Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reflections On The Fall

“The fall of Man” by Cornelis Van Haarlem, 1592
Following the creation of mankind in sacred scripture we find almost immediately that, in giving his favorite creation free will, God opened the door to bad choices.  In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 3:1-10) we find the account of “the Fall.” 

Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”

The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”

But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die!

God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you?

He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”

Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?

The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”

The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”

That event opened the door to sin and death and spoiled the innocent creation that was man and woman. The Fall closed the gates of our eternal home with the Father.  Our adoption by him was forfeit.  This fallen state continued until, at long last, God was pleased to send his Only Begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, into the world and the Gates were once more reopened.

We consider for a moment a deeper warning contained within this story which uses figurative terms to describe a primeval event (CCC 390). God created mankind with his own intellect which includes a keen sense of curiosity.  From earliest times, we have sought to understand God’s creation, over which he gave us dominion (Genesis 1:28-31).

The problem arises when curiosity is de-coupled from faith.  Over the past five hundred years, especially in the Western World, intellectual pursuits have taken center stage in the development of human society.  The idea of innocent faith has been disparaged on an increasing level by those whose basic formation omitted the development of a firm and lively faith.  It was as if, for a majority of those studying the natural world, there was no interest in the metaphysical, the things of God.  There were only problems to be solved and mysteries to be uncovered.  And always in the ear of these eager and gifted explorers was the voice of the serpent; “you will be like gods.

With no voice of God to hold them accountable and no knowledge of God to provide a moral road map, the wonder of God’s creation was relegated to simply a series of natural laws and random chaotic acts of nature.  No one warned them that pursuit of wisdom without appreciation for the foundational faith in God would lead them also to the ultimate realization also found in the story of the Fall; shame, strife, suffering, and most damning, separation from God.  In their pursuit of pure knowledge, they have forgotten the author of all knowledge and have embarked on their own fall.  This crushing failure of human intellect is most visible in the halls of academia, most especially in the hard sciences; physics, math, biology, and chemistry.  But it is also epidemic in the social sciences as well.

The real problem comes when those who would be like gods are responsible for educating children over generations who have likewise not be given a deep and lively faith by their first teachers, their parents.  Coming into these halls of learning they are immediately, in more subtle terms told “you will be like gods.“  And if they cannot hear the message and recognize its origin, they too will forget the Creator and look only at the mystery of the created.

God certainly inspired the authors who penned sacred scripture all those millennia ago.  His message was both obvious and hidden (as St. Augustine said “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”).  The deeper biblical truth in the story of the Fall is that there is a danger in the pursuit of knowledge, but only if we forget the source of all knowledge who is God.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the Dignity of the Human Person

“Creation of Adam“ by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1510
World War III for Christians

For as long as I can remember there have been fictional stories of government plots to do grievous harm to the populations they are intended to serve.  Stories such as Soylent Green and Blade Runner depict a world in decay because of overpopulation.  It has long been a topic used to strike fear into the hearts of people, especially those living in affluent environments. 

We have seen the response from those in authority.  In the United States population control was first attempted on a limited scale through the use of Eugenics back in 1880s [1] and continued following Nazi Germany’s program during World War II.  While not specifically aimed at “improving the race” near universal availability of contraceptive drugs and devices and legalized abortion on demand serve a similar purpose.  They have been brokered as means by which women can control their lives.  In practice, they are a means to reduce population pressure, especially among the poor and ethnic minority populations.  The implication of the policies that have surfaced demanding these services be offered without cost through government sponsorship (see HHS Mandate) is that people are no better than animals who cannot control their reproductive urges. 

This mentality, seeing people as no better than animals has recently been demonstrated in another area.  In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the mayor (Jack Seiler) has implemented a law that forbids feeding the homeless.  Implying that; “If we don’t feed them (like bears) they won’t stay.”  Oh, that’s not the official reason.  The official reason is that the must go through a government agency to get food.  In the wake of this ordinance, a 90 year old man (Arnold Abbott) was arrested for violating this law.

It is the fundamental and universal pronouncement of the Church and, indeed, all who claim to follow Christ, that the human life is precious, divinely given, and needs to be treated with respect. (see CCC 1700 and others)  Jesus makes it clear in the Bible that each individual is precious (Luke 15:1-7 among others).  Yet, in the name of health, or in the name of service, government agencies are working diligently to insure that they control the population; they control reproduction.

This is clearly not just a problem in the United States of America.  We see much clearer and more visible evidence of the attempt to control and reduce human population on a global scale.  The biggest poster project that has gained almost universal support is the Climate Change topic.  Although the impact of the human species on the world’s ecosystems is undeniable; many in the scientific community claim it is principally responsible for global warming.  These claims we should add, cannot be validly supported by scientific evidence. (We are reminded of a quote from a very good friend who holds a PhD in Math with a specialty in statistics.  He once told me that when he was asked to provide an interpretation of statistical data his frequent response was “What would you like it to say?”)  We are sure that Climate Change will become the rallying cry for population control in the near future.  After all, no one can expect humans to behave differently from animals when it comes to breeding.

China has already implemented the “One Child” law and there is global pressure (especially from the United Nations) to adopt similar population control measures.  “Enlightened” European countries have gone a bit further down the road paved by Soylent Green and Blade Runner.  The cry for “Death with Dignity” has shaped public policy in many countries where assisted suicide has joined abortion and sterilization as a institutionally supported means of population control.

We have seen attacks on the Catholic Church’s position on birth control by the United Nations in the past (the hierarchy in that august body, which your tax dollars support, really hates the Church).  The leadership of the UN has its own agenda as seen recently in a report issued by the Bishops of Kenya.  According to the Bishops, WHO and the UN have been “spiking” tetanus vaccines with an agent (Beta- HCG)  that causes the recipient to have multiple miscarriages and frequently sterilizes the woman so vaccinated.  

The challenge for the faithful Christian is clear.  As global population increases threaten those in power, they will find ways of eliminating the value of the human person.  Our children’s children may one day face mandatory sterilization or have to apply to some government agency for permission to have a child.  Freedom to share God’s great gift in creating life may be stripped.  We cannot sit on the sidelines now.  Please show your outrage when you can and vote with the reminder of Christ’s love of the lost sheep.  It is they who will be the first and most vulnerable targests.


[1] Although not academically recognized as valid, Wikipedia does provide some validated references on Eugenics.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Face of the American Catholic – Catechized but Not Evangelized

In a recent discussion with a group of professional Pastoral Associates we were discussing what was being done in our parish to teach various age groups about Church doctrine related to marriage and family issues.  At the end of a very productive discussion the statement as made – “I think we agree that we do a pretty good job at catechizing but we are not evangelizing.”  That one statement started a thought process that leads me to reflect on the situation in which the Church finds herself in the United States.

In recent blog posts Deacon Greg Kendra and the guys over at Shameless Popery both commented on Stephen Colbert taking over for David Letterman on CBS’s Late Night.  They note that the late night viewing options are now all hosted by purported Catholics and on the surface this could be seen as a trend.  We note with some embarrassment that our Vice President, Joe Biden and out-going Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius also claim (or are claimed) to be Catholic in spite of their active attacks on key elements of Church teaching. 

It is not surprising that Catholics occupy a large number of very public positions in government and the media.  We are after all the largest Christian group in the world accounting for nearly 25% of the US population.  Protestant groups still outnumber us as a total percent of the US Population at 46% but their identity is not as prominent and less likely to be stated as an identifier of moral or political position.  With numbers like those, would you think that, as a nation, we would be leading the charge globally for Christian Morality?  But this is obviously not the case.  As we all know the fastest growing group, according to the last census were the “None’s”- those who had no religious affiliation at all.  We think these numbers may be under-reported.

Or, is it something else?  Is it that, while most Catholics know what the Church teaches and believes, those teachings and moral ideals are not considered relevant when they take their place in society?  That means that while they have been catechized, they have not been evangelized.  They know in their heads what the Church teaches on subjects like marriage, the definition of family, and the dignity of the human person.  But that head knowledge has never made it to the heart. 

The lack of acceptance of Church teaching by such a large portion of those professing to be Catholic should give us all pause for thought.  Why would a person say “I’m Catholic” but support pro-abortion groups?  Why would a person like Kathleen Sebelius not only support but propose government policies that forced faithful Catholics to abandon their faith and conscience?  Why would our Vice-President say he had come to believe that the definition of marriage, held since the beginning of recorded history, be changed to include individuals who believe that sexual preferences should be given the same status as religion?

The only possible reason must be that those who profess our faith but knowingly act contrary to it have never been evangelized – have never truly accepted the Lord and his Bride, the Church.  What is most frustrating to this deacon is the Lord calls us to love these misguided souls.  On one level I accept and understand this requirement.  I pray for those who persecute me, that they might see truth and come back to the faith they profess.  On the other hand I feel we must stand up against these same people and say we are the people they promised to serve and that separation of Church and State does not mean removal of the Christian values upon which our country was founded.

I do not have any solution for the state we find ourselves in.  I only pray that we can evangelize the catechized and return to a moral foundation laid in a bygone era.


Friday, January 31, 2014

On Slavery in the World

On Slavery in the World

One of the more difficult topics I struggle with in conversation with more liberal folks I deal with in my secular role is the subject of same-sex marriage.  There have been a number of really good books put out to deal with this subject form the Catholic Church’s perspective but we are dealing with a very sophisticated and well entrenched lobby that includes a number of national organizations that have some deep pockets.  Every time members of the Church raises a public hand and says, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not right” or “The Church is not against the person – it is against immoral actions.”  Up pops one of the vocal minority with the well-polished rhetoric supplied by GLAAD or one of the other so-called Gay Rights groups.

Around the academically dominated environment in which I principally minister, more often than not I get called a “hater” or similar derogatory name implying that I am closed minded and backward in my world view.  I take serious issue with this since I am not the one voicing hate-speech and intolerance.  It seems ironic that society in general listens to these rants.  Perhaps it is because the media supports this jaundiced view but the fact remains, as Cardinal Dolan recently stated; “We lost the advertising war for the traditional view of marriage."

I’d like to propose a sound bite of my own to those who claim that traditional marriage is nothing more than recognition that two “people” love one another; that any group so attracted by mutual affection is in a sense a family.  A major reason I do not believe we should accept such bonds as equivalent to the heterosexual is, bluntly, I do not believe slavery is moral.

You may ask how I reached that statement from the debate on marriage.  I was reading a recent refutation of a New York Times article “The Latest Sham Science on Gay Parenting” in Crisis Magazine. It attacked an article written by Nicholas Kristof in support of same-sex marriage citing an Australian study he said “An Australian study found gay parenting had better outcomes on average, apparently because gay couples don’t have kids by accident.” I counted to 10 and said a “Hail Mary.” 

The article was well written and straight forward.  As usual, in the comments section there was a prominent voice of gay activism using the typical rhetoric referred to above.  This individual proposed that gay couples were better parents because they had to actively work to adopt them (as if children that are conceived in the normal way is somehow a side-effect of an action rather than the intent).  In this case, fortunately there was a well-schooled apologist also in the thread pointing to the fact that most gay couples who really want to have children go to fertility clinics or surrogates to achieve genetic continuity (that is they want their own genes involved in the progeny). 

Back to my statement: Slavery is not morally acceptable.  Let’s define slavery – “Condition in which one human being is owned by another.” (from Webster’s On-line Dictionary)  What can you call it when a person or couple go into a business and pay money to produce a child, a child who has no say in the matter of who pays for them?  It is akin to slavery and in 1965 the Second Vatican Council described slavery, without qualification, as an infamy that dishonored the Creator and poisoned human society/

The next time someone comes after you on the notion of same-sex marriage, just tell them that you oppose it because you don’t approve of slavery.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vanishing Christians

For the past few millennia there has been a cycle of violence between Christian/Hebrews and Islam.  This, of course, was predicted in scripture (Genesis 16:12) and has come to pass.  We have come to the point in the cycle where once again a radical minority of this group has adopted the view that anyone not of their faith must either convert to it or die.  The fact that this violent minority is gaining strength is of great concern to Christians (and Hebrews).  But the world has changed.  These violent outbursts aimed at establishing secular states controlled by Islamic law have been seen by most of the non-religious governments of the world as being focused on regime change rather than violent evangelization of whole regions.

Perhaps it is because people of deep faith no longer occupy leadership positions in civil government or perhaps those that do are blinded by the political rather than the faith based issues facing places like Syria, Egypt and Nigeria.  For those of us who hear daily of Christians being murdered, churches being burned, and the general dismissal of the outcry by governments we can see that which is not obvious to those whose only ambition is political.  We see the battle raging between Christians and Islamists and wonder what to do.

At least in the case of the US government, there are a string of mistakes with regard to upsetting the delicate balance in the Middle East (if not on the African contentment as well).  Three glaring examples of missteps include the ouster of Saddam Husain in Iraq and support of those rebelling in Syria and the blind eye turned to Egypt as the Moslem Brotherhood assumed control.  In all three cases no one at the State Department asked the question; what happens to the minority Christian populations if we support a change to the status quo?  In hind sight, if they know or recognize what has happened they will not admit their mistakes.

Here is the dilemma we face.  Should we turn the other cheek and accept persecution as our lot?  Or should we do all in our power to resist?  It is the same question with any evil perpetrated by a person or organization.  Do we pray that the evil goes away or do we act?  There is the guidance from one of the great saints of our Church, Ignatius of Loyola, who famously said; “We must pray as if it were all up to God, but work as if it were all up to us.” 

The question we must ask is; How far does this exhortation extend and, morally, to what extent can one physically protect one’s self or another from physical violence?  Do we advocate sending military forces to protect populations, even though the dictatorial government is not a democracy or do we pray that the slaughter will end? One thing is certain, if we do nothing there will be no Christians left in places were Moslem extremists and Christian communities currently co-exist.   We pray for guidance on this point.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Catholicism Is Not a Disease

As we approach the great feast of Pentecost we cannot but help thinking about the account of Jesus giving the Holy Spirit to his Apostles as recorded in St. John’s Gospel (John 20:21-23).  It’s not the great public outpouring we will hear from the Acts of the Apostles on the feast itself, it is a very private and intimate thing.  Recall they were in a locked room and the Lord came to them.

“[Jesus] said to them again,  
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

This account is noteworthy because the first thing the Lord offers his grieving and frightened disciples is “Peace.”  It is something we all crave, the Peace of Christ.  It is something wholly different than what the world thinks of as peace (John 14:27), it is a sense that the Lord will take care of us and we can trust everything to him.

That wish was in my mind as I left my office for home yesterday.  I got into the car and turned on the radio.  The day being Monday, I forgot that the last program I listened to was “A Prairie Home Companion” on Michigan Public Radio.   And before I knew it, I was listening to a program called “All Things Considered” a news program put out by National Public Radio (NPR).  The story I listened to was about single mothers in Mexico and I got sucked in. Here is a link to the story but I give you fair warning, the morality expressed in this “news piece” is very upsetting.  As Stigma Eases, Single Motherhood In Mexico Is On The Rise.

Perhaps I am just not in tune with secular logic.  The article extols the heroic efforts of single mothers in Mexico to bring up their families under extremely difficult circumstances.  Not once does the author condemn the fact that it is clearly a result of the destruction of the nuclear family.  Rather she blames the Catholic Church for creating a historical stigma that having children outside of marriage was an unacceptable practice.  While praising the rise in single motherhood, she proudly quotes anthropologist and editor of a feminist journal, Marta Llamas; “Though the country's roots are strongly Catholic, Llamas says, 80 percent of Mexican women say they use contraceptives.”

So let’s get this straight, 80 percent of the women in Mexico use contraceptives but the instance of single motherhood has risen by 40 percent.  That must mean that the culture of secular hedonism coupled with the fail-safe “pill” is working nicely (SIC).  How can they not see that what they extol is the degradation of women, not some wonderful spirit of individuality?  

They use the word “Catholic” like it is a social disease and at the same time pay tribute to those who have thrown off the yoke of chastity to engage in personal pleasure.  Ah, but see how strong they are, accepting responsibility for this “indiscretion”.   They did not mention what the rate of abortions was in Mexico these days.  Here is what the author of the story, Carrie Kahn, did not say (or know) “A new national study shows that the number of abortions performed in Mexico increased by one-third between 1990 and 2006 (from 533,000 to 875,000), despite legal restrictions that virtually ban the procedure in most parts of the country.” (Source: Guttmacker Institute)

We are sure the NPR folks are doing all they can to change the historic culture of life in Mexico to the culture of death they support in the US today.  How am I ever going to get to the Peace of Christ today?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Post-Christian Age

I have been in something of a “funk” for the past two days since I heard the presidential election results.  Not, perhaps, for the reason you might think.  While I firmly believe the person who was elected is the wrong person since he does not in any way I can tell represent my views, convictions, and faith; I don’t believe he will be much of a factor in changing the direction in which our country seems to be headed.  Ironically, I don’t believe it would have mattered which of the major candidates would have won.  The political will of the country seems to mirror the will of the people of the United States. 

As much as I would have liked to see a real change away from the secular humanistic values that have inundated the politics and policies of our nation in the past few decades, the “funk” I am feeling is because the statisticians are right.  We live in a Post-Christian country.  A CNN exit poll indicated the Catholic Vote went 50% to President Obama and 48% to Governor Romney.  Since the 80’s the Catholic vote has been pretty evenly divided.  It’s ironic that in 2004, 52% of Catholics voted for George W. Bush.  The statistical point is this:  While 85% of Catholics tell the pollsters that their faith is very important to them, they clearly don’t vote with their faith in mind.  “I’m a Democrat” or “I’m a Republican” is more important.[i]

There has been a steady and increasingly rapid decline in church attendance across all Christian denominations in the US and in most of the rest of the world.  As the Bishops who attended the recent Synod were shown, the one religious group that seems to be growing is the Muslims (both radical and moderate).  A You-Tube Video they saw, made by a Muslim Group, claimed that a majority of France would be Muslim by 2040. (Oh, and as sort of a punctuation mark, same-sex marriage achieved the same status at traditional marriage in the French national elections this week.)

What we hear the most about is the radical groups.  We hear (or should hear) about the blood bath taking place in Nigeria as Christians and Muslims are locked in a physical conflict.  We hear about the persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Orthodox Churches in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.  Even in Israel, there is a strong anti-Christian undercurrent (ask a priest who has been there recently.  Many have been spit upon by members of the ultra-orthodox Hasidic communities).

Given this growing tide of anti-Christian, and even more pointedly anti-Catholic sentiment, is it any wonder that Cardinal George made his now-famous comment “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. (What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop) His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.[ii]We need only look at Europe to see where the United States is headed.

What do we do as Church?  What do we do, individually, as Catholic Christians?  As has been said many times we stay the course; we continue to set an example for our children, our peers, and those with whom we come in contact.  We live our faith guided firmly by its precepts and stand firm in the face of opposition, public and private.  We understand there is a difference between welcoming diversity and compromising our morality and that is something many secular humanists choose to ignore.

I must admit there are times when I feel we, as a Church, should be more outspoken and say to those who claim to be Catholic “If you claim our faith either act on its principles or leave.”  I know that sounds un-pastoral but I believe there must be a time in the future when we must call the faithful to stand visibly with us rather than hiding behind the banner of political correctness.