Monday, November 02, 2009

What are good choices?

My Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ

Grace and peace in God, our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ in the sanctifying power of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you this day. This is a somewhat unusual celebration we are having today. The Feast of All Saints is ordinarily a Holy Day of Obligation but, since it falls on a Sunday this year, I think more people will decide to actually come. And that is in many ways a blessing. This feast is an important one for the church. It recognizes two things. First of all, it recognizes that there are more saints out there than those officially canonized by the church. There are men and women who have lived outstanding lives of holiness who escaped notice by church officials. The writer of the book of Revelation describes them as a cloud of witnesses, a number so large that it escapes counting.

The second reason this celebration is important reminded me of Middle School gym class volley ball. Most of us underwent this demoralizing experience. I know this because untold numbers of comedians love to tell jokes about being chosen last for these censuses of popularity. One of my favorite experiences of this happened when one kid was in charge of choosing the teams. He would choose one person for his own team and one for the other team. He, of course, chose all his friends and all the most skilled people to be on his team and chose the weaker ones to be on the other person’s team. The whole time, the captain of the other team kept complaining that the choices weren’t fair and the gym teacher just smiled and told the captain to calm down. Finally, when both teams were chosen, the gym teacher said that the goal is to see how many people you can fit into a circle with a three inch radius. The teacher said they had to draw the circle and find a way to fit everyone into the circle. Well, of course, the young man had chosen all the biggest and tallest people to be on his team and left all the smaller students to be on the other. His competition was done in fifteen minutes and we never did find a way to fit all of us in that circle.
My point, of course, is that we need to know the criteria of what we’re choosing before we actually choose. Our readings make this point by talking about being chosen by God. The gospel, in particular, reminds us that what is often most prized by this world; wealth, strength, satisfaction, dominance, and peace, are not part of what it means to be blessed, or chosen by God. In fact, the ones who are truly blessed are the ones who accept this persecution because of Christ, because Jesus suffered in this world. It’s almost like Jesus is trying to get us to think about what it means to be free people of choice by asking us to focus on our ancestors in the faith who have died with the same freedoms and the same ability to choose but whose choices let them to be declared blessed by our heavenly father.

We, Americans, put a great deal of value on choice. I’ve been amazed to see the whole entire health care debate framed by the idea of choice. The democrats claim that we need a public option to compete with private insurance and give more Americans choice for healthcare. The republicans, on the other hand, claim that, by including government run healthcare, you are actually removing choice from those who don’t want to be in the system and removing it because it will eventually take over all health care and close down any private competition. I think both political parties know how much we Americans value choice and that’s why their framing the debate with it in mind.

The real tragedy about our understanding of choice is that it far too often falls more into a Darwinian understanding of survival of fittest. We must remember that choice involves a necessary component: the good. That’s ultimately what each of the Beatitudes have in common: they are choices that deal with personal struggle and hardship that are made for the sake of the good. We use the word “choice” to describe the right to murder innocent children in the womb in this country. I’d like to read to you something from the Catholic Bishops of the United States that is being read in all parishes in this country this weekend.

Congress is preparing to debate health care reform legislation. The Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all, from the moment of conception until natural death. However, all current bills are seriously deficient on abortion and conscience rights, and do not yet provide adequate access to health care for immigrants and the poor.

In your bulletins today, you’ll find a special bulletin insert from the US Bishops Conference asking you to please contact your Representative and Senators immediately and urge them to fix these bills with pro-life amendments. The insert includes a web address that allows you to send an email message to Congress with a click of a button. The bishops have asked for our swift action and the commitment of our prayers for this critical effort. Thank you for your help. We can help make sure that health care reform will be about saving lives, not destroying them.

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