Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 Reasons to LOVE Archbishop Timothy Dolan

I just got done reading A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in conversation with John L. Allen Jr. I finished it in four days which is a remarkable feat for me with a 7-month-old son and it is a testament to the readability and the entertainment value of this book. It was very informative in relation to the state of the Church and the background and belief system of Cardinal Dolan. Allen asked some very tough questions and got some very thoughtful answers. I came away from this book a new Cardinal Dolan fan. This is why:

10. "I enjoy the novels of Dean Koontz..." No one could be bad who likes a Dean Koontz novel. And yes, Koontz is deeply Catholic.

9. In regards to the misperception that the Church is only the men in big hats (i.e. Bishops): "One of the things I've said for a long time is that we need a resurrected sense of apologetics. We Catholics sometimes are far too timid. We don't know how to respond when people throw out these silly, caustic remarks about the Church. We might just smile instead of rising up to say, 'Enough of that. That's simply not accurate.' Somebody sooner or later has got to blow the whistle on this."

8. On the imperfections of the Church: "We shouldn't be afraid to show off the wounds of the Church to the world, and we should boast that the wounds remind us of the healer."

7. On dialogue inside and outside the Church: "One guy who I think has reinvigorated dialogue is Benedict XVI, constantly saying that true, respectful dialogue starts with a clear understanding of the truth that you bring to the conversation. We insult our partner, our respected, cherished partner in dialogue, if we feel that they are expecting us to soft-pedal the truth."

6. In regards to the visitation to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious: "Had anybody asked me, which they didn't, I would have advised against it. Do I think it's justified, that there are legitimate worries about women religious? You bet I do. But should we do it? Probably not, at least not in this way, because the danger is that it may be seen as something heavy-handed and punitive, and therefore it risks being counterproductive."

5. He says that in the case of a gay couple wanting to put their child in Catholic school that he sees no reason why they can't. Of course, the child is welcome in the school as long as the parents understand that they are bringing their child into an atmosphere where the parents' lifestyle will be brought to question. No one is going to officially attack the couple for their lifestyle, but the child will, for example, learn in their Religion class that the Church disagrees with it.

4. "Here's the pitch:Let me introduce you to what I think is one of the more consoling, challenging ways to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the beginning and the end--who is, in the words of John Paul II, the answer to the question posed by every human life. Come on in, because this is the best way to do it. I don't know about you, brother or sister, but if you're like me, you need a lot of help, and I'll tell you where you can find it. Let's just say that we're in it together. If you're struggling down a path trying to get to a goal that you're not sure about, it's a heck of a lot better if you find two or three others on the same trail. They may have as many flaws as you, and they may not have the exact map either, but it's sure a lot better to be with some people trying their best to get to the same place. When we pool our talents and resources, we're probably going to be able to get there better. That's the mystery, the invitation, of the Church that I think we've got to pose."   

3. In regards to people who disagree with the Church's teaching on birth control: "If what you're asking is, would I be one of those who's quick in telling people that they're out of the Church? No, I would not, and I wouldn't want to be. People who are struggling to understand, accept, and live the teachings of Jesus and his church need the Church more than anybody."

2.In regards to denying communion to pro-choice politicians: "I always say that I don't know why this topic only seems to come up with regard to abortion, and I don't know why it's only directed at politicians"

"Look at our literature, and drama, and sculpture, and art, and liturgy, and poetry, and everything that's great in the Catholic worldview. The Catholic Church affirms, strengthens, expands what's most noble, most beautiful, most sacred, in the human project. That's what affirmative orthodoxy means to me. I like to quote a line from Father Robert Barron, that they Church only says no to another no, and two no's make a yes. It's only when the yes of humanity is threatened that they Church will say no, to protect the yes."

In a phrase: I like Cardinal Dolan because he stands up for his beliefs without being intolerant or stupid about it. You will never get anyone to understand your point of view if you don't respectfully talk to them. I could see people not liking him because he seems to be "all bark and no bite," but I would counter that argument by saying, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Catholic analysis of the Russell Brand interview with Westboro Baptist Church members

Above is a 11 minute video of an interview that British comedian Russell Brand did on his show with members of the Westboro Baptist Church. For those who don't know, Russell Brand is quite the eccentric bad boy. He has had a lot of struggles with the law and drugs. He credits his practice of meditation in helping him to conquer his various demons. The Westboro Baptist Church, on the other hand, have made a name for themselves protesting at military funerals saying that God is letting our men and women in uniform be killed because our country is too tolerant of homosexuality. Needless to say, Brand and his audience vehemently disagree with Westboro's views. In this interview, the two parties are surprisingly respectful of one another. Of course, as a religion and ethics nerd, I found the whole thing facinating and I want to look at Brand's and the Westboro Baptist views through Roman Catholic eyes.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!       Now, let's get our geek on!
 From a Catholic perspective there are major holes and major truth in both of these positions. There are many ways I can tackle this. The one way I have decided upon is topical. The points I want to make fall into three categories: The Bible, the nature of sin, and the nature of love.

Disclaimer: This analysis is based solely on the interview linked above. Any other statements made by either the Westboro Baptist Church or Brand have not been taken into account.

The Bible

I would say that Brand's understanding of Scripture is closest to the Catholic understanding, but not in anyway completely in line.

Close, but no cigar
The Westboro Baptist Church seems to be strong supporters in the Reformation idea of sola scriptura. That means that for them, the Bible is the one and only authority when it comes to knowing God's will and that the Bible is to be taken literally.

In the Catholic faith, we would have to agree with Brand's statement at 5:05 that "The Holy Spirit doesn't have a pen." Scripture is certainly inspired by God, but it was written by man. We would take it a step further, though, than Brand does when he says that the Bible is only meant to point us toward the one God who is Love. We don't believe that the Bible is merely a pointer. The Bible does also contain Truth. But to get the fullness of God's Truth, as Catholics, we believe that you need to take both Scripture and Tradition into account. Scripture and Tradition are used as a kind of checks and balances. Nothing in either one can contradict the other and they are both valid tools in the search for Truth.

The Nature of Sin

In the case of sin, the Westboro Baptist Church would be closer than Brand in the Catholic understanding. However, in their understanding of God as seemingly hateful, they are very, very far off the mark.
Which is ironically, exactly what "sin" means
 The phrase "love the sinner, but hate the sin" is way, way older than these guys think (see 6:52). It actually comes from St. Augustine. Yup, Billy Graham nor Gandhi thought it up. A Catholic saint did. And, actually, it's a pretty good summary of the Catholic perspective on homosexuality.

Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does not hate gays. What some people in the Church (such as Archbishop Dolan, who I will be writing about later) have trouble with is this: Why do some people seem to limit their identity to their sexual orientation? You are so much more, pardon my crudity, than who you have sex with! You are a beloved child of God. God knitted you in your mother's womb. God sent His only Son to die for you. God is with you every second of every day, especially in the Eucharist! We would argue that everyone's main identity, it doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, white, black, tall, short, or purple, everyone's main identity is found only in God!

Our issue with homosexuality is with the act itself. God created our bodies. God basically created sex. We as Catholics feel that one of the main purposes of sex is procreation. God made us to make and raise children in a loving, married family. Anything that falls short of this goal, any sexual act that does not at least contain the possibility of leading to new life, is missing the mark, is "sin." We believe that homosexual activities are unbecoming of a beautiful child of God. That is something that we would agree with the Westboro Baptist Church about. We completely disagree with their belief that God hates gays, but we do agree with their belief that homosexual behavior is sinful.

The Nature of Love

Similarly, we would agree with Brand's contention that God's primary identity is Love, but we do not agree that this "love" means that anything short of murder is acceptable. As stated by the Westboro members in 1:35, it is sometimes more loving to point out the sins in another person than to accept all of that person's actions. One of our purposes in this life is to help one another get closer to God and ultimately to Heaven. That sometimes means showing some tough love. Now, I'm sure that very few Catholics would agree that protesting at a military funeral is an appropriate display of tough love. But, going on a talk show to spread your Truth might be.

God definitely does stand for tolerance, love and beauty as eloquently expressed by Brand at 4:14, but God's "tolerance" is not "tolerance" as it is currently used in every day speak in the US. "Tolerance" is currently defined as "a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those who differ from you." (italics added) God loves the sinners. God loves the sinners deeply, passionately, madly, and thoroughly. (Remember the "lost" parables.) But God doesn't love the sin. God hates the sin for bringing dishonor to and ensnaring the beloved sinner.
"For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death."- Romans 8:2
God isn't tolerant in the way we mean tolerant. God is Love, but because God is Love, He hates all that does harm to and blemishes the beloved. The Church would agree with Brand that Love, not hate, is the primary message of God. But we feel precisely because the main message is love, God hates sin all the more because it goes against His love.

I feel that it is very telling of Brand's perspective on homosexuality that he almost implicitly links homosexuality with the love between a short, interracial couple (around 7:21). He clearly believes that homosexuality is something that you're born with that you have no control over. He feels that just as interracial couples had to fight long and hard against prejudice, so must gay couples; that interracial dating is on the exact same moral plane as homosexual dating.

First legally married interracial couple in Louisiana, married in a Catholic Church
The Church recognizes that a homosexual orientation can't be fixed, that people are born with it and that is part of who they are. But just as unmarried people, married people where one of the spouses cannot have sex, and religious people are all called to celibacy, gays are as well. The Church would not put interracial marriage and gay marriage on the same moral ground. In fact, the Catholic Church was one of the first (if not the first) church to recognize interracial marriage (We even have a martyr for the cause).

In Conclusion

Neither Russell Brand nor the Westboro Baptist Church are in complete agreement with the Catholic Church on this issue (not that I think either of them would care). But, I hope that I have used this interview to make some sense out of what the Church does believe and to provide some compare and contrast to see the Church through a spiritual lens (Brand) and a fundamentalist lens (Westboro).

God is Love. He does love the sinner, but hate the sin. And the Church does have some reasons to think that homosexual acts are sinful. That seems like a good summary.    

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Solemnity of Christ the King

The following is my "sermon exercise" I did yesterday in front of some of my peers at the hospital. Of course, as a Catholic laywoman I cannot preach during the Mass, but as a person in ministry, it is still important for me to learn to accurately and effectively preach the Gospel.

            Today, if you couldn’t tell from the readings and the repeated mentions of thrones and kings, is the Solemnity of Christ the King. Very few of us have ever lived under a monarchy. When I say “king,” you probably think of fat, old Henry the VIII and his wives or the legendary King Arthur. You might think about King George III, the king that we revolted against in the American Revolution. We, here in America, shook free of the monarchal system of government over 200 years ago, but over two weeks ago we elected our president. Now, I’m sure there are people out there mourning the election results and there are those celebrating the results. Regardless of your feelings about the election, today’s solemnity has something to say to you. Namely, that in the long run it doesn’t matter who won, what matters is our true ruler in Heaven, Christ the King.

                What does this mean? What does it mean down here below that we have a king like Jesus Christ up high? What does that have to do with my life right now? First of all, it serves as a reminder that we are sojourners in an alien land. Our true home is heaven. We are not to work for worldly glory or the praise of people; we are to work for the glory of God. As Jesus says in an earlier Gospel, where your treasure is, that is where your heart will be also. Our values will never match the world’s values and our deepest desires will never be met here on Earth.  

                Also, our King isn’t just an ordinary king. He doesn’t sit high on his throne placing burdens on the people that they cannot bear. Our King loves us so much that He stepped down from His pedestal for us, to die for us. He is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice out of love for us. You would be hard pressed to find an earthly king in the history of humanity that was willing to do the same, although I guess all the truly good ones are. Our King is with us in our struggles. He’s with you right now waiting for that test result or that surgery to be completed. He’s with you in your pain and in your joy. He’s not on some lofty throne somewhere in the sky looking down at us. He is sitting beside us here on Earth.

                And finally, the last thing we can take away from today is that all of the kingdoms of this world eventually will fall away and no one kingdom encompasses all people. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never fall and it is meant to encompass people of every nation. Jesus doesn’t prefer one skin color to another or one socio-economic bracket to another. He wants to take us all under His wings. While the things of this world are temporary, all things good and bad eventually come to an end, all empires eventually fall, one thing always remains and that is the kingdom of God, of Jesus Christ. God is always there and God will always be there. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.” Nothing in this world can get more permanent than that.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

5 reasons why the Eucharist is truly a giving of thanks (according to Mystic Catalina Rivas)

I ran across a description of Catalina Riva's mystical experience of the Mass a couple of week ago while looking for Mass times on local parish websites. Apparently the priest at St. Cecilia's Church in Solvay has been quite smitten with her experience of the Mass and had been sharing it with everyone he preaches to. One of the people of the parish then attached the description to the parish website. I finally got a chance to read through it last night, and it is very, very fascinating and moving. In the spirit of the holiday, I would like to share with you 5 reasons that the Eucharist is the real thanksgiving according to this vision.

5. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary told her, "Now you have seen it; I am here all the time. People go on pilgrimages to the sites of my apparitions. That is good, because they will receive many graces there. But at none of my apparitions, at no other site, am I more present than at the Altar during Holy Mass. You will always find Me at the foot of the Altar, where the Eucharist is celebrated. I remain at the foot of the Tabernacle, with the angels, because I am always with Him."

4. After receiving Communion, she witnessed the behavior of another parishioner "She had just received Communion… Jesus said in a sad voice: 'Did you hear her prayer? Not once did she tell Me she loved Me. Not once did she thank Me for the gift of bringing My Divinity down to level of her poor humanity, that I might then raise her up to Myself. Not once did she say, 'Thank You, Lord.' It was merely a litany of requests. So it is with almost all those who receive Me. I died out of love for you, then rose again. Out of love I wait for each of you. Out of love I remain with you. But you do not realize that I too need your love. Remember that in this sublime hour of the soul I am the Beggar of Love.'"

I admit, I'm a little uncomfortable with the "Beggar of Love" language. It doesn't seem right for God to need anything from me, a poor mortal. But we do need to remember to be grateful as much as we make requests. Remember, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) in that order!

3. As the liturgy of the Eucharist began, she saw "Some of them carried golden, bowl-like objects that gleamed with a golden-white light. The Virgin Mary said to me: 'These are the Guardian Angels of those who are offering up this Holy Mass for many intentions. They know what the Divine Liturgy means. They have something to offer to the Lord… Avail yourself of this moment to make an offering of yourself. Offer your sorrows, your pains, your hopes, your sadness, your joys, and your petitions. Remember the Mass has infinite value. Therefore, be generous with your offerings and petitions.'"

Just because God wants to hear us tell Him thanks doesn't mean He doesn't want to hear the petitions, too.

2.After the Mass: "Then I asked Him, 'Lord, tell me truly, how long do You stay with us after Communion?' The Lord replied: 'For as long as you wish. If you speak to Me throughout the day, exchanging words with Me during your daily chores, I will listen to you. I am always with you. It is you who leave Me. You leave the Mass and the day of obligation is behind you. You have observed the Lord's Day and now it is over… I read the deepest secrets of your hearts and minds. But I enjoy your telling Me about your life, your allowing Me to be a member of your family, being your closest friend. If you only knew how many graces you lose by not giving Me a place in your life!"

1. The number one reason why the Eucharist is the thanksgiving is because "At the moment of the Consecration, the entire assembly is brought to the foot of Calvary at the very instant of Christ's crucifixion." How cool is that!

To learn more:

The official organization publicizing her visions

The website of a journalist who went to disprove her and was convinced of her authenticity

And in the interest of impartiality: The skeptic's dictionary entry about her

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Catholicism and Brain Death

There is currently no uniform Catholic opinion in regards to "brain death."

The old standby has always been a statement by Pope Pius XII in 1958 in which he says that it is not religion's place to define death. He felt that it is up to the medical community to determine when life ends. Various moral theologians in recent years have wondered however if we have given science a little too much leeway in making that determination. Various Catholic theologians have wondered if the current definition of "brain death" really does mean dead.

This is an important and highly emotionally charged issue because, on the one hand, without the donated organ people will die and, on the other, if you declare someone dead who isn't dead, you are essentially murdering them if you harvest their organs.

Looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, we see similar statements in regards to this issue.

The Cathechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:
2296 Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good that is sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is noble and meritorous act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible directly to bring about a disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons. 

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services states:
30. The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function and the anticipated benefit to the recipient is proportionate to the harm done to the donor. Furthermore, the freedom of the prospective donor must be respected, and economic advantages should not accrue to the donor.

In the back of the CCC, there is a glossary that includes the definition for almost anything religious that you could possibly want a definition for, but it does not contain a definition for death.

I have to add my name it to list of theologians who have a sense of moral discomfort with the current definition for "brain death." Essentially, the current definition is stating that anyone who has no higher brain activity is missing an important part of "personhood" and therefore is not alive. Isn't our personhood and our dignity dependent on more than brain function?

I see this definition and I worry about it's implications. On the other side of the life spectrum, wouldn't this definition mean that an unborn child is not a person until the brain is developed? I wonder about some of my residents from my work with the severely handicapped: Some of my residents were essentially in a persistent vegetative state, are these people dead according to this criteria? One of the articles I've read brings up the example of an anencephalic infant: These infants without assistance can have a heartbeat and breathe for days.

Another of the articles that I cite below (Catholic Moral Theology) mentions two other points that give me pause. Those who created the current definition state that one of the reasons behind the definition is to ease the "burden" of caring for the brain dead patient. When is a human life a "burden"? I'm sure no pro-life person would agree to calling any human life a burden. This definition of "brain death" can be subjective and is not uniformly applied, so certain patients (for example, the elderly or the homeless) are unjustly victimized. There are stories from all over the United States of people who were likely not dead but were declared dead by "brain death" criteria and their organs harvested. I agree that decisions cannot be made on the basis of anecdotal evidence alone. Organ donation is such a wealthy industry, can't someone afford to do a study on this?

Don't get me wrong. I do think that organ donation can be an admirable and moral decision, but I am not convinced that the current definition of "brain death" doesn't amount to murder. I do intend to be an organ donor, but I do not want my organs removed until I am dead by cardiopulmonary standards (ie: My heart stops beating and I am no longer breathing). I know that this will leave some of my more vital organs to be completely useless for transplantation and I am sorry for that. Maybe instead of trying to justify murder, we can try to find a way to make those organs useful for a longer period of time?

For more info (articles that agree with me as well as articles that disagree):

The American Life League 

America Magazine (This article disagrees with me completely)

Catholic Culture

Catholic Moral Theology