Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The problems with Father James Martin

You may have heard something about Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, who has written a book called Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. What's more, you may have heard that he was recently "disinvited" from some speaking engagements, and there are people who are upset about that.

To hear Father Martin's defenders tell it, the problem is that Father Martin is just too nice. He's too friendly to gays and lesbians, and "traditionalist" Catholics can't have that. Poor Father Martin versus mean old fussy traditionalist Catholic meanies.

Unfortunately, even Father Martin chooses to further that account, by blaming his troubles on "anger or fear" over his book, and that his critics are "motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia."

Here's the thing: there probably are some Catholics, somewhere, who would object to approaching "the LGBT Community" with "respect, compassion and sensitivity," but I will bet real money it's so small a number as to be insignificant.

And, to give Father Martin his due, this is a worthy subject to address. Our witness as Catholics will be greatly helped if we are more attentive to the needs and concerns of those who experience these sexual desires, and who have been drawn into various "communities" organized around them. It is certainly Christlike to seek people out, wherever you find them, and offer them friendship and what our Holy Father calls "accompaniment."

So far so good. But what many more people are saying is, well, it all depends on just what you have in mind, Father Martin; and specifically, whether it means calling Catholic teaching into question.

I haven't read Father Martin's book, so I will offer no commentary on that. But Father Martin has said things apart from his book, including in interviews about the book; those things I have read, so I will limit my comments to those remarks. And my assessment is that Father Martin is, at best, being deliberately ambiguous. At worst, he is indeed calling Catholic teaching into question.

There are four specific points Father Martin has made that I think are problematic; plus there are two notable problems of omission. I will simply mention them, and then give an overall response:

1. Father Martin faults those of us who don't use the terms "gay" and "lesbian" without qualification. He claims we're being needlessly rude.

2. Father Martin objects to the Church's description of homosexual sex acts -- and the inclination to them -- as "intrinsically disordered." He endorses an alternate formulation: "differently ordered."

3. Father Martin has spoken favorably -- but with studied ambiguity -- of the "love" between two men civilly married to each other as true love, and how can anyone object?

4. Father Martin has chosen to associate himself with organizations that dissent from Catholic teaching. That doesn't equal dissent itself, but it raises a flag, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, two notable silences on Father Martin's part:

... About the call for all persons to be chaste, according to their station, and

... About the unacceptability of a society redefining marriage to be other than based on male-female complementarity.

Now, a line-by-line explanation of these problems would be helpful, but it would also be very tedious; and in any case, it's all been said before.

But to boil it all down, what is really at issue here: will we adopt the ideological mindset driven by the Sexual Revolution, in preference to what is Biblical, Christian, and, in fact, better grounded in observable facts?

This is why calling people "gay" and "lesbian" is problematic. Indeed, calling people "heterosexual" and "homosexual" is likewise problematic, although few people point that out. Why is this? As I said, it defines people by their sexual appetites, even to the point of assuming there are actually two (if not more) sorts of human beings. The error of this sorting into two categories has now metastasized into "bisexual" and "fluid" and "transgender" and "polyamory," and so on. But none of this is really about science; rather, it's about affirming people's experiences and preferences, which is something else entirely. Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, the one bifurcation of humanity that really is grounded in science -- male and female -- is obscured, and is even denied, science be damned.

If what we cared about was real science, letting the chips fall where they may, wouldn't there be a great deal more concern about the hazards of contraceptives? Not only is there accumulating evidence of harms to women who take massive doses of synthetic hormones (something common sense would raise a flag about), but there is some evidence that these chemicals cause harm in the ecosystem. Trace amounts of lead and arsenic in drinking water are a crisis; but massive amounts of estrogen? Crickets.

So again, Father Martin suggests with colossal disingenuousness that "differently ordered" is just a nicer way to say "intrinsically disordered." Nay, rather it is to claim that God's design is not "male and female," but rather, this, that and the other thing. And to point out again, what Father Martin prefers is not biblical, not particularly scientific, but it is congenial to the reigning ideology.

Even more disingenuous is his lament that mean, "homophobic" "traditionalist" Catholics can't see any "love" happening between two men who are civilly married. (He made these comments at a recent forum at Fordham University.) This is so tendentious that I must attribute it to Father Martin not being very bright, or being dishonest, or else having a bad day that day. In charity, let's say it's the latter.

In the example given, Father Martin spoke of a couple in which one spouse is ill, and the other is caring for him. Well, of course there is "love" here. Who would say otherwise? Produce actual examples. I hereby offer a bounty of $1,000 for every example Father Martin can cite of a Catholic who will actually say that there is something immoral about gay people providing care for one another's illnesses. But my bounty comes with a kicker: if Father Martin can't produce as many as 20, then he owes me a bounty of $100,000. This is obviously a straw man, and Father Martin is too smart (isn't he?) not to see it.

What it looks like, to me, is a rather studied ambiguity; because what he spoke about was a generalized "love," which can mean acts of care and compassion (to which no one objects), to sexual acts proper to marriage, which are simply impossible between two men -- or two women, for that matter.

Is that what this "bridge" amounts to, deliberate ambiguity? People representing different points of view using the same words, but knowingly meaning different things? What's valuable about this?

Moreover, isn't this awfully condescending? Suppose someone comes to me, who appears to be male, and who gives the name "Eddie" -- but who I learn along the way is actually a female who "presents" as male (and perhaps has even undergone physical modification to that end). On a superficial level, I will call this person Eddie and I will be polite; but as we go beyond superficialities, at some point or another, my own honesty and integrity will force me to demur -- however politely and gently -- from Eddie's claims about his/her identity. I can't stop Eddie from claiming to be male; but I refuse to say I believe it, and it's mockery to all concerned to insist that I pretend.

As I say, this is all about the Sexual Revolution, which it is heresy to question. The fundamental issue is the truth of the human person -- and the desire of modern man to be liberated from the truth about himself. The complementarity of sex (i.e., that male is made for female, and vice versa) and the procreative reality of sex are the truths that modern humanity rebels against; as well as the consequence that sex can't be an end in itself. The Sexual Revolution is all about overthrowing these truths.

And for the moment, Father Martin seems to be seeing how much of the Catholic patrimony he can trade away in order to gain a hearing among the devotees of the Sexual Revolution. Let us assume he means well, and aims to trade away only the least amount. This is still a bad idea, and we all know it won't work. I hope Father Martin figures this out sooner, rather than later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Mercy Plan or the Justice Plan (Sunday homily)

So...what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

So let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: people say, 
“Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” Of course it is hard. That’s the point.

Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 
Forgiveness does not mean the other person did not hurt you, 
nor does it minimize the wrong. 
Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 
and giving him or her to God. 
Let God take care of justice and repayment.

Let me also add, that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. 
Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 
She knows she did the right thing, 
but still feels terrible about it, for a while at least.
That’s normal.

So, how do we forgive? 
Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 
We can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 
This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 
Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?
No! You and I need God’s help every single second. 
Every breath. Every good impulse. 

Now, this is a good time to remember something 
The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories. 
They were odd stories, with even odder people.
Her point was that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 
So, no promise that when God gives you the grace to forgive, 
that it will still not be hard, or even involve pain.

God never promises that his grace will always feel good. 
He does promise that his grace will always draw us to him. 
Remember, the purest expression of grace is the Cross.

A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 
pray for the people who hurt you. Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” 
That’s how you start. Say the words out loud, even if you mostly don’t mean them. 
Keep saying them: “I forgive Joe. I forgive my Mother.”

And on that subject: it occurred to me, as I was reflecting on this, 
that sometimes we harbor resentments, and the reason behind them? 
We haven’t forgiven someone. I saw that in myself last week.
So if you have some resentment or coldness, 
Maybe you are holding onto a hurt? Once again, 
try saying the words out loud: “I forgive…”

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 
That’s right; think about hell.

Some people don’t think hell is real. 
Or, they figure maybe only the 100 worst sinners in history go there, 
and the rest make it to heaven.
Could be, except Jesus never said that. 
He warned lots of ordinary people about hell. And he would know.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 
try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 
Isn’t that right? We don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 
So we are wishing them in hell. That’s what it means.

Or, is it possible that we can want God to forgive, while we refuse? 
We want God and that person to be friends, 
but we don’t want to be part of it? 
Then that means we are sending ourselves to hell. 
“God, you and my enemy, you be friends, but count me out.” 
Where does that leave you?

If you and I are in heaven and those who wronged us are there, 
we’re not going to avoid each other forever. 
Parents, on a scale of 1 to 10, 
how much do you dislike when your kids won’t get along with each other. 
About a hundred, right?
You think God wants to put up with that forever?

So if you want to go to heaven, 
and you want those other people to go to heaven, 
our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. They go to hell!
And if we hold on to them, so will we.

So, to review: if you want to gain the grace to forgive, first ask for it; 
second, pray for those who hurt you, and third, 
think long and hard about hell, 
because that’s where all unforgiveness leads.

See, God has two plans for humanity. 
He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 
and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

Well, that’s where we are measured by strict justice; 
no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get exactly what we deserve. 
Nothing is forgiven. So, if you have wronged no one, 
and have a perfect score, you can apply for the Justice Plan.

Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 
God will forgive. He will forgive absolutely anything and everything. 
That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 
would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,
you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 
without exception. 
Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 
not because they are good enough, 
not for just certain categories,
and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!

It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 
You want mercy? Show mercy, even to your enemies.

In a moment, in our presence, 
the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 
you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 
to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

And if we do that, you and I are accepting the Mercy Plan. 
We’re receiving infinite, precious, eternal-life-giving Mercy!

Accept Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Social concern & social justice (Sunday homily)

The Gospel passage reminds us that in our walk of faith, 
following Jesus, there is a social dimension. 
It isn’t just Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and US.

Both aspects – the personal and the social – need emphasis.

As we grow into adulthood, there needs to be a moment, 
for every one of us, when we stop and say, 
this isn’t just about what my parents believe; 
what do I, myself, believe?

And let me say this to our teenagers here:
in case you haven’t figured it out,  
this is Mark Travis’, and my, “secret plan” for our youth programs. 
To give you every opportunity to go from, “my family prays the Rosary,” 
to, “I pray the Rosary” and “the Mass is important to my family,” 
to “the Mass is important to me – and here’s why.”

Even so, there is a way in which the social dimension to our Faith 
gets neglected.

It is very common in our time to say things like, 
“you go your way, I’ll go mine” and, “It’s none of my business.”
And that’s all true and valid: a certain amount of “live and let live” 
helps us all live as good neighbors. 
And we all know what it is like 
when other people are talking things about us 
that they should keep quiet about. It doesn’t feel good.

And yet…and yet: notice what Jesus says in the Gospel. 
There are times when you and I must go to a brother or a sister. 
And if that doesn’t work, 
there are times when it involves the whole Church.

People often quote the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 
without realizing that God’s answer is, “Yes, you are.”

Now, this is a good time to talk about the virtue of prudence. 
If prudence ever goes on sale at the store, stock up! 
It always seems in short supply. 

Of the four cardinal virtues – Courage, prudence, 
justice and self-control – 
prudence may be the hardest to get just right. 

Prudence is like learning to steer while driving. 
You don’t want to have your hands yanking constantly at the wheel 
and you don’t want to just let go, and let the car wander off the road. 
It takes a practiced hand.

Likewise, it takes a certain deftness – not to mention courage! – 
to approach someone with an issue, the way Jesus describes. 
Prudence is at work when we pray about it, 
seek advice from the wisest people we know, 
and approach the matter with humility and gentleness.

Otherwise, we ourselves end up being that person 
who is making things worse, rather than better.

This is a good time to address another part 
the social dimension of our Faith, our social responsibility.

There is a term that is showing up in the news, 
and in political discussions – the so-called “Social Justice Warriors.” 
It’s not a compliment; it’s meant to lampoon those who go overboard, 
and are pretty obnoxious about promoting various causes.

But you know what? “Social justice” is a real thing;
and because it is something God cares about, 
it is something we might want to pay attention to!  

In its most basic form, social justice is just another way 
to live out being our brother’s keeper. There are times when justice – 
not as our government measures it, but as God measures it – 
demands more from us 
than just how we deal with each other one-to-one.

And so, for example, God’s Justice says 
that the good things of the world He created 
are intended for the benefit of everyone. 
And, those who have the least – in education, 
in opportunity, in material things – deserve special attention.

Our social concern as Catholics leads us at times to personal action; 
sometimes it calls for action together with others, 
and sometimes it calls for us to get involved in the political process.

Let me give a very concrete example: this question of immigration. 
It’s a complex subject. 
We have many people coming into our country illegally. 
Some are coming out of fear. Many are coming out of need – 
they are leaving behind places with few jobs but plenty of violence. 
Many are coming to get ahead – something we can all understand. 

Meanwhile, there are some are coming into our country 
with evil purpose, to do us harm. 

And just recently, we’ve been reminded 
of those who were brought here as children, 
and have grown up in our country.

There are questions of justice here, 
and also the matter of being our brother’s keeper. 
A lot of discussion really oversimplifies all this. 
Our bishops have been talking about this subject a lot, 
and they have made a number of points. 

First, our country – any country – has the right to control its borders. 
There is no “right” to flout the law.
Second, there are real human needs here, 
and when people are in trouble, 
they have a moral right to seek help and shelter.

So the question is, what laws or measures are called for? 
Do you remember the virtue of prudence I talked about a moment ago? 
This is where we put it into practice. 
The bishops are counting on you and me as citizens, 
as well as our leaders, to apply prudence here,  
without forgetting the demands of justice and compassion.

So if there is an action item here for you and me, it would be: 
pay attention to these issues; pray for prudence; 
and speak up, especially in what you tell 
the President and members of Congress.

Meanwhile, our social concern is not only 
about things happening far away. 
We remember and do what we can for people in Texas and Florida, 
in the path of the hurricanes, for example; 
but most of the time, the test of our concern 
for the welfare of our brother or sister more often comes right here –
maybe even in our own homes, with our very brothers and sisters.

So if you want to practice social justice, 
if you’re ready to take “love your neighbor” to the next level? 
You don’t have to wait long or look far. 
Just look across the street, and even across the dinner table. 
Start there – just don’t stop there.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Mass ad orientem: a non-issue in my parish

Here's something I put in my recent church bulletin:

On August 15, when we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the 7 pm evening Mass was offered at the high altar. This was something I advertised ahead of time I would do. I knew there would be a large and diverse attendance at this Mass, and so this would give many more people an opportunity to experience this, and also to give me feedback if they chose.

Afterward, I asked a few people how they thought it went. The only negative comment I got was from one of the altar servers, who wasn’t used to it; other servers, who were more experienced, liked it. Several parishioners told me they liked it. Everything seemed to flow just fine.

Since then, I haven’t heard any comments. I realize not everyone prefers to have the priest facing the same way as the people at the altar; and of course it will be unfamiliar to many, and this can be a drawback too. Nevertheless, the overall non-reaction tells me that most people at Mass are simply focused on the readings, the homily, and joining with the prayers. As a result, whatever their preferences, they don’t let which way the priest is facing at a particular point affect them. It’s not a “deal breaker” for them.

Meanwhile, it is important to point out that there are many people who do prefer Mass offered this way; this is attractive to them. And that includes me. While I will offer Mass both ways for the benefit of all concerned, I do find that when the people and I are facing the same way at the Eucharistic Prayer, that my focus is better, because it’s much more on the Lord. And that is the whole point. Others who prefer it say the same: the focus is less on the priest, and more on the Sacrifice itself.

So, we’ll try this again on Nov. 1, All Saints, and again on Dec. 8, the Immaculate Conception. And I hope no one will hesitate to offer a question or an alternative point of view. I don’t mind in the least; I welcome hearing from everyone!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

You can have the world, or Christ. Choose. (Sunday homily)

The Lord is making a simple but very uncomfortable point. 
You can have the world or you can have him. 
But in the end, you can’t have both.

I think we accept this intellectually – but do we live that way? 
The truth is that quite a lot of us are at home in our world. 
It is a world that, for most of us, 
largely caters to what we want and need. 
You and I are mostly very comfortable 
and we mostly live as we want. 

More than that, for those of us who live here in Russia, 
and much of this area, 
we don’t experience much conflict 
between our Catholic Faith and the society around us. 

For contrast, let’s take a trip back in time 
to the world of Saint Paul. 
In his time, the contrast was blatant and undeniable. 

Every single day, a Christian was confronted 
by beliefs and values that were completely alien. 

Imagine you are out running errands, 
and every store has altars to pagan gods. 
You are expected to make an offering to this one or that one. 

You meet your friends for dinner, 
and at the beginning of your meal, 
everyone tosses a bit of his wine on the floor – 
that was an offering to the god of wine, Bacchus. 
They wait for you to perform the ritual.

This was the Roman world many of the first Christians lived in. 
They had no difficulty grasping that the values 
of their society were at polar opposite to the ways of Christ.

Meanwhile, in Galilee, 
where Jesus had his conversation 
with Peter and the Apostles, things were different. 
The ways of the pagans were off to the margins. 
The temple in Jerusalem, where the true God was worshiped, 
was growing more beautiful as it neared completion.
The true faith was being preserved 
in an island of relative sanity.

Sort of like our community, here in Shelby County.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, I’ve just got two words. 
Wake up! Our culture in 2017 
isn’t the world a lot of us were born into. 
Here in Russia, we are very happily insulated. 
May it long be so! But let’s not kid ourselves.

Our society is becoming, day by day, 
more like the world of the first Christians. 
In those days, X-rated “entertainment” 
was on every street corner. Today, it’s in every home. 

In Paul’s time, all around him were people 
worshiping Zeus, Apollo, Venus, and Mars. 
Today, we worship our own gods, 
but none so much as the great gods of “Choice” and “Self.”

Consider the present madness 
about what is a man and what is a woman: 
we saw what happened with the redefinition of marriage, 
and now it’s turned into redefining what basic human nature is. 

This is just the opening act of insanity. 
More is coming – I’m not any great prophet, 
so don’t ask me just what, but it is coming. 
If you think our present culture has gone crazy, 
I have to tell you, I think it’s only gone about 25% crazy. There’s another 75% to go!

I don’t mean this to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be. 
It can be liberating. 
The truth is, we never have control; we just imagine we do. 
We have a voice, and we lift it up. We have a role to play; 
but in the end, the world goes along, 
and you and I just live in it for a time. 

The only thing we can take out of this world 
is other people with whom we share the words of life. 
The first Christians didn’t know anything different. 
They didn’t vote for Emperor; 
no one cared about their opinion; 
and most of what happened in the world, 
they didn’t even know about. They didn’t have the Internet!

But they did have Christ. They did have the Eucharist, 
the Holy Mass, and the other Sacraments. 
They had a community of fellow believers, 
fellow oddballs who likewise didn’t fit into their world. 
They were never under any illusion 
that they would have any great influence, 
or that the world would ever be, for them, 
anything but the Cross.

They would gather on Sunday – late, 
because they almost all had to work – 
and they would hear the words of Paul: 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”
And while they listened to those words, 
they knew at any moment, Roman soldiers could come 
and take them all away. 

And here is the great ironic twist. 
That tiny, insignificant group, 
that meant nothing to the world around them,
ended up making a whole new world, 
bring a new civilization to birth.
But it was only possible once they died 
to the world they knew. 

It is tempting to think that we can somehow hold it together: 
the world we’re so used to, and our faith in Jesus Christ. 
Peter had that hope. But in the end, like Peter himself,
each of us must choose.