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Unity and Difference

12 May

aaaaaOften when we get frustrated with our spouse, it is not because he or she has behaved badly, but because he or she did not react the way that we ourselves would have acted under the same circumstances.

Today’s readings are about unity. We hear of different languages understanding each other, and different parts of the body working together for good. But unity does not mean “sameness.”

The Holy Spirit did not make everyone the same, but rather aligned those differences harmoniously. This is a model for us in learning how to handle our differences in relationship. When confronted with an irritating difference, try asking yourself:

  • What positive trait or virtue is at work in my spouse right now?
  • What can I learn from this virtue?
  • If I have a complementary virtue, what is the most charitable way to use it in this situation?

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 1)

12 Aug

bride-and-groom-768594_640June 28, 2003, was one of the most joyful and significant days of my life as it was the day I married my wife, Libby.

We were planning to work full-time together as youth ministers in the same large, suburban parish in the Twin Cities, and this was part of the excitement as we headed toward our wedding day. Our mindset was, “Not only will we be missionaries for Christ bringing the good news of His love to teens, but we will be doing it together as married missionaries!  What could be better?!”

During our engagement, like many couples marrying in the Church, we met several times with our pastor. I don’t remember everything he told us, but the one thing I do remember is his telling us that our most important ministry to the youth and other parishioners we were preparing to serve was the ministry of our marriage. We really didn’t have any idea what he meant at the time, even though we took him seriously.  We thought we would run some good programs for teens that would awaken them to their relationship with Christ. But as the first few years of our marriage and youth ministry unfolded, it became clear what our priest was trying to teach us.

Don’t get me wrong, we were qualified and competent youth ministers, but the greatest thing we ever did for our parish community was the witness of our married love for one another in the midst of great suffering. Libby and I faced the great trial of having two of our infant children pass away from a rare genetic disease. Both our son Peter and our daughter Gianna died when they were about three months old, about 18 months apart.  Our sacrament gave us access to limitless grace, and since grace is God’s life within us, it sustained us through that difficult time, giving us the strength to witness to God’s love in the midst of tremendous suffering.  We could not have imagined when we said, “I do,” nor would we have chosen, that our suffering would be the primary witness that Libby and I would proclaim, but yet it was the opportunity we had. Trial can often be the occasion for a wedge to form between couples, but our faith turned us to one another and to the Church in a deeper way than we imagined. Our suffering brought us closer together, and that closeness was a sign to all in the parish of our trust in God and one another.

Let me give a few examples.  Continue reading

Pope Francis’ Intentions for April 2014

1 Apr

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of April, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
  • Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Since the 16th century Catholic piety has assigned entire months to special devotions. The Church has traditionally recommended an increased devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist during the month of April.

“The Church in the course of the centuries has introduced various forms of this Eucharistic worship which are ever increasing in beauty and helpfulness; as, for example, visits of devotion to the tabernacles, even every day; Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; solemn processions, especially at the time of Eucharistic Congresses, which pass through cities and villages; and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament publicly exposed . . . These exercises of piety have brought a wonderful increase in faith and supernatural life to the Church militant upon earth and they are re-echoed to a certain extent by the Church triumphant in heaven, which sings continually a hymn of praise to God and to the Lamb ‘Who was slain.’” –Pope Pius XII

“The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. . . . It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species. . . . This practice, repeatedly praised and recommended by the Magisterium,is supported by the example of many saints. Particularly outstanding in this regard was Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote: ‘Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.’The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.” –Blessed John Paul II

You’d think Religious Leaders would Protect Religious Freedom

18 Mar

Today a colleague shared with me an email with this headline:

 National Religious Leaders Affirm Access to Birth Controsupreme court picl in Advance of SCOTUS Hearing

 Today, 45  religious leaders of various “nationally recognized” groups released a joint statement supporting universal access to contraception, and affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. The statement comes a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears two cases by private companies to deny  birth control coverage in their employee health insurance, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

You can read the full text here: www.religiousinstitute.org/faithleaders4bc.  In the statement they say:

As religious leaders, we support universal access to contraception. We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their reproductive lives, their health and the health of their families that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience, and community.  We affirm, in accordance with each of our faith traditions, that ensuring equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. Including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many.”

Their statement is deeply troubling because it is well-written sophistry that uses religious language to confound the issue.

Basically they are saying that as religious people they deem contraception a positive moral good and any religious person who believes differently is fine to refrain from its use but unjust to deny others access by refusing to pay for it.

There are many problems with this position.  However, rather than attack the inherent immorality of contraception I wonder if it is not better to ask why do we have religious freedom in the first place?

The foremost reason would be that we as a people hold that all  individuals have inherent dignity and rights.  The most fundamental right is the freedom to sincerely seek communion with God in accordance with our conscience and thus to not be coerced to practice anyone’s religion or irreligion.

However, another more pragmatic reason is in response to our experience of Europe’s religious wars.  Recognizing everyone’s freedom of religion by making all possible accommodations (even if inconvenient) to allow religious groups to practice their faith by the dictates of their own conscience enables our nation to function. That is how for the last 238 years we have all been able to get along and collaborate to create prosperity.  For these religious leaders to assert that contraception is a positive moral good and thus the State should force all religious people to pay for other people’s contraception misses the point.  It is not the function of Government, after consulting with some religious groups, to force other religious groups or individuals to do the “right” thing, in violation of their sincerely held moral and religious beliefs.  The State must have a compelling interest in service to the common good  to force people to violate religious beliefs and only do so when another accommodation cannot be made.  (This compelling interest is a check on crazy or at-will beliefs to prevent an abuse of religious freedom e.g.  a claim that crystal meth is a religious ritual. )

So the question should not be “which religion is right?”, but rather, “can the State achieve its objective without forcing anyone to violate his or her conscience?”.  Clearly in the case of contraception the State already ensures the “universal access”  these religious leaders want by requiring Medicaid to cover contraception.  As well, by mandating universal access to “free” contraception won’t that drive up the price for those  who still don’t have insurance, preventing the universal access that these leaders seek?  During the debate for the Affordable Care Act no legislator even mentioned contraception or made the argument that there was not reasonable access to contraception because everyone who wanted it could get it.  So really, the State is forcing people to violate their conscience when there is no compelling need.

As well, if it is wrong to deny contraceptive coverage because if “effectively coerces childbearing”,  why is it not also wrong to actually coerce people to violate their conscience?  By consenting to the HHS mandate these religious leaders are effectively giving the state unfettered power to decide on religious matters.  Like members of the press fervently guard freedom of the press, even the  freedom of those presses they disagree with, these religious leaders should also guard the First amendment.

In a democracy the consensus of the majority can change.  Perhaps today there is a consensus that we should all have to pay for other people’s contraception and these religious leaders have no problem with that.  Perhaps tomorrow there will be a consensus that we should all have to pay for other people’s abortions.  Will not at least some of those religious leaders  want the protection they compromise today?  Or let us suppose, as has happened in other countries, there is a huge growth in the Muslim population and this creates a democratic consensus that we should all have to pay for female circumcision.  While this is a wild speculation and not all Muslim countries have this practice, the point is that we can all conceive of scenarios where we would not want  to have to pay for medical procedures we find abhorrent.  For religious leaders to enable the Government to deprive other religious groups and individuals the right to follow their conscience, simply because they happen to agree with the Government is short sighted and irresponsible.

We in America live in peace because we practice tolerance especially regarding those areas that go to the core of who we are as persons.  For one religious group to collaborate with the State  to deny other religious groups their rights to follow their conscience endangers this peace and endangers religion.  As religious leaders, you’d think they would know better.

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).