surface, in that it seems to be a well-reasoned critique of the pro-life movement as so focused on the unborn babies as to ignore the very human needs of the mothers. Having worked in pro-life ministry for my Diocese, I know that the need for a holistic approach to the issue–to care for the mothers, the babies, before birth, after birth, and until natural death–is getting a great deal of attention and is gradually phasing out those last bastions of over-aggressive one-track-mind ministry.  So, wouldn’t a piece like this be a pill better swallowed, since it should renew our desire to encompass all participants in a crisis pregnancy with love and support?

Aye, but here’s the rub.  The Glosswitch article continues,

“I am pro-choice and I am willing to live with blood on my hands if it means all women have the choices I expect for myself. I don’t want perfection, I want humanity. Life is more than a flickering heartbeat on a black and white screen…We cannot have a sustainable, humane society without at the very least respecting each person’s right to own themselves.”

And there it is. We’re back to the “life worth sacrificing” mentality of the salon article–just slightly more sugar-coated.  Some in the pro-life movement can be accused of focusing too heavily on the babies at the expense of the mother (in some cases–because let’s not be unfair to that minority of pro-lifers either: they would never turn away from a mother in crisis, it just isn’t their main focus sometimes). But is the appropriate response to that accusation to reverse the tables completely, and focus on the mother at the deliberate expenditure of the baby’s life? Of course not! Either you value and protect human life, or you do not. The moment you start to qualify whose life is ‘worth it’ and whose is not, you put your own life, and the life of anyone and everyone else, at the mercy of an arbitrary judge who may or may not think you’re worth saving.

_______________________________________________________________

Here’s the takeaway: While in the depths of the human heart, it has never been a question whether or not abortion is murder, I think we have come now to a turning point in the discussion. For 4 decades now, advocates of consequence-free abortion on demand have tried to convince women (and the public) that a fetus is just a blob of cells; that a baby isn’t a baby until it’s born; that a baby in-utero is just part of the mother’s body, over which she should have unquestioned dominion. The case for abortion was made in distraction from or denial of what was really going on.

Now, they begin to realize that ‘the centre cannot hold’ in such an argument. The bald facts of what kind of crime abortion perpetrates on an innocent human life become more readily acknowledged. ‘This is murder’, ‘the unborn are indeed live, human persons, and we are ok with killing them’, abortion-proponents now admit.

In some ways, this is horrifying. The extent to which we have devalued human life is shocking and heartbreaking.  The say that any particular life just isn’t worth saving (especially when we are talking about a child) belies a deeply-seated cultural disease–a cynicism that expresses itself in a blind, almost catatonic, pursuit of pleasure without consequence. To prioritize the selfish desires of the mother over any right at all of the unborn child is definitively backwards.

Yet, as I felt after the Duck Dynasty debacle, this attitude gives me an odd kind of relief and hope. Finally–finally–we are speaking clearly to one another. Call abortion murder, and include an acceptance of that murder as a non-negotiable part of supporting this so-called ‘reproductive right’.  If you are insisting on the ‘right’ to take another’s life, then be fully aware of what that means.

Fr. Pavone has said that America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion. This is, perhaps, what is beginning to happen. When even those who support abortion cease to pretend away its violent and murderous reality, perhaps ‘the truth will free’ at least some women who choose it as a result of the carefully constructed facade of harmlessness that the past 40 years have put in place.  It is depressing to think we have gotten to a point where someone–anyone–could not only defend but embrace and attempt to justify the taking of an innocent human life; but at the same time, it is a hopeful sign that we are finally starting to look abortion in the face, and in so doing, we can only pray that the Holy Spirit will open more than just eyes.

(This piece was originally published at Forgetting the Cat)

Don’t Text and Live: Loneliness and Technology

Last night in one of my classes, my teacher brought up the pseudo-indeliblity of self that has been ushered in by the age of social networking and internet culture. There is a fear present in modern society of being forgotten that our constant need to ‘share’ our most personal and most mundane moments betrays.

Indeed, I think this phenomenon is predicated by social networking and the like, but I think our class discussion of it fell short of addressing a far more important component: the cause. Why now, in an age when we already have more ability to share our personal lives with strangers at every waking moment of every day than ever before, are we urged, as if by something subconscious, to share more and more? It is as though we fear that if every moment is not carefully and mechanically computed, stored, and transmitted out, it is lost. If we do not share our inner self with others–if something or someone outside of ourselves does not see our true heart and soul–we will be unknown.

This modern characteristic–the fear of being unknown and the reactionary insistence on making others know us–I would suggest might come from the dire straits we are in spiritually, as a culture.

Every human heart longs to be known completely, which is part of the reason why God is so irresistibly appealing to those who have discovered Him as the great Knower.  He is also the only one that can ever truly know us, for “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” (Jeremiah 1:5). Yet today, with the loss of Faith in God, the abandonment of the search for Him, and the rampant selfishness and immorality that degrades the human person, there seems to be a widespread feeling of being lost in a vacuum, alone and unknown despite the frantic regurgitation of feelings and facts to any captive audience that technology allows us to access.  More accurately, perhaps: it’s like screaming into a vaccuum–the louder we yell (the more ‘connected’ we are), we still can’t be heard (and we still aren’t connected with anyone in any real way).

During our class discussion, someone brought up those people (you know them or you are one) who go to events or catalog huge personal moments by filming or taking pictures.  They seem to get so lost in the mechanical process of recording that they miss the moment.  It becomes all-important to artificially capture an experience, so that it can be put aside and processed later; yet we never seem to get to it, and so our lives become a pathetic train of moments we weren’t present for and conversations we didn’t have because we were too busy self-branding the version of it we want to post to Facebook to listen to the words of the  person on the other side of the table.

In a secular class, and one with a very left-leaning bent, it is easy to become similarly bogged down in discussing times we’ve seen others act this way, or times we’ve caught ourselves acting the same.  But this ignores the root of the problem.  What kind of self-loathing, or emptiness, or loss of purpose, could cause us to lie so pathetically to ourselves? Because it is indeed a lie; although we clamor that our experiences–all of them–are of paramount importance to us and to everyone else, even as we notate and store them meticulously, we push them aside and refuse to face them, much less live them.

It’s quite simple: we live in a hedonistic, navel-gazing, morally ambiguous culture, which has exiled the only One with the capacity to know and love each of us personally.  As a result, we search frantically for love, affirmation, and intimacy with anyone and everyone, but because everyone else is searching with equal urgency for their own slice of acknowledgement and love, nobody has time, or even the peripheral vision, to see or hear me, or you, except perhaps selfishly, as a discard-able means to their own end.

Technology, then is perpetuating, exacerbating, and more deeply ingraining a disease of the soul that has its roots elsewhere, in the orientation away from God and neighbor, towards the self. By this turning away and in, we have lost all real human connection, and all connection with the God who can actually satiate the desires that eviscerate people who chase their fulfillment in worldly arenas. We are lonely, but like Coleridge’s mariner, dying of thirst amidst ‘water, water everywhere–but not a drop to drink, we find ourselves in an ocean of ‘personal’ stimulus and connectivity that is, ultimately, sterile and selfish, and therefore universally unsatisfying.

The solution is Christ, of course, but while a large scale spiritual reorientation of culture may seem impossible, it can start much more simply, with our neighbor. Pope Francis explains it thus:

“Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.” (EG 269)

This doesn’t mean ‘liking’ a friend’s status on Facebook. It means pulling your head up from beneath the overwhelming tide of commodified personal details that form the ocean of social networking, and listening to one person, face to face, say one real thing, where it matters–outside of the vaccuum. By turning back to our neighbor, we will gradually find ourselves turning back to Christ, and in so doing, will discover (or rediscover) that if we are finding the face of Christ in others, and talking to, caring for, and seeing Him there in them–then He is looking back at us.  His eyes, and His eyes alone, will truly see us and know us.


It means another thing, too, though. It means disconnecting from the frantic, stressful environment in which we find ourselves searching for something that we can’t find in the artificially constructed reality of the desperately lonely. It means that we must “Be still, and know that I am God”.  It is not coincidence that the words of Consecration, the act by which Christ gave Himself to us tangibly, until the end of time–the most real companionship and act of sacrificial love we could imagine–includes the word ‘remembrance’.

We are never forgotten–it is we that forget.  So the next time your culturally-embedded loneliness is giving you the twitch to tweet mindlessly about your breakfast–try to make a practice of stopping and remembering that God knows and loves you.

An Epiphany about the Epiphany

Having just celebrated the beautiful feast of the Epiphany, aka, the Adoration of the Magi, I have been ruminating on some of the things that feast should mean for us as Catholics in the current world, and as harbingers of the New Evangelization.

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Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning ‘reveal’ or ‘a startling or striking realization or revelation’.  In common use, it just means a moment of fresh clarity or a revelation of something.  In religious terms, it refers to a ‘sudden insight into the divine’ (here I have committed the cardinal sin of consulting Wikipedia).

The feast of the Epiphany is called so because it was Christ’s revelation to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi, kings or nobles from the East who followed astrological ‘signs’ which culminated in the Star of Bethlehem that led them to the newborn Savior.  It is a commemoration of a literal revelation, and of theological revelation.  As the Liturgy of the Hours prayers for the octave of the Epiphany remind us:

“All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.
– All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.

Men and women of every nation will serve him.
– They will bow down in worship.”
(Responsory for Morning prayer, Wednesday between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord)

This sentiment–that Christ as King of the World is now revealed to the nations–is echoed throughout the psalms and antiphons chosen for the LOTH propers, as well as in some of the regular psalms for Week II:

“…The mountains melt like wax
before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory…”
(also from Wednesday Morning prayer, taken from Wednesday in Week II)

So, the Epiphany is not a historical feast. It is not simply a remembrance of the literal meeting Christ had with Gentile men who, through that interaction, came to believe in Him.  Rather,  it is a timeless message that Christ is  revealed to and will be worshiped by all nations. 

This is such an incredibly heartening thing.  No wonder most of the rest of the LOTH prayers for this week have been all about the great majesty of God in tandem with the rejoicing we should do when we realize it.

I sometimes get discouraged by the immense amount of anti-Christian, immoral, relativistic, apathetic garbage in which our culture has immersed itself. Sometimes Often, I feel like no matter what I say or how hard I try to reach people, I will never be able to make a dent in the leviathan of the World and all the evil of our time.

“Will the Lord reject us for ever?
Will he show us his favor no more?
Has his love vanished for ever?
Has his promise come to an end?
Does God forget his mercy
or in anger withhold his compassion?”
(from today’s Morning prayer)

This year, however, celebrating the Epiphany reminded me of how much hope we really have. Not that I’ve ever despaired, but I think sometimes I forget what God expects from and will work through me. There are more solutions to the immense problems of the world as it stands today than fire and brimstone and God’s direct and tangible intervention (despite what I ruefully remark to myself all the time).

Christ has come. He has revealed Himself to the Gentiles–to the world–and “Men and women of every nation…all peoples” will come to recognize and worship Him. Hopefully, this happens for the vast majority before they reach judgment, so that they can also come to love Him and be united to Him in Heaven.  In the meantime, what this means for me–and for you, if you are also striking out in pursuit of the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel–is that my voice is strong because it is backed by the Word of God, speaking from before time, to say again and again, throughout Scripture and through the words of the Church, that Christ is here and He will be acknowledged.

“The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice!”

Every new idea or realization that God has placed in my heart for the past year or so, I find even more clarified in something from our beloved Pope. In Evangelii gaudium, he says

“This principle [God as the final Cause, outside of time] enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time…What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.” (EG 223, emphasis mine)

 In other words–take heart! We must persevere, and we should be joyful in doing so, because “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them” (Samuel 2).

Julian of Norwich, who is recognized as a saint by the Anglican church, and whose writings have been deemed worthy by the Catholic Church, had a vision of Christ in which He held the entirety of the world in His hand, in a hazelnut shell. He told her that this tiny ball was “all that was made”.  She wondered how it could be sustained when it was clearly so small and God was clearly so much bigger, and Christ’s answer was that it was through the love of God that all things retained their being. I take a fresh breath of energy and hope from this, and from the meaning of the Epiphany as I experience my own epiphany: “My heart leaps up with joy to the Lord, for he humbles only to exalt us.”

This year will be a year of fruitful evangelization and witness if we only keep our eyes on Christ, our King, and by word and example remind others of the revelation He has planted in their hearts.

“See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.”
(from an excerpt of Isaiah for the  Solemnity of the Epiphany, Morning prayer)

Roots, Fruits, and Feminism

I wrote this piece for my personal blog before I was a member of Ignitum Today, but as I have since realized that Laura, the author of the article I critique below, is a contributor here as well, I was interested in posting this to get feedback from other Catholics on the site, and to perhaps dialogue with Laura a little about the topic.

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Briefly, my thoughts on an article entitled “I’m a Feminist Because I’m Not a Hypocrite.”

Laura’s post on her blog, Catholic Cravings is about her understanding of the term ‘feminist’–as it is modernly defined–in light of her self-characterization as “a pro-life, anti-contraception, mantilla-wearing, submission-preaching, chivalry-loving woman”.  At first blush, it seems like a reasonable argument: as a Catholic who has embraced her God-given femininity, she understands and appreciates feminism in its various forms for the good it has done for women over the decades, while still more than comfortable criticizing it for the numerous moral evils it has heralded.

The post does a great job breaking down three apparent stages of feminism in the US: Suffrage, the Sexual Revolution, and modern Feminism. Laura argues that, having achieved 99.9% of the legal goals that Suffrage asked for, and many of the (destructive) ‘reproductive rights’ that the second stage of the 1960’s vociferously demanded, feminists now are forced to turn inward on their own bodies, to fight for things like the ‘right’ to dress scandalously or engage in all kinds of unnatural or promiscuous sexual experimentation on the grounds of a gendered ‘self-expression’.

Laura notes that she doesn’t think we should “jettison feminism simply because the feminist cri de guerre at the moment is that murdering babies in the womb is pro-woman”.  Because she has had the opportunity for a college education and equal pay, etc, she sees a reason to try to reclaim the word ‘feminist’, or at least to hold out hope that its application or meaning will morph again into a morally-acceptable entity.

I totally understand the mentality, but something kept nagging at me as I read it.  For example, it seemed to make perfect sense when she wrote,

“Irony of ironies, feminism is the reason I could go to university to write essays arguing against feminism. And feminism is the reason that I could do so with all the assurance that my opinion was as important and valuable as anyone else’s. The truth is that no woman can argue against feminism without biting the hand that fed her.”

But on further thought, I asked myself…is that really the case? Is it true that we (‘we’ = women) can or should try to selectively appreciate or reclaim a term that has warped so much of our culture? And is my college education (or Laura’s) the result of feminism, or the result of something else that has been appropriated as a victory by feminism?

The Vote: While I personally don’t have a problem with a system in which the head of a household votes for his household, since we have been granted it, I also fully support, treasure, and exercise my right to participate in the electoral process. But did ‘feminism’ give me that? Honestly, I say, no. Women’s suffrage did.  Suffrage–which by definition is ‘the right of voting’)–is focused on, well, voting.  It’s a narrowly defined, narrowly applied category of activism.  Furthermore, the ‘right to vote’ is a definable one, found in the amendments to the Constitution, namely the 12th, 15th, and 19th.  For women as citizens of the United States to lobby for this kind of equal right was justified.

So, is it reasonable to include suffrage in feminism at all? I’d argue that it isn’t. Suffrage is light years away, in specificity and parameters of acceptable results, from ‘feminism’.  Equating suffrage with feminism is like equating geology with neurology: both fit under the category of ‘science’, but they are clearly nothing to do with one another.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, the ability to sit in a college classroom and the ability to kill your child are miles apart, yet both get labelled a feminist concern.

University Admission, Equal Pay, Consequence-Free Sex, Abortion on Demand, etc: None of these are rights, and all of these are associated with the kinds of feminism that are not suffrage. A right is as narrowly defined as suffrage–it isn’t anything and everything to which you feel entitled. A right is a human being’s claim on their identity as a child of God.  In secular terms, it is ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, where ‘life’ is the right to live at any age or circumstance, ‘liberty’ is the freedom to do what is right, and ‘pursuit of happiness’ is the search for the good and the true (aka, God, or, in secular terms, justice/morality etc).  True rights are few. Privileges are many, but they are not innately deserved or owed, and a privilege cannot hyper-extend outside of morality. The right to kill your unborn child is no more a right than being ‘entitled’ to own a cell phone, and it is no more a privilege to be awarded than slamming into your neighbor’s new car because you’re jealous.

Christ said that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. I would argue that in examining what is blanketed as ‘feminism’, we are actually looking the fruit of two different trees. One that results in a fuller realization of female participation in society, and one which champions an array of perverted sexual license(s). To circle back to Laura’s supposition in her post: As Catholic women, do we really owe anything to ‘feminism’? As Catholic women, is there anything to be gained in reclaiming the term?

I myself have invoked the phrase ‘new feminism’ for the sake of convenience, meaning by it an authentic femininity that embraces its God-given role(s). But having read this article and thought about it, I feel like we need something that doesn’t have the connotations ‘feminism’ has.  The term is too closely knit to the activist portion–that’s the fruit-producing part that has yielded abortion and the like–to try and salvage any semblance of anything else. Since, as I have tried to demonstrate, suffrage is a totally different beast, feminism as we know it has roots only in the Sexual Revolution, and what Catholic would want to be tied in any way to that movement?

(As an aside: By admitting that female activism has, on some level, yielded some good things to women, such as college education etc, does that mean I’m conceding the point? Definitely not. The ends don’t justify the means, and while I can appreciate the results, I am under no obligation whatsoever to be beholden to the cause, if the cause is innately of the world, the flesh, and the devil.)

Now I’m not attacking Laura personally, because everything about her post indicates that she is an articulate, sincere, Catholic young lady.  But it is abhorrent to me that Catholic women like her feel a compunction to compromise with the feminists and somehow give them credit for misappropriated victories.  Feminists didn’t accomplish those things; women did.

I reject the idea that women and feminists are interchangeable terms. There is nothing womanly about what we know as feminism. We are under no obligation to align ourselves on any level with feminists, unless it is by the starkness of our contrasting lifestyle and example. And despite Laura’s optimism that since it has changed twice already maybe it will change again, I don’t think we need to waste anymore time on a cultural identifier that has at its very root things that we as Catholics claim to want to do away with. Be a suffragist, be a woman, be feminine. Don’t try to perform moral and intellectual gymnastics to try and contort feminism into something you can get behind.

A Big Round of Applause to A&E For Doing the Honest Thing!

Well, it’s about time. A&E has suspended Duck Dynasty‘s patriarch, Phil Robertson, for his frank Christian commentary on homosexuality.

The popular show, which is about evangelical Christians, has been a wildly popular, profitable venture for A&E.  Only now, with the dismissal of Phil Robertson, have they decided that their claim of “having always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community” actually requires them to air programs in line with that claim.

To see this as an entertainment-page drama over free speech is silly (sorry, Sarah Palin). Instead, this is yet another instance in which a major American entity has made it clear that in the fight between culture and morality, they are on the side opposite Christians.

As some people have pointed out, they were within their rights. Nobody insists that a private network allow anything and everything just because participants in their program wish to exercise their right to free speech. I’m not complaining that the network made this move. In fact, I’m grateful.

I prefer a fair fight. Make it clear where you stand, since I have made it equally clear. Let us dispense with the obfuscating, trendy language of tolerance and openness, which really only masks a vast intolerance of all opinions but their own.

This is not the true tolerance, and ecumenism of Pope Francis, who says, “True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. (Evangelii gaudium).

This is the false-faced ‘tolerance’ of the “Co-Exist” generation, which, when it is revealed for the sham it is, evaporates into the privileging of one set of opinions over everything and everyone else, with a totalitarian silencing of any who think differently–or worse (and more commonly) the launching of a smear-campaign predicated on misquotes and caricatures.

Not to overquote Pope Francis, but he also said, of interreligious dialogue (which liberals and the ‘Co-Exist’ proponents claim to want):

“A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions” (EG 255).

Yet arbitrarily imposing silence on Christians in the name of ‘tolerance’ is exactly what A&E, Starbucks, and others, are doing in the U.S.

Take for example, what Phil Robertson actually said (excerpted directly from the interview):

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Two paragraphs later, Phil continues:

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Compare that to what is reported. Headlines include things like ‘Duck Dynasty’ star suspended for anti-gay remarks,’ and the articles, invariably, quote sparingly and manipulatively from the first paragraph I quoted above, where he lists homosexuality along with other sexual sins, but never from the second paragraph, where he speaks of forgiveness, evangelization, and non-judgment. In fact, his original point in mentioning things like bestiality and adultery was to offer his opinion that, if you allow some sin, you end up having to allow all sin, but that at the end of it all, the right to judge hearts lies with God.

The way the media spins it, however, you’d think he’d said he hated gays or wished they were all dead, like this little gem of reporting from CNN:

“Phil Robertson, a star of A&E’s ‘Duck Dynasty,’ has been suspended indefinitely after slamming gays in a magazine interview.”

Slamming?

Then you have the response of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to Robertson’s remarks:

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

Christianity has always been clear about homosexuality. It condemns it. People who disagree with that tenet of Christian belief are not really Christian. So firstly, the GLAAD representative’s remark is inaccurate. More importantly, Phil’s comments were not stereotyping or even commenting on gay people themselves. He merely reiterated/paraphrased the Bible, and made an observation about the slippery slope of an all-inclusive relative morality. Furthermore, for a group clamoring for an non-judgmental acceptance of others regardless of their lifestyle, GLAAD seems to be making some pretty sweeping judgments about the sincerity of the Robertsons’ beliefs, and some pretty intolerant desires for ‘public disdain’ and rejection as their punishment for living a Christian lifestyle.

As I said before, I’m grateful. Thank you, A&E, for making it so clear what you think of Christianity.  Thank you for showing us all that the only reason you’ve aired Duck Dynasty to begin with was profit. Thank you for letting practicing Christians in the U.S. (millions of whom are Duck Dynasty fans) know that you consider them a ‘stain’ on the country.

Because, let’s speak plainly. Even though we are to fight evil with Christ and hatred with love, let us not describe such conflicts in honeyed terms, or pretend that there are not two sides.

This is war.

Rhetorical Questions: In Defense of Pope Francis

I read an article from the Washington Post yesterday called “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.” Basically, it’s a tongue in cheek notation of the way in which so many left-leaning politicians, celebrities, etc, are all enthused over Pope Francis for what they perceive as a shift in Church policies and attitudes.  The author of the article points out that all Francis is really doing is reiterating ideas that have been innate in the Catholic Church since its founding by Christ.  So, to all those non-Catholics or fallen-away Catholics who are suddenly finding this papacy a reason to be invigorated by their faith again–this isn’t new.  The Catholic faith has always been this invigorating!

I think the article makes an excellent point, and it’s nice to see it somewhere like the Washington Post.  More importantly, however, it offers already-faithful Catholics, who probably love Francis because he is renewing and living the tenets of the Catholic faith given to us by Christ, some rich food for thought.

Obviously, Catholics aren’t out to please the entire world. But there is something to be said for the interest Francis has sparked from so many diametrically-opposed groups.  Nor has he garnered such support by somehow compromising Catholic morality or Catholic teaching.  So what has he done that has suddenly made the Catholic Church and its faith more palatable to people who wouldn’t have touched us with a 15 foot pole before?

First, I think there’s something to be said for his demeanor on the most superficial level.

From the very beginning of his papacy, when he stopped by his hotel to pick up his bags personally, or when he called the newspaper vendor from his former diocese, Francis has impressed the world with his affability, his humility, and his humanity.  Not that all our other popes have been stiff or vain–but Francis has such an air of approachability.  We must imagine that Christ had this same air; people from all groups felt able to approach Him without fear of judgment or exclusion, and, upon approaching Him, to feel that He was truly looking at them, listening and speaking to them.  This is the impression people have gotten from Pope Francis.

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Secondly, it’s his method of delivery when speaking, preaching, or writing.  Having fostered with his manner an openness to dialogue in many people who might otherwise have ignored him, he next tends to demonstrate a corresponding gentleness in how he says what he says. That is not to say that he is weak, ambiguous, or abstract (he’s been accused of all three).  But everything he says is uttered simply, logically, and charitably.  He sets an example of the things he talks about, especially in regards to love of neighbor, and is so unassuming that you find yourself listening, I think, even when you don’t intend to.

But that brings us to the third aspect of Francis’ appeal, which is the content of his message. I find it interesting that Francis has been frequently called ‘naive’, cast by Catholic and secular media alike as though he stumbled into the papacy an inexperienced diocesan official, and hasn’t quite caught the hang of using precise language to express himself on a global scale, or hasn’t noticed that what he says off the cuff is broadcasted and can be twisted by the media.

On the contrary, I think Pope Francis is very savvy indeed.  In the new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) he emphasizes the importance of evangelizing the culture on its own terms, not by compromising our values to fit the times, but rather, by speaking a language that the times can comprehend and will gravitate towards.

It is obvious that he does not have a problem being extremely explicit when he wants to be; take, for example, this quote from the Exhortation: “A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.” (EG 145). He has spoken clearly and firmly on moral issues like abortion, homosexual ‘marriage’, and the challenges facing the family.  When he talks about female roles in the Church in Evangelii gaudium, he says, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion” (EG 104). Boom. End of story. Pope Francis is not afraid to be clear, nor is he incapable.

So why is he accused of naivete, or why do left-leaning individuals think, at least at first, that he might be on the brink of an overhaul of Catholic morality?

I see it in terms of a song by M. Ward, one of my favorite artists.  The song Fisher of Men says:

“He tied a feather to the hook for to get you to look
And by the time you know what took you, you already took
He’s got a line in the water, he’s a fisher of men

And he put the thorns on the rose for to get you to bleed
And by the time you know what stuck you, the pain’s in deep
He’s got a line in the water, he’s a fisher of men
He’s got a lot on the line, he’s a fisher of men”

Similarly, Francis’ ‘feather on the hook’ is his tendency to begin speaking on common, general topic.  He uses the buzzwords to get the attention, like a teaser trailer for a movie, then reiterates the pith of Catholic teaching in a careful, gentle way that highlights its freshness and appropriateness for our time and culture.

For example, let’s look briefly (very briefly) at the portion of Evangelii gaudium on multiculturalism.

Francis’ method of dealing with this topic is not the accident of an inexperienced Pontiff.  Rather, it is conscious rhetoric.  Aware of “our difficulty in restoring a mystical adherence to the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape” (EG 70), Pope Francis quotes John Paul II in calling for “the faith and the life of the Church [to] be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture” (EG 118).  He doesn’t merely dump this in the middle of the Exhortation, to form an ambiguous glob of multiculturalism that can be applied at the whim of the reader–that would be the result of inexperience or naivete, or even of misdirected good intentions.  Instead, he qualifies his statement with the understanding that cultural diversity must be “properly understood” (EG 117) in order to be useful to the Church’s work of evangelization, and develops the idea that “We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous” (EG 117). This might seem radical, but it is actually only an old tenet of Catholicism phrased anew.

St. Paul puts it this way…

“What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” (Acts 17:23)

…while Francis says:

“As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God” (EG 119).

What I’m getting at (without getting further carried away breaking down specifics from the Exhortation) is that Francis is clearly very intelligent, very well educated, and very methodical.  He knows the Truth, he wants to speak the Truth, and he has discerned the best possible way for him to do so in a way that will bear the most fruit in this time and place.  Sometimes his words may come across a little jarring to Catholics–perhaps because we are used to what he would call “fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content” (EG 129), but given the clear and courageous way in which he delineates our morals and tells the world that ‘they are not open to discussion’, I don’t think we need fear (not that we need to anyway, since of course the Holy Spirit protects the papacy).  Rather, perhaps these jarring moments are an invitation to look closely at what the Pope is saying, and to learn from his example in how he is saying it.

“He’s a fisher of men, he’s as wise as a prizefighter.”

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