Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Well, we've arrived at the beginning of the Lenten journey and I find myself reflecting on the ashes. Why do we rub a cross of ashes on our forehead. I think we can sort of decide the meaning since we, Americans, don't really have a tradition of intentionally rubbing dirt on ourselves.

The easiest association is with sacrifice and fasting. That's what we're doing on this Ash Wednesday, after all. But I'd suggest that the very scriptures we read tell us that, if we use it in this manner, we are being hypocritical: seeking to wear the outward sign of humility while proclaiming to everyone that we are the most humble of all.

I think that the point of that ashen cross isn't to proclaim that we are so humble/sacrificial. It's to remind us and everyone that sees it that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. All shall die and all must rely on the mercy of God. That's the real point of the Lenten journey after all. It's not an escapade into self discovery. It's an escapade into discovering God's mercy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Can you be Catholic and Pro Choice?

For our bulletin, I get to answer questions that my parishioners pose. The above one was posed and here's my answer. In advance, I realize that my part of the answer is short and that I basically answered it by using other people's quotes. But they're great quotes, much better than I could ever do.


Historically, abortion has never been considered morally permissible. In the early church, authors like Athenagoras, Tertullian, Hippolytus, John Crysostom, and others listed it among other serious, grave sins. In fact, up until the last 40 years, no serious Christian group would have ever considered abortion moral. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical on how it, euthanasia, death penalty, and other threat to life, are having effects in this world. I’d encourage anyone who doesn’t understand the Catholic Church’s consistent ethic of life to read this document called The Gospel of Life.

I found two quotes from other sources that have helped as I approached this question. The first comes from Pope Benedict XVI, “In the radical version of the Enlightenment’s individualistic tendency, abortion appears to be one of the rights of freedom; a woman must be able to have control over herself. She must have the freedom to bring a child into the world or rid herself of it. She must be able to make decisions concerning herself, and nobody else, so we are told, can impose upon her, from without, any ultimately binding norm. It is a matter of the right of self-determination. But, in an abortion, is the woman actually making decisions that concern herself? Is she not in fact making a decision about someone else – deciding that this person should be allowed no freedom, that she sphere of freedom – his life – should be taken away because it is in competition with her own freedom? And thus we should ask: What kind of a freedom is this that numbers among its rights that of abolishing right from the start?”

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions pps. 245-246 c. 2004 Ignatius Press)

Also, from Mother Teresa, "America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters" And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign."

(Mother Theresa, “Notable and Quotable”, in Wall Street Journal, 2/25/94, p. A14)

Holiness not the same as happiness

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the SpiritI hope that you all receive some token of the Love during this Valentine’s Day/weekend. It’s good to feel loved, isn’t it? I know that one of the most exciting and hopefully parts of my ministry here at St. Thomas is being able to celebrate a wedding with a couple and watch them celebrate their love for each other. It just sort of warms your heart to hear them profess their love for each other and know that the love you are witnessing is God himself uniting them together.

In a past assignment, I used to do something else that warmed my heart, celebrating mass for Catholic grade school children. It was always an exciting and loud experience for me. However, around this time of year, Fr. Dennis would kind of become Father Downer. I would start talking to them about sin and how the children should look out for their neighbor. I remember being approached by a mother after a mass who asked a question that I think many parents can sympathize with. She said that she knew kids have a really tough time with self-esteem issues and so she was always trying to affirm her daughter and let her know how special she was but that she also knew that there were times when the gospel seemed to indicate that that was not exactly the right attitude to have, gospels like today for instance.

Because, let’s face it, this is a really hard gospel. You can overcontextualize the message by saying that the Gospel of Matthew adds “in spirit” to the first beatitude, thus making it a statement all about the spiritual realm. We should be spiritually poor. In other words, we shouldn’t become so dependent on our wealth that it becomes our god. But, Luke is different. He only has four blesseds; the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated and persecuted but has contrary “woes” for each of these.

In some ways, the real challenge from this gospel to us today is that we have become a little too…accepted. We think that the whole point of religion should be to make us feel good about ourselves, to make us feel happy. But, happiness is not synonymous with holiness. And, the gospel challenges those of us who are the most comfortable. It’s easy to see how the poor, hungry, weeping, and despised of the world are suffering like Christ suffered. How are we who are sitting in our comfortable apartments, dorm rooms, and houses suffering? How are we preparing for the Kingdom of heaven if we have heaven on earth?

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a time in which we Catholics tend to reflect on the areas of our life that are broken, whether that be instances of sin in our life or times when we have taken for granted the gifts God has given us. I invite each of you to take some time this week before Ash Wednesday to really think about what specific act you are going to do as a Lenten observance. Don’t just make it some arbitrary exercise of giving something up in order to feel better about yourself. Instead, do something that will help you understand the suffering of Christ better by becoming poor, hungry, sorrowful, or persecuted. And don’t do it for some great earthly reward or recognition. Your reward will be great in heaven.