Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tom Delay & the Apostate GOP

When I worked in politics, one of the wise people who taught me how things worked had a saying that is both a little shocking and really funny:

They say you shouldn't kick a man when he's down; but I say--there's no better time!

Now, I'm not really kicking poor Tom Delay -- who, to my mind, is almost certainly neither the villain his liberal enemies paint him to be, nor the hero his allies assert he is -- but getting at part of the point of that witticism: that such times are opportunities for reappraisal and, one hopes, a change for the better, and therefore a time ripe for action.

And the present moment of GOP weakness and anxiety is a good moment for action. To speak spiritually: it is a conversion moment; let us hope the GOP takes advantage of it; and let us help the Republicans to do so.

Another thought on this Delay story: it's good to remember that, in politics, sometimes the situation is like the Iran-Iraq War from some years back--i.e., there are no good guys to root for.

Politically motivated charges of crime are sadly common enough that I discount this one, particularly when its the vague, "conspiracy" charge. And a lot of laws regulating political action, including political spending, are likewise vague and problematic; a lot of them should never have been enacted, and many of them deserve to be struck down. The law should be clear and easy to understand, and thus to obey.

But on the other side we have Tom Delay, who probably isn't the slimeball he's being painted to be--but he could be. There's a lot of slimy people slinking around in the lobbying business, and politicians do business with them. The pols may not merit any prosecution for crime -- because they may not have committed any specific crime -- but they do deserve moral censure. I don't know if that includes Tom Delay and Jack Abrahamoff; but the whole thing looks bad--it could be just what it looks like.

Also, the sad thing is that Tom Delay has been very effective; and at various times, he has used his effectiveness for the right causes. A lot of this is explained, I believe, as retribution for that effectiveness. Yet it is also true that Delay and the rest of the GOP leadership has lost their way and their credibility. The result is a lot fewer people care about this than might have otherwise -- if the GOP had kept faith with its constituencies.

My brief burst of modest blog-fame

Over the past few days, I've gotten a burst of traffic, owing to a post I made several days ago. I've been fascinated by how this happened: I made a post on Friday; on Monday, Father Jim Tucker linked it in a post on his blog (and was far more colorful -- and brief! -- in his comments than I); then, on Tuesday, the maven of Catholic blogging, Amy Wellborn, links both Fr Jim's item, and mine, on her blog; meanwhile, Rich Leonardi does the same at his blog. It's been fascinating to note how much traffic each of these sites has generated for me. My original post generated no response; but once these other sites linked it, I was suddenly the flavor of the day.

Alas, my site meter shows my traffic has peaked. But that's okay -- I really don't have time for too much traffic! But thanks to these other bloggers (whom I have never met).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Favorite Protestant Hymns

Perhaps its a fruit of my 10 years as a Pentecostal Evangelical, but I really like rousing Gospel music and a number of Protestant hymns -- and I wish there were a way I could share my enthusiasm for much of this music with my fellow Catholics.

An example is a hymn I'll use as part of my homily at Mass later today: "There is Power in the Blood," written by Lewis E. Jones in 1899, who wrote this song at a camp meet­ing at Mount­ain Lake Park, Mar­y­land. Think about it--our Protestant brethren sing this rousing song in a church empty of the Blessed Sacrament, while we are infinitely privileged to adore the very Blood of our Savior at each and every Mass!

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power

In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


(Click on the headline to go to the Cyber Hymnal, where you can play a MIDI of this song.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 -- the #1 Christian Porn Site

Before you decide I've gone completely bonkers, click on the headline above and check it out. I think what these folks are doing is great, and I think you will too.

Seriously, check out the "accountability software." And don't miss the NoHo Zone...

More about whatchamacallit

Since we're on the subject of homosexuality, it is worth noting something curious about this discussion: the problem of language.

Gay has "baggage" as many observe. Yet it is a term in common parlance, and it has the advantage of being quite short. Context, as always, matters--not everyone who uses it, embraces the baggage; and it's a little stilted to try to talk about this subject and never use the word.

And, as much as I rue the change in this word's meaning, that fight has been lost for the time being, like it or not.

Homosexual is a more neutral term--except that it reflects a modern mindset that tends to define particular sexualities, based on the clinical model. Such a way of thinking may be ingrained in us, but it's reasonable to ask if that's a completely Catholic, biblical way of thinking about the matter.

Also, it does invite either-or thinking, and it forces one to ask: at what point is one a "homosexual"?

Same-sex attraction and related terms are often used by those affiliated with Courage, the fully Catholic apostolate to the folks we're talking about.

This is relatively new terminology that has the virtue of not compelling either-or categorization--can someone be "heterosexual" and still have "same sex" feelings? Sure. At some point, it's a problem, and its a different sort of problem at different points. I.e., that a spouse feels something toward his or her same sex doesn't necessarily mean s/he can't give him/herself in marriage. But at some point, it does prevent that, and thus is an impediment. Ask a canon lawyer (I am not one) about the details on this one.

This latter term also has the virtue of not defining people by a facet--even a very significant one--of their personality and sexuality. Unfortunately, it's the longest terminology, and needs more explaining.

But words do matter.

P.S. Fair warning--sometime rather soon, I'm going to get tired of talking about this subject--so get in your comments now!

More on Potential Seminarians who have same-sex desires, aka a homosexual orientation

Some comments to my post below, a mixed message to gay Catholics, seemed worthy of a post.

I want to focus on one question Tim raised in comments there (to read his entire comments, go to that post from Friday, September 23).

Tim said...

"You are right about the need for disinterested friendships and healthy male bonding for men with same sex attraction disorder but the seminary is for the formation of priests not a treatment center for men with SSAD, alcoholism, or any other serious problem. '[T]his should be that place." No our parihes should be that place, The Knights of Columbus should be that place, our Catholic social groups should be that place. '[I]f the seminary is made up of otherwise healthy well adjusted men it would be a very healthy environment for a homosexual male...' My question then is how many healthy well adjusted men per homosexual candidate? Ten to one? One to one? Surely you would not want more homosexuals than straight men. So whats your quota? What do you tell the men with SSAD who don"t get in after you have the safe number. 'sorry fellas we have reached our quota of "Gays" try the next diocese over or just head to LA, Albany, or Rochester. Mahony, Hubbard and Clark never listen to the Pope anyway."

Well, let's unpack this question.

First of all, my original point presupposed that everyone admitted to the seminary is carefully examined, both for commitment to celibate chastity, including a track record, as well as all the other things you look for in potential seminarians.

I presupposed it, not because I'm so naive as to assume it always happens, but to make the point that it MUST happen. And the comments I made were intended only for that context. If there's any validity to having same-sex-attracted men in the seminary, it totally hinges on that.

Now, Tim and others (if I understand Tim correctly) doubt the gatekeepers and formators are being as careful as they ought to be. Understood; and while such negligence is an important question, and obviously related, it is, still, a separate question.

Because if they are as negligent as some insist, I fail to see how helpful a new instruction from Rome will be, if it is simply added to the dusty pile of ignored instructions.

Likewise, even if the formators and gatekeepers do their jobs, I take Tim's concerns with my views to mean that that is still not enough. A further step is needed, to exclude men with a same-sex orientation from the get-go. (And if that's not Tim's position, we may not actually disagree in substance, but perhaps misunderstand each other.)

Second, if Tim thinks I'm advocating seminaries as places of "therapy" or "treatment" for disordered guys, I am sorry my original post was insufficiently clear on this point, and I am happy to clarify it.

No one should be admitted to the seminary who doesn't have his act together, including in relation to his own sexuality. So Tim and I agree, the seminary isn't a place of "therapy" for people who aren't committed to chastity.

So when I said, "this should be that place," I wasn't saying seminaries are places to "fix" guys who aren't chaste, but it should be the place where chaste guys are reinforced in their chastity. Big difference. (Please remember, I was addressing the supposition that an all-male seminary is a near occasion of sin for same-sex-oriented men.)

And my point was, if they happen to have homosexual feelings, a seminary of guys properly screened, properly formed, is a healthy, chastity-affirming setting, not a "seething cauldron of pent-up testosterone" to use Father Jim Tucker's colorful phrase.

So to Tim's question--what should the ratio of homosexual to heterosexual be?
Well, I don't know, and other than those who say "zero," I don't know who knows. And--by the way--if Rome doesn't take the "zero" position, then I have no idea how Rome would answer Tim's question, either.

This may not be a satisfactory answer, but--I'd say with the proper admissions and formation scrutiny, and recruitment, I don't think this becomes an issue.

All I can cite is my own experience. When in the seminary, I had no idea of who might be same-sex-oriented, although I figured there had to be some, so naturally I might wonder about this or that guy. But it's not like I had anything obvious; there were no flamers. Here's a guy who likes opera and show tunes--only he was a widower, married 20 years. Here's a guy who had an odd mannerism (nothing flagrant); only he talked about the girls he went out with in college. Could have been lying. How can I know?

I hinted, but didn't say directly, what I think about a possible policy completely forbidding same-sex-attracted seminarians. I do have reservations about such a policy, in part because I'm having a hard time seeing how it would be articulated, enforced, and how effective that would be--including the inevitable incentives created and unintended consequences. I think the practical difficulties of actually framing such a policy may explain why it's still "in the works." Making it concrete is not easy to do.

Even assuming the strictest possible likely policy, I honestly don't know if I will think that a good or bad idea. I can see arguments both ways, and reservations both ways.

And after all, it all depends on what, if anything, actually emerges. I am not so bright that the reservations I can come up with won't have occurred to the folks in Rome, too.

Finally, if anything emerges, it may end up being more or less what I tend to favor: not total exclusion of same-sex-oriented men, but close scrutiny and a high standard for commitment to celibate chastity.

If anyone is concerned that I'm going to undermine the authority and unity of Mother Church over a policy disagreement, I can assure you that's not my style.

If I may, I publicly swore an oath of fidelity to the Church, and all her teachings, even those not infallibly defined, on two occasions: first, prior to being ordained a deacon, and second, upon my installation as a pastor. In addition, I made a solemn promise at both ordinations, to obey my ordinary, and I renew that every year. Anyone who cares to say I have failed in any of those oaths is welcome to say so; otherwise, I think I'm entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Darwin Catholic, & Mrs. Darwin, are not gay seminarians

Mr. & Mrs. Darwin pay me the courtesy of visiting my site, leaving comments and even linked to one of my posts!

So how could I have been so remiss in failing to add them to my blogroll?

Will the Next High Court Nominee be a... Gay Catholic?

Just kidding about the headline; I guess I'll do anything to get readership!

But seriously, there are all kinds of rumors about who President Bush will choose for the Justice O'Connor's seat -- and a nomination is probably likely very soon.

Like the multi-headed hydra, prospect of a Justice Alberto Gonzales is the beast that will not die, but keeps rising up no matter how many times one lops off a head.

The tide of angst is rising like a storm surge at Confirm Them, where Marshall Manson writes, "with the President’s supporters already on edge over the raft of new federal spending, I fear an open revolt if he selects the Attorney General to serve on the Supreme Court."

I, on the other hand, do not "fear it"--I welcome it!

Recall the words of perhaps our greatest president, Thomas Jefferson:

"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,
and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.... It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of the government." (Letter to James Madison.)

Don Jim's Seething Cauldrons of 'Gay Catholics' draws 'em in

I didn't expect it, but I really hit the jackpot, as far as readership, when I posted the item below with the words "gay Catholics."

It did help that Don Jim Tucker at Dappled Things gave me a plug, in his characteristically colorful turn of phrase, referencing "seething cauldrons of pent-up testosterone."

Oh, and while I'm on the subject, if he gets to be "Don Jim," can I be "Don Martin"? It sounds kind of cool.

Auf Deutsche?

Sometimes "blogger" does odd things; currently, it is speaking German to me instead of English as it ought. The relevant setting shows "English (U.S)," so it doesn't appear even to know it spreche Deutsche.

Perhaps it's charismatic...

I assume when you post a message, you see the same thing? Or am I having a Twilight Zone moment?

Are Prolifers to blame?

Manuel Miranda, the former aide to Senate Minority (oops--Majority; sometimes I can't tell) Leader Bill Frist, has been writing interesting things about the nomination process for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today, he has a column in the Wall Street Journal: "Roe Row: Pro-lifers largely stayed out of the Roberts fight. That was a mistake. " (Click on headline above to go there.)

It is not true that prolifers were silent, though perhaps they could be louder.

The National Pro Life Alliance (in the interest of full disclosure, I am affiliated with it) has consistently called on the President only to name prolife nominees, in its newsletter and mailings to its nearly half-million members.

Never heard it? Well, NPLA is small, but growing; and while expensive PR may eventually get the Washington Post, NYT and the rest of the chattering class talking, that seems like a very expensive, long, roundabout trip to the people who matter: prolife VOTERS, who in turn have greatest influence on Senators.

So NPLA isn't doing PR, which is why we didn't call Mr. Miranda. Rather, NPLA is contacting its own members and generating letters, petitions and postcards, directed to the Senate and White House.

If Mr. Miranda didn't find out on his own, perhaps he's talking to the wrong people; if he didn't hear about it, maybe he's listening in the wrong places.

Is it working? Hard to say, until we can get candid interviews with folks in the White House; but I feel confident prolifers writing postcards to the White House had a positive influence.

Unfortunately, some prolife organizations have, since 2000, told everyone far and wide that President Bush was our hero, could do no wrong, was utterly trustworthy just because he's our friend--which is certainly kind of them, but can only put a damper on the very sort of grass roots pressure Mr. Miranda says is needed.

Since the battle at question is in the White House--who will the President choose?--then this sort of talk translates into, "the battle is won already." That sort of talk doesn't bring your troops out to the battlefield. Surprise, surprise.

Further, just how much leverage can we have on the White House? The President isn't up for re-election. We can have more on the Senators. And it is worth noting how several of the Senators on the Judiciary Committee highlighted the prolife issue in the hearings.

But just how much heat do you suppose must be created before a GOP Senator will openly oppose a GOP President's nominee? That Brownback and Coburn are showing signs of impatience is a testimony, not to prolife passivity, but impatience from prolife grass roots.

Update: In fairness to Mr. Miranda, I should say more: I think what he writes is largely true in this regard: certainly the White House has been trying to tame prolifers, and keep them singing the White House-written chorus; and I have no doubt many prolifers of prominence went along with this.

I'm proud to say the NPLA doesn't play that game. The NPLA takes its marching orders from conscience and from its members, not politicians.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I'm just thankful I didn't get labeled a Republican!

You are a

Social Moderate
(50% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(71% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

2,000 Visits!

Today, this blog achieved 2,000 visits. That may not seem like much to crow about, but I make just a few posts a week, and do almost nothing to promote this, yet I am fascinated by the number of visits I get.

Thanks to all who visit my page; always feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree or disagree.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A mixed message to gay Catholics

We've all heard talk about barring men from admission to holy orders, purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Many believe this an essential step and are cheered by reports that the Holy Father has signed off on such an instruction.

But Tom Toles, above--who often offends me--illustrates one of the problems of such a policy. (I shouldn't have to say this, but--I fully support the Church's teaching on what marriage is, who may marry, and on what chastity is for people in various states of life.)

One of the arguments often used for this is that somehow, a seminary must be a terrible temptation for a homosexually oriented man. Having spent six years in a seminary, I find this a little silly.

First, keep in mind that if the diocese, or order, is doing its job, it carefully scrutinizes candidates before entering, to determine their readiness for celibate chastity. We all hear horror stories, and should be skeptical, but I suppose they happen. In my case, studying for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (which hardly has a reputation for being especially conservative), we are grilled about our past: dating, sexual history, etc. It's confidential; but very probing.

So if the admissions folks do their job, the homosexual men entering the seminary are going to have a track record of celibate chastity; they won't be--as someone from Catholics United for the Faith glibly put it--like an alcoholic in a bar. It will be more like a teetotaler in a bar. What's the problem?

Second, while I don't doubt guys in a seminary might well be able to pull off romances and liaisons, having lived in a seminary, I think it would be very hard to do and keep it secret. It's like the smallest small town you can imagine; everybody knows everybody else's business. If guys are AWOL a lot, either by themselves or with someone else, everyone will know it, including the faculty, many of whom live there (the priests, of course).

Third, people seem not to give much credence to what the Church actually recommends as a necessary tool for homosexual persons to succeed in chastity: close, trusting, disinterested friendship. This is what the Catechism says, and what Courage, the completely orthodox, pro-chastity, Catholic apostolate for same-sex-attracted persons, says.

And one of the great aspects of the seminary is the brotherhood men form in pursuit of the priesthood. You have every opportunity to form solid, trusting, life-giving friendships. And such friendships are key for all men, particularly in being morally accountable; who thinks they wouldn't be a great boon to same-sex-attracted men who are serious about chastity? If ever there were a place where a homosexual man might find a heterosexual man with the maturity, moral depth, spirituality and Christian charity to be a real friend, this should be that place.

The seminary is no place for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual--who is too immature to deal with such questions. And obviously, there are both appropriate and inappropriate ways to disclose such things. My point is that, contrary to the idea that the all-male environment is a snare for a homosexually oriented man; I am arguing that, if the seminary is made up of otherwise healthy, well-adjusted men, it would a very healthy environment for a homosexual male--who is demonstrably committed to celibate chastity--to succeed in that endeavor.

Finally, the "he's around guys all day, so it'll be too tempting" cuts both ways. After ordination, guess who a priest is more likely to be around all day? Not men, but women. Like it or not, the vast majority of those employed in, and active as volunteers, in a parish, are women. If "guys all day" is a grievous temptation for homosexuals, what is "gals all day" for a heterosexual? A priest-to-be spends at most 8 years in the seminary; he'll spend decades in a parish setting.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Katrina, now Rita

It seems incredible that after Katrina, we now face--only three weeks later--Rita.

Wednesday, I led the congregation in prayers for averting the hurricane; I offered Mass today for averting the storm; and tomorrow, I'll lead the children in prayers to avert the storm as well.

We all hope it doesn't happen. But why do we suppose it shouldn't?

Republicans are liars!

If you surf the blogosphere--at least, the right wing of it--you'll see a swelling discussion of excessive spending by the GOP Congress; and you'll see expressions of hope that the GOP will do something about metastasizing government.

In these years of GOP ascendancy, spending has spiked and the government has grown like "the Blob" in the 1950s movie. President Bill Clinton said, "the era of big government is over." President Bush and the GOP Congress feel otherwise.

So, shall we now hope that something has changed?

We shall see.

But keep this interpretative key handy at all times: they are liars!

Now, I know: "aren't the Democrats liars too?" Well, yes.

But the GOP is worse.

The Democratic Party isn't lying when it advocates big government--and Democrats do advocate it, very openly. Democrats aren't liars when they demand abortion-on-demand, and demand you pay for it. They aren't liars when they demand higher taxes, race quotas, compulsory unionism, government hostility to religion, and so forth.

The Democrats are essentially honest about their advocacy of these things. Call them whatever names you like--but they aren't liars.

On the other hand, the GOP says: we love smaller government; we will end government subsidies; we will overturn Roe v. Wade; we will end racial quotas, we will repeal gun control, we will support Right to Work, we will cut spending, eliminate government programs and shut down bureaucracies.

All lies. The GOP is the Liar Party.

No, they're not all liars. That's the tragedy. Some in office do care, they share our outrage over this utter dishonesty. And I don't mean to be unfair to them.

But I believe the only thing that will induce the GOP to some measure of honesty is imminent threat of disaster--if you will forgive me, a political Katrina bearing down on them.

And that will only happen when the right-wingers the GOP considers in their pocket really rebel. As long as conservatives keep going back to their abusive spouse for more of the same, nothing will change.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Judge Roberts: a question mark is not good enough

I watched coverage of the Supreme Court nomination hearings last week, and while I really don't know what to make of Judge Roberts -- same as the rest of us -- that alone is unsatisfying.

After Souter, after Kennedy, after O'Connor, after a Republican-named majority gave us Roe, and then another Republican-named majority reaffirmed it in Casey...why should prolifers be happy to have yet...another...cipher?

Of course, Roberts may prove to be everything his supporters hope for, and more.

But I might point out that, should he uphold Roe, because it's "settled precedent," we won't be able to say he didn't warn us he would do so. Our complaint won't be with him; it will be with the Republican Party that continues its dishonest, cynical, manipulative, lying ways toward movement conservatives and small-government advocates. We will have gotten the short end of the stick again! and really, who can we blame but ourselves? Conservatives who keep buying the Republican snake-oil, after being lied to, and ripped off, over and over--well, who's fault is it, really?

Should Roberts prove to be all we hope, that isn't some great accomplishment, either for Bush or for us; it's only what he promised he would do, only what we have every right to expect from this President. It's like saying you deserve a prize for showing up for work on time.

I think we need to insist, rather loudly, that President Bush's next nominee be someone whose position on "privacy" is clear-cut. Oh, of course the opposition will howl and threaten; they did so when Rehnquist, on record against Roe, was nominated as Chief Justice, yet he was confirmed. Yes, it'll be a battle; but unless the President nominates someone on record pro-Roe, it'll be a battle anyway; why not have someone worth fighting for; someone who will energize prolifers, too?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Seek the Lord while he may be found (Sunday homily)

How does it happen that you are here today?

“I always come to Mass”

“My mother made me come.”

“I bring my kids.”

“I just felt like it.”

“I don’t know why I’m here today.”

Well, I can tell you
how it happens that you are here today.

You and I are here because God’s grace has made it so.

God’s grace is mostly invisible.
God works behind the scenes,
Through ordinary things.

It may have been your mom who got on you…
But the Holy Spirit was behind it.
So, if you wonder what the Holy Spirit sounds like,
Sometimes He sounds like your mom and dad!

Sometimes your spouse, your children, your friends.

Occasionally, he might even sound like your pastor!

And grace—and grace, by the way,
is God’s love for us, at work in our world to save us—
God’s grace works mostly silently:
Things happen, people meet on a street corner;
A friend you haven’t heard from, writes you a note;
A door closes, another door opens.

The workings of grace are simply beyond our imagining:
“As high as the heavens are above the earth,so high” are God’s ways above ours,
His thoughts above ours.

So, back to my initial question:
How does it happen that you are here today?

The answer is grace:
God brought you here, today.

Just think about that.

God…brought you…here…today.

So heed the word of Isaiah:
Seek the Lord while he may be found.

Sometimes the Lord calls us early,
Sometimes he comes and finds us at noon,
He comes back around, hour after hour, looking for us.
Jesus is happy to find us, early or late.

But you and I should not be complacent:
The day does come to an end.

Seek the Lord while he may be found.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A busy week

Anyone who checked in this week, and noticed no posts between last Saturday evening, and today, can figure out why: a very busy week!

People wonder what a parish priest does with his time. Well, here are some of the things that took my time this week (I omit my prayers which I do every day, and are private):

Sunday: following the last Mass, I greeted everyone, and had a gentleman I didn't know ask to see me. Once everyone had left, we spoke. As it turned out, he came seeking financial help, which I suspected would be the case. I turned him down, which I don't enjoy doing, but there are reasons why I did so, which I can spell out if anyone wants to know.

Next came a "Court of Honor" for one of our boy scouts who'd earned his Eagle Scout status. After that, I stopped by our "Super Bingo," to thank the workers and the patrons for their involvement. Sometimes I work at the Monday evening bingo; but this time, I spent about an hour visiting and talking with folks. That brought me home between 4 and 5.

Monday was my day off; I didn't do very much, but I did have to help with some funeral planning over the phone, and I joined the RCIA group in the evening, then stopped by Monday bingo after that.

Tuesday is always busy, with phone calls, checks to be signed, messages left over the weekend, staff have things saved up from Monday, etc. I remember signing a lot of checks and some letters we needed to send out, but I can't recall what they were, now. I spend a lot of time on the phone.
I also get a lot of emails.

That evening, I covered a lot activities with "fly by's"--I stopped by a junior high volleyball game, near the end (I didn't know it was going on, I was on the way to a meeting; but I watched part, and greeted people); the PTO was meeting, "oh, please stay, Father!" but I couldn't, I was on my way to the Building & Maintanence Committee, which hadn't met over the summer; this was my first meeting with this very hard-working crew. Oh, but I forgot the agendas which a staff member had photocopied, so I ran back to the office for them. That's when I met the choir, waiting on the church steps for the choir director who would let them inside for practice. I found out one of our longtime members was undergoing cancer treatment. I had to get back to the meeting.

The meeting let out around 8:30 or so, but they had some work to do in the parish office: "how about we do that now, Father?" Well, sure--so over to the office. Everyone headed home around 9; I hadn't eaten dinner yet, so I drove over to Lee's Chicken; only it was closed, so I got a pizza instead. It was nice sitting at home, watching a little TV, having some pizza with a glass of wine. I have a rule that seems to work: the last part of the day belongs to me, if possible, when I can chill and wind down.

Wednesday morning is when I work on my Sunday homily, and if possible, my Friday school-Mass homily. I stay home for this; the office calls me if needed. I wrote my Sunday homily, then wrote a homily for a wedding on Saturday, and gave some thought to my Friday school Mass homily. I needed to work on the funeral homily, but I hadn't found out, from the family, what readings it had chosen. So, God willing, I'd get that later, and could write that in the afternoon or evening, before confessions at 6 and Mass at 7. I'd have no time otherwise, before the funeral, as you will see.

The readings were waiting for me when I got to the office around 11:45. I had to leave right away, because the school sponsors a fundraising luncheon called "Dollars for Scholars," with a raffle, and I'd bought a ticket ($100 for four lunches, plus chances). I was back around 1:15 or so. I answered calls and emails, signed a bunch of things I can't remember now, didn't get to all the calls, and found time to write that homily late in the afternoon. As I was working on it, a brother priest called with a problem. I talked with him about 20 minutes to help him out. Finished the homily, then off to the sacristy to set some things up for the funeral tomorrow, and also for Mass that evening: Feast of the Holy Cross; we would have incense, I decided.

I was on my way to the confessional, but I'd forgotten to turn on the A/C. In the confessional at 6. I found time, while waiting, to pray some of my office. When not in use, the confessional is a great hide-away!

Following Mass, I had a meeting of our Anniversary Celebration committee; that broke up around 8:15. From there, I headed over to the Knights of St. John hall, where our retired priest was fixing spagetti for the guys; we ate (he always stuffs us), then they had the meeting, then they played poker. I would have stayed, but I was tired, so I begged off.

The next morning, Fr Ang (the retired priest) and I heard confessions from our students, till almost noon. Then back to the office, quick check-in before the funeral at 1. I made some last-minute changes to my homily, then over to church. Back to the office from the cemetary around 2:45. The family had a luncheon, and I'd have stopped by, but I needed to visit the hospital, so I took communion there. I finished there around 4:15 PM. Nothing for the rest of the day--Deo Gratias!

Today was slower: Mass with grades 4-8. (We have two parishes supporting one school, and the older children have classes at the other parish, 1/2 mile away. Every other week, the other pastor and I switch. Today was that day.) I reprised at least part of my homily from 3 weeks ago, with the younger children, with the "Keep your eyes on the prize" karate-chop. The kids like it and they remember it. (If you don't know what the prize is, go back several weeks to a prior Friday homily.)

After that, I visited the classrooms at the other campus, then back to the office. Not a whole lot to do, so a good time to make my escape, especially as I have some chores to do, I'm staying overnight in Dayton, so I need to pack a bag, and I need to make a few stops at the store, if possible, before I go to Dayton for a wedding rehearsal tonite at 5, then the rehearsal dinner; I won't stay for the whole thing, just drinks, then have dinner with a brother priest. Tomorrow I get to sleep in, then have the wedding in the afternoon, then back here to welcome a friend visiting and staying over Saturday evening; so I have to get some food in the house.

I neglected to mention house calls and communion calls; because our retired priest loves this ministry, and it's a great help to me. I didn't mention the drop-ins, the time spent with daily Mass, and other things.

But this gives you a flavor.


Guns & butter, big government, big spending, save the world. Sumpin' 'bout dem Texas prez'dents...

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Lord sends “seraph” serpents: “seraph” means fiery.
You’ve heard of the “seraphim”:
Isaiah saw them, standing before God,
crying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Power and Might” and one of them brings fire to purify the prophet’s lips.

The Lord sends fiery serpents as a punishment.
But let’s consider the sort of “punishment” this is.

If you’re out walking with a group,
And someone sees a snake, what happens?
Doesn’t that person say, “Watch out: snake!”

What do you do? You watch out, right?
If you see a snake, say, 10 feet away—
do you think you could avoid it?

I think so.

As with so many Old Testament stories,
The point isn’t simply punishment, or retribution,
But a change in direction:
See a snake—you change direction, right?
It’s always about salvation.

Because notice: even after everyone’s crying,
“snakes, snakes!”—some folks still managed to get bit.
Gotta shake your heads at that, don’t you?

Even then, God provides a remedy:
A bronze serpent, nailed on a pole.
They only had to look at—and it was portable—
They brought it to you!

So notice: we don’t close the distance
between us and God—that’s heresy!
God always closes the distance between him and us
To bring us salvation.

The Cross is not a ladder we built to heaven;
It the ladder God lowered down to us.

A serpent on a pole seems an an odd image of Christ,
till we see what it stands for:
The threat removed; death conquered;
Horror turned to hope.

The Cross stands before our world—
Our world which wanders in the desert—
As a warning, but also as hope—if only we look at it.

We look at the cross, we don’t see a serpent,
But a man, like us, only he is perfect, sinless.

What is he doing on that cross?

Our cross is sanitized: The man on that Cross
Was broken, bloodied beyond recognition.

That’s our wake-up call:
Showing us the future that sin holds in store for us.
It shows what mankind does to himself
under the power of evil.

Who can doubt this, given the signs of our times:
Auschwitz, Rwanda, Planned Parenthood, 9/11.
On the cross, a ruined, murdered man:
That’s what sin does to humanity.

But like Moses’ pole, the Cross is not death but life to us!

Here is the wonder of God’s love:

The Cross should be our fate—
But God made it his own!
God embraced the horror;
And in exchange, gave us life!

So we don’t behold the Cross with fear,
But with hearts bursting with hope.

And now we see how simple it is for any of us
To be a St. Paul to our world. Every one of us can do it.
How? We show the Cross. That’s what we do.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stewardship builds on trust (Sunday homily)

This weekend, we reflect on stewardship.
If you ask what stewardship
has to do with these readings,
I’d say, look at that first servant in the Gospel:
he didn’t know who his Master was;
and he didn’t trust him.
And that’s what made him a bad steward.

He had a huge debt,
and no hope of paying it back;
but that’s not why he got in trouble.

He asked mercy for his debt
and the King granted it.

He got in trouble because
he didn’t believe his Master!
He goes right out to collect his debts.
Either he didn’t really believe
he was off the hook;
or he didn’t get what it meant:
“I’m not poor, I’m rich!”

Jesus Christ gives us,
his followers, a commitment:
He says, “Follow me,
and I’ll give you eternal life: trust me!”

Do we trust him?
That brings us to the second servant.

He learned the lesson of trust,
but he learned it the hard way:
he had no other choice!
How often it is,
when our back is against the wall,
that we cast ourselves into God’s hands.
Trusting God is often our last move!

If you think about it,
God ought to be insulted by that!
But he’s not!

This shows us the true,
Father’s heart of God:
he’s so much bigger than that!
Our true Father in heaven
simply wants us to come home!
And if takes us being check-mated
by events and circumstances,
till we have no other choice—
that’s okay with God; he loves us that much.

Knowing who God really is,
and who we are in God--
living in that trust, that confidence--
that’s the foundation of stewardship.
We don’t hold on
too tightly when we have that.

That first servant wasn’t poor, he was rich:
but he didn’t know it.

His true wealth wasn’t money or things,
nor even the power he had over other people—
it was solely his relationship with his Master.
And he blew it!

What did his Master ask of him?
Very simple: be like Me!

The Master was generous,
and said, be generous;
The Master forgave,
and he said: do likewise.

If he’d drawn close to his Master,
how easy it would have been!

When you and I draw close to God,
anchoring our lives in knowing his heart,
living, day-by-day, in that childlike trust:
we’ll change—we’ll have to;
we won’t want to stay sinful
and petty and small;
and we’ll share freely,
because we know we’ll never run out
of what really counts.

Yes, stuff can run out—just like that!
Our lives will run out, maybe very suddenly:
so why not make them count?

Think of 9/11 four years ago;
think of the hurricane:
Soldiers, firefighters, police,
doctors, priests and nuns:
Risking their lives,
even losing lives, to save lives.
That’s good stewardship!

Go back to St. Peter’s question,
about forgiveness:
When we know our true riches in God,
we can afford to forgive—why not?
Why not forgive?

The most worthless “treasure”
we ever hold on to is a grudge!

This may be the one time
I quote Janis Joplin in a homily—
are you ready?
But she had it right:
“Freedom’s just another word
for nothing left to lose.”

That freedom comes from knowing
our true wealth is not our stuff,
not our power, not even our lives,
but our relationship with God
through Jesus Christ.

It can seem complicated, on one level:
Go to confession, go to Mass,
believe this, avoid that;

But on a deeper level,
it’s all about becoming like Him.
It’s the lesson that first servant,
in the Gospel, missed:
He didn’t know who his Master really was;
He didn’t draw close to his heart.

When you and I draw close
to the heart of Jesus,
We’ll want to be like him;
and we will become like him.
He is the one who will do it!

Trust him!

Uh-oh, I may have been right...

Here's my post from July 9 of this year, about the prospects of Gonzales being nominated to the Supreme Court:

"Over at Amy Wellborn's Open Book, I made this comment last week:

"Something occurs we may see in the next few days . . .

"If Bush wants to pick Alberto Gonzales -- knowing conservatives and prolifers have a problem with him -- the smart thing to do would be to get conservative pundits and columnists to start writing about how misunderstood Gonzales is, that he's actually sheep in wolf's clothing, that he'd actually turn out to be kind of "secret weapon" because he's actually great, but misunderstood, and so picking him would be really good news, because the liberals would think he was pro-Roe when -- just entre nous -- he's a secret prolifer, etc.

"It may not happen; but if you see pundits and columnists telling this story, watch out!

"I'm pretty sure the White House and the GOP have tried this; but so far, the Right is staying solid as far as Gonzales and the Supreme Court."

Now, today, this headline appears in the Washington Post: "Gonzales allies rebut criticism"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Work of a Parish Priest

From Diary of a Suburban Priest, who got it from Catholicism Anew...

During a Eucharistic Congress, a number of priests from different orders are gathered in a church for Vespers. While they are praying, a fuse blows and all the lights go out.

The Benedictines continue praying from memory, without missing a beat.

The Jesuits begin to discuss whether the blown fuse means they are dispensed from the obligation to pray Vespers.

The Franciscans compose a song of praise for God's gift of darkness.

The Dominicans revisit their ongoing debate on light as a signification of the transmission of divine knowledge.

The Carmelites fall into silence and slow, steady breathing.

The parish priest, who is hosting the others, goes to the basement and replaces the fuse.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina: the terrible and the wonderful

We've all been absorbing the shock and horror of what happened in the wake of the recent hurricane, and we all have similar questions.

The "Where is God?" question always haunts us; but I think more and more this is a catastrophe we lay at the feet of humanity, from choices made by public officials, before and after, choices made by those in the path of the storm, even to the choices made, recently and long ago, about living in a hazard-zone and the civic choices about protection.

People aren't "wrong" for living in areas vulnerable to a hurricane--that doesn't make it "their fault"; my point is that we all make choices and take risks, because that's how life is: a no-risk life is hardly life at all.

But clearly many failed their duty in the response to the danger:

I wonder why a better evacuation wasn't conducted beforehand--why weren't the poor and weak bused out prior to the storm? The mayor of New Orleans said, after the flood waters were inundating the city, "I need 500 buses, man"--but the question I have yet to see posed to him is, "Mr. Mayor, you had quite a few buses available prior to the storm: what did you do with them beforehand?"

We all wonder why more wasn't done, faster, in the wake of the storm--but the more we learn, the more we may understand the complexities. But it sure seems that leadership failed, as well as did many ordinary citizens, who chose this moment of crisis to murder, rape and pillage.

But amidst all the terrible, let us not miss the wonderful. The response may not have been fast enough -- or maybe it was, in some ways, faster than is apparent -- but in any case, the response, if delayed, is still splendid. We may well have failed our own, high standards; but we've exceeded what almost anyone else in the world could do or hope for.

We've seen some demonic (I won't slander animals by calling it "beastly") behavior, but far more heroic, truly human action. Former First Lady Barbara Bush is right to say this horrible experience will nonetheless ennoble many, hopefully all of us.

We've heard the dire predictions about how long, and how arduous, how out-of-reach, the recovery will be; how awful the impact will be on us all.

I predict that things will go better than such expectations: because one thing remains true about human nature, and our own society: we are capable of endless surprise. We will witness marvelous ingenuity, we will see just how hard people will work, how rapidly people will adapt, how resilient we truly are, and how high we can rise.

I like to say that grace is mostly hidden; so it is in this story, too.

Ignore the nonsense about 'political capital'

Most of the talk about so-called "political capital," and how events and opinion polls, choices of battles and actions, somehow increase or decrease it, are nonsense!

I argued a couple of days ago that the sort of political fight--such as a Supreme Court pick (or a tax bill)--that Bush is supposedly "too weak" to pursue right now, is exactly what he needs--what will strengthen him; something those who keep repeating the "his political capital is depleted" line cannot comprehend -- because not many really know what "political capital" really is, or how it is acquired, and "spent." (Hint: what most think of "spending" such capital is actually how one accumulates it, and vice-versa.)

But enough from me. Here's what Fred Barnes said:

"But the simple fact of governing in Washington is that popularity is not a measure of power. In the late '90s, President Clinton's approval rating stayed well above 60%, even after he was impeached. But Mr. Clinton had almost no clout. True, this was partly because he faced a Republican Congress. A Bush aide was accurate (if self-serving) in drawing the distinction this way: 'The difference is between polls in the 40s and changing history and being in the 60s and twiddling your thumbs. We'll take the 40s. That's our motto.'"

Go read his entire column by clicking the headline above.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

a Neo-Con warning on Bush and the Court

William Kristol, in the Weekly Standard, raises an alarm about the President's decision to slide Roberts over into the Chief Justice position. You can get to it by clicking on the headline above.

Kristol's point is that when "Roberts for O'Connor" seemed to work, he'd won the battle to replace a liberal with a (putative) conservative; now that the President has turned into "Roberts for Rehnquist," it's now a conservative for a conservative; and now Bush must face the question, "who will replace the 'moderate'?" all over again. Kristol himself raises the fearful proposition that we'll get something less than a a conservative as O'Connor's replacement.

In short, the great hopes of conservatives that Bush would give us a new, constitution-respecting court, would be disappointed.

Well. I've been issuing this warning since 2000, although you likely don't know that, since I've only had this blog for about two months. But I have.

But what's noteworthy is that it isn't someone from the Troglodyte Right making this point; it's a neo from the neo publication, the Weekly Standard. When a neo raises a concern about Bush, take cover.

Monday, September 05, 2005

a Catholic Priest for Right to Work

I am often asked how I, as a Catholic and/or a priest, can support "Right to Work"--"Doesn't that contradict Church teaching?"

Well, let's talk about it.

"Right to Work" is the principle that everyone must be free to affiliate with unions; but never be forced to do so. It is a little-appreciated fact that current federal law gives many special privileges to unions, including the power to obtain "exclusive representation" in the workplace -- i.e., monopoly bargaining power -- and then obtain a contract provision forcing all so "represented" to pay dues and fees as a condition of employment.

Twenty-two state laws, and I believe Guam also, prohibit the latter, forced-dues, but the monopoly-bargaining power remains in effect everywhere, and forced dues remain in effect in 28 states, as well as in exceptions to state Right to Work laws.

For those who say Right to Work contradicts Church teaching, I ask: exactly where does the Church ever teach that working people ought to belong to unions, let alone be forced to affiliate, first through representation, then through payment of money?

"But the Church is on the side of unions! How can a priest not know that?"

Well, I contest the statement that the Church "is on the side of unions." Rather--please note the difference--the Church is on the side of workers, including their right to form and join unions . . . or not. The Church stands with unions only to the extent unions stand with workers; and in any case, the Church has never taken the extraordinary position that workers should be in unions, contrary to whatever they, themselves want or believe!

Now, obviously, many who feel strongly about the value of unions will say such a thing: workers ought to belong to unions. But I say it again: Church teaching, however, is that workers make that decision for themselves; and society, including government, ought to assure workers can exercise that right.

An argument I've often gotten is that unions are good for us. This is supported both from history, and from an analysis of what's wrong with our society.

But this is an argument for the political realm, not the realm of Church teaching; the Church has not, to my knowledge, ever endorsed the idea that workers should be herded into unions "for their own good" -- let alone for the broader common good. Again: what the Church actually says is that the freedom to affiliate is in the common interest, as well as workers' interests. And, with that, I wholeheartedly agree.

There are two arguments that can competently be made for the other side: one is from the principle of solidarity, and the other is that the Church doesn't feel bound to a rigid, individualistic theory of society.

The latter is true; but neither does the Church commit itself to a group-identity approach, with class-warfare and the like. And I think its clear enough the Church would argue that "group rights" can't be justified with disregard of the rights of individuals within the group.

Often, a "Catholic" argument against Right to Work is that you have balance various goods--the good of individual workers in relation to the good of the group.

Accepting that approach for sake of argument, that would be an argument, I think, for the situation that obtains in 22 Right to Work states: unions keep their monopoly-bargaining privileges, with no-forced-dues as a corrective. Unions aren't non-existent in Right to Work states; but they are more accountable. But if you're going to commend a more pragmatic, rather than idealistic, approach, then I fail to see how that can't allow someone to embrace Right to Work on the same, pragmatic basis.

The argument is given that Right to Work will kill unions, or at least neuter them. Whether that be so is beside the point: that's just another way of saying, workers should be pressed into union affiliation because it's good for them or good for society.

The solidarity argument is a more credible one: the idea being that individual workers have some responsibility to stand in solidarity with their fellow workers. That is, indisputably, Catholic teaching.

But does it mean, for example, that one must go on strike? Or might one say, either, I disagree with this strike, in substance or in conduct; or, I have to feed my family, I must continue to work.

I invite anyone to show where the Church has ever said that a worker isn't responsible for making precisely such a choice. Likewise, a worker has the responsibility -- this is clear from papal teachings -- to discern whether the union is worthy of his affiliation. Leo XIII made this point directly: workers, you may not join the wrong sorts of unions!

And beyond the moral question of what solidarity means in this case, is the subset question of the extent to which solidarity is embodied in the coercions of law. Insofar as the Church has never, to my knowledge, ever affirmed, in such concrete fashion, that "solidarity means workers must--contrary to their own views--acquiesce to unionism," it casts grave doubt on the notion that Church teaching, thus so unspecific, would make it mandatory to have laws impose such a responsibility the Church has never enunciated!

So--why do bishops and priests and others speaking for the Church, take the tack they do?

Well, partly because many of them came up in a different era, or were taught about these things by those who did. Partly because this just isn't that prominent an issue to them; they spend a little time on it, form a view, and move on.

Partly because many of them perceive more affinity with union operatives, and some of their causes, than they do with the less visible advocates of Right to Work. This is partly because of the political tilt of many clerics--though that is changing as a new generation replaces an older one.

Why aren't they better informed? Big Labor has more concrete visibility. The National Right to Work Committee simply cannot match Big Labor for infrastructure; its proponents are everywhere, but not paid full-time tub-thumpers; rather, they are Americans of all walks, all faiths, all political stripes, only some of whom make this their sole, or even top issue. Were the millions of Right to Work members to begin promoting Right to Work to church representatives, the way union operatives have done for years, it might, in time, change. But the Right to Work Committee would be, in my judgment, derelict in trying to make that happen with its limited resources. But it means many in clerical dress are insufficiently informed.

Also, a part of this is ordinary, human fear. Bishops and priests don't welcome (any more than anyone else) conflict with organized groups, or outraged parishioners. This may seem ignoble, but consider: we have plenty of areas where we can take a stand that will draw fire. Some of us avoid drawing any fire; but most of us accept some; we choose our battles. Asking a priest, or anyone, to go out and draw all the fire you can is a lot to ask.

So, I confess, I don't particularly want to receive a visitation from the local "labor council"; I don't welcome inviting their retaliation--not to me, they can do nothing to me--but to the parish, or a cause of which I'm part. Nor do I want to get into an emotional shouting match with a parishioner. I'll do it, when the time seems right. Meanwhile, I have a lot of other things that need to be said from the pulpit, not just this. (And I have talked about this, a couple of times, over the years. Part of the problem is this is just too obscure for most folks. If we ever have a real fight over a Right to Work law in Ohio, check back with me.)

But I am looking forward to discussions on this in "social justice" contexts; and I do what I can in conversations, including here.

The Supreme Issue is 'Privacy'; that attack will come on Race

The Washington Post has an article this weekend predicting a key area of questioning, of Judge John Roberts, will be on "religion."

But if you read the article, it's really about the so-called "privacy" issue, which means abortion and "gay marriage."

So why not just go there? Why talk about religion?

Because the "threat" of too much religion in government gets the opposition another reason to mobilize their side than just "privacy": they know the abortion issue doesn't work all that well for them, and certainly "gay marriage" is a loser.

But what they really want to talk about is Race.

That's the attack to watch for; and it would likely come in the hearings. That's the attack that offers most hope of mobilizing African-Americans and other minorities who don't agree with the Left on "privacy," or on "too much religion," but don't want a "racist" in power.

Roberts for Chief

Is this a good thing? To be honest, I can't decide. Here are my thoughts ...

The arguments for this--to prevent a vacancy in the chief seat, and to avoid a tough fight--do not strike me as very good reasons.

The vacancy, if anything, is a good thing: any decision that founders on a 4-4 split gets punted till the new justice arrives. That the senior justice, John Paul Stevens, gets to be boss for awhile, I don't see as a big deal. I fail to see how it tips anything much, long-term, and the one, slight benefit might be that the passing of his brief "moment in the sun" might hasten his departure.

Meanwhile, a vacancy puts pressure on obstructionists; and the brief Stevens ascendancy can only help mobilize the Right.

Which leads me to the other argument: Bush doesn't want an ugly fight right now, in his weakened state. But that's an argument for why he would need such a fight!

Such a fight would be on familiar ground, over which he has more control, in which he can mobilize allies.

Of course, one consideration is that he might not want to "change the subject" any more than he has: ugly images from the Gulf Coast will continue, but I think the worst is over, and more good news is in the offing.

The apparent success of the constitutional debates in Iraq, with a referendum coming, seem to indicate more good news coming there. As far as the gas problem, I think most grasp that the hurricane itself was not Bush's fault! And, the high prices only bolster his argument for more exploration and refineries. The time is ripe for an offensive there.

As the SCOTUS blog points out, the question of appointing a "moderate" to replace O'Connor is now reopened. So we have that skirmish all over again; where it would have been harder to argue that Bush is obligated to pick a "moderate" to replace Rehnquist. Probably not a big deal, but I'm not sure how much that helps.

Could the White House want to add to the pressure on O'Connor to leave anyway? The longer the fight promises to go on, the more likely she just packs up and goes. And that would be good: an actual vacancy increases, somewhat, the urgency; and her empty seat can certainly do no harm, which is more than I can say for her.

Another consideration. Bush today Bush forewent the "bold stroke" of a first anything but a white male as chief justice.

If he were to name someone like Janice Brown, Edith Jones, Emilio Garza or Alberto Gonzales, to the court, putting them in at the top would seem most advantageous. Insofar as such considerations play a role (and they do), that would seem to hurt Jones' chances the most, since she'd be just another white woman. Since Brown would be about the gutsiest choice, that might advantage an Hispanic choice.

Finally, while I think a good political fight would be to Bush's advantage, it may be this move indicates Bush doesn't foresee the White House being able to handle such a fight--it may be overtaxed.

If that's true, that would suggest Bush is looking for another "safe" choice; maybe OK if he scores another Roberts (assuming Roberts ends up being a good guy--we don't know). On the other hand, sometimes bland, inoffensive nominees are bland and inoffensive for good reason (Souter, Kennedy).

Update: It occurs to me I neglected one, salient reason Bush did what he did: Roberts was/is his first choice for Chief Justice, and this is his opportunity to have him. Sometimes I am too cynical for my own good.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

'Three Cheers for Price Gougers'

Tech Central Station has an excellent article reminding us that economic reality isn't suspended in catastrophes, just because we wish it were so; and trying to do so is no public service. Click on the headline to go to it.

On the other hand, the Evangelical Outpost has a good thread, now pretty lengthy with posts, on the morality of looting, and our response to it. Is it okay to shoot looters? Is it ever okay to loot?

The latter is an easy question: necessity knows no law, as St. Thomas Aquinas said: one who is truly hungry is justified in doing what is necessary to eat. But one should pay if possible, and eschew violence where possible.

And yet, "shoot to kill" orders are justified on the grounds that when police can't arrest someone, what real deterrence can they offer? Warning shots are meaningless without the threat of something more to follow; and "shoot to wound" is hard to modulate.

All so confusing, isn't it? Sometimes moral reasoning is hard!

But I'd unravel it this way. The price-gouging scenario presumes several things: a seller is actually selling; a minimum level of law-and-order, allowing exchange to take place; and that there are choices possible: buy now, or later? pay $X for this desired commodity, or keep the money for something else? The question of stealing necessities comes into play when even these minimums have disappeared.

Ultimately, it comes to this: all goods of earth are provided by God for the benefit of all; if there is scarcity or hardship, all share it, although it is right that the burden be borne to some degree unevenly: a child or an ill person may need food or water more than someone full-grown and healthy. Losses and sacrifice, likewise, should not be borne just by certain unfortunate folks, but we should all share the burden.

Not to condemn, but to save (Sunday homily)

Sometimes, the wake-up call can be pretty rude.

In the first reading Ezekiel says,
“O, wicked ones, you shall surely die!”
That’s pretty rude!
How about if I greet you that way, every Sunday?
That’d solve our parking problems, wouldn’t it?

Why did God send Ezekiel to do that?
Because he’s mean? No: he wants them to escape!

You might think people would listen—
but we know they don’t.

Look at the hurricane:
a lot of people listened; but many others did not,
especially those in leadership,
who were supposed to be the watchmen for others!

I recall one night, in the seminary, I was sound asleep.
All of a sudden, on the door of my room,
Bang! Bang! Bang! “GET UP! WAKE UP!”

It was Eric Bowman, now Father Bowman,
My first reaction was . . .
well, I'd rather not repeat it here!

So I came to door, not too happy!
Erick was just hounding people down the hall.
No discussion. No “please,” no niceties!
Turns out a tornado was on the way.

Should he have been “more pastoral,” more “sensitive”?
No. I’d say, at 4 in the morning, with a tornado,
he got it exactly right.
(And--by the way--the tornado missed us.)

Ezekiel was blunt; my fellow seminarian was blunt;
today’s Gospel is blunt. Sometimes the Church is blunt,
sometimes you and I have to be blunt,
for the same reason: To wake people up.

Today’s Gospel is where
“excommunication” comes from.
First, try to win that person over; but if you can’t,
the Church may say, you can’t receive the Eucharist;
You can’t receive the sacraments, until there’s a change.

Except for the real “hardliners,” no one likes this idea.
But the Gospel is clear: Jesus raised this point.
Bottom line, the purpose is conversion:
not to condemn, but to save.

Now, what’s our responsibility in all this?
Well, you and I are often the ones hearing the warning:
but we also might be the ones sent to warn someone else.

Usually not easy! But back to the hurricane:
How much suffering could have been avoided?

Now, as far as the Church: some of the message is hard;
and the Church’s credibility has taken some hits!
So, saying, that’s Christ speaking; yes, that’s hard.

But let’s acknowledge, the human element,
the flaws in the messenger, is only part of the reason;
The other part is the message itself, which is tough.

But if it were always clear-cut, we wouldn’t call it Faith!

Having said that, it is not blind faith that is asked of us.
Faith is informed by reason.

Let me offer an example. I am sorry it’s controversial,
but it is very timely: the question of what marriage is.

This isn’t something that politicians,
or even voters, decide. And, this may surprise you, but—
we can answer this question apart from
the Bible or what the Church says!

Just look at nature, at universal human experience:
whether you believe in Evolution or Creation,
it’s crystal-clear: a man and a woman.
This is how we’re made; this is what works.

Yes, some people don’t fit this pattern.
Likewise, some people’s eyes don’t see:
does that mean we don’t know what the eye is for?
Of course, we do know; and likewise,
we know that marriage is a man and a woman,
it’s life-long, its exclusive.
This is for the good of children and of society.

So, faith and reason go together.
Not a blind faith; we have help finding the right path.

God gives us the gift of reason, and the gift of faith;
His Voice speaks through his Church,
Sometimes reassuring; but sometimes warning.

And God, in his mercy, gives us,
not just one chance, but many! We can always start over!

But we can take that generosity for granted.

And that’s when the prophet comes and says,
“Wake up! Move! Change! You could die!”

Yes: sometimes the wake-up call can be pretty rude.
But the purpose isn’t to condemn; but to save

Friday, September 02, 2005

Where is God? (today's homily)

I’m sure you’re all thinking about the hurricane
earlier this week.

Maybe you’re asking, Why?
Let’s talk about it.

In that hurricane, so many people died,
so many are suffering…

It didn’t have to be; did you know that?
I don’t mean the storm;
I mean most of the suffering.

Why do I say that?
Well, because there have been hurricanes there, before.
And people went back, and rebuilt their homes.

Already, that’s what many people are saying they’ll do!

Maybe you wouldn’t do that,
Maybe I wouldn’t—
But can you or I really say, they’re wrong?

It may not be worth the risk—to you;
But if it is, to them; are they wrong?
After all, suppose you or I tried to live
Without ever facing any danger, any risk—
What would that be like?

No one would ever be a fire fighter,
And go into a burning building to save someone!

No one would have ever flown an airplane,
Or sailed a ship.

Does that sound like a world you want to live in?
Does that sound like the kind of person you want to be?

And remember what is the biggest risk of all:
The risk of losing someone you care about!
And that happens to every one of us.

Sooner or later, someone we care about, moves away;
Or worse, someone we love, dies.
And that really hurts, doesn’t it?

My father died earlier this year.
But, I was really lucky, because he lived until he was 97!
That’s a long time!
But it still hurts that he’s gone.

So what do we do?
We could say, “Well, people shouldn’t die.”

Okay. But my dad was 97.
His body was getting weaker all the time.
He wanted to be strong and alive again—in heaven!

Well, maybe you’d say,
“People shouldn’t get old.”

Okay: all you 6th graders—
You’ll never be in 7th grade!
You’ll stay where you are, forever!

You’ll never grow up;
Never be on your own,
Never have children, or grandchildren…
Is that what you want?

There’s only one way to avoid the risk:
If you don’t want to lose someone you care about,
You have to not-care in the first place!

Does that sound like a good deal?

Not to me.

The good and the bad—it’s a package deal.

In the Gospel we heard, Jesus talks about a wedding:
A couple gets married, and can have wonderful times;
But there are also rough times.

Sometimes, even, a marriage will break up.
Parents get divorced.
And some of you know what that is like.
Do you wish those bad things didn’t happen?
Of course you do.

But if your parents never came together,
You wouldn’t be here—at all!

It’s not that the bad isn’t bad;
But it’s a package deal.

Now we wonder:
Where’s God in all this?

Where’s God in that hurricane?

Well, he’s right there with people
who are discovering, right now,
that what really matters in life,
isn’t how much stuff you have—
Because all that can disappear in an instant!

God is there in all the people who helping,
Who are sharing what they have.

And God is there in all the people who are saying,
I don’t want to give up! I want to keep going!
God is with them, to give them hope!

Now, let me talk a moment
about the first reading we heard.
Remember what it said?
”Jesus is the image of the invisible God”—
Jesus makes the unseen God, visible to us!

Jesus came to let us know God’s there,
no matter how hard it can be to believe that.

And I want you to notice:
Did Jesus just come for the good times—
Just for the wedding parties?

Jesus came, not only for the good,
He also came to accept the Cross.

Surely you’ve noticed how we have crosses everywhere;
We wear them, we have them in classrooms,
Here in church.
Why do we focus on the cross?

Well, go back to that hurricane.

For those people, down there,
That’s their cross—isn’t it?

They’re suffering; many have died.
That’s a Cross.

And you know what?
If Jesus had never come;
That still would have happened.
They’d still have their cross!

Jesus came, not to say,
You won’t have trouble; you won’t have a cross;

But he did come to say,
You don’t have to face your Cross alone.

And you will find, if you haven’t already,
That it is in those times of trouble,
When we face our cross,
That’s where we get to know Jesus best!

That’s where he comes closest to us.

So, where’s God in all this?
At the Cross: yours, mine, and his.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina, Suffering, Job and God

I think most of us are thinking about the same things: this awful hurricane that struck, down south, the slow, unfolding misery; and perhaps, in all this, we ask why, and where is God?

I think my answers are not any better, really, than anyone elses, but if they help, well of course I should share them.

Tomorrow, I'll have Mass with the fourth- through eighth-graders, and I'm going to tackle this question head-on. I'll post my homily, here, tomorrow; I would do it tonite, except its on the computer in the office, not my laptop, here at home. My Sunday homily also talks about the hurricane, and I'll post it Sunday; sorry, but my dear parishioners get it first!

Over at Amy Wellborn's busy website, there's been some discussion of Job, from Scripture. I think that's an apt contribution, but it calls to mind the wonderful class I had, in the seminary, with Father Tim Schehr, who is a gem of our Archdiocese, not least because he is genuinely humble about his brilliance -- and that is an admirable quality in anyone, certainly in a priest.

I won't -- if only because I can't! -- summarize adequately his course on Job; but I guess I would offer this tidbit (oh, and by the way: members of the public can sign up to take these courses; I don't know what they cost, but if you love Scripture, and have some money in your pocket, pay it to have Fr. Schehr's courses. It will be a feast for mind and soul!).

Anyway, here's the "tidbit": While Job was innocent, it is not quite accurate to say the suffering he endured had no meaning. That, I think, is the most common error made in reading Job: that, in the end, after Job asks, "Why?", its argued that the Almighty's response is, "Don't ask!" I think that is not right; and its problematic because it's so close to being right.

The key is to know who the "satan," in the first two chapters, really is. When translators and editors of Sacred Scripture capitalize that word -- why, we all assume we know who that is! It's the Devil!

But if you lower-case the word, and know it means "adversary" or "accuser," then other options become possible -- especially when you look at the text, closely.

The "satan" comes into the story along with the rest of the Court of Heaven. What is the implacable enemy of God and man doing there? This is especially noteworthy when you consider that the Old Testament, almost always rejects any sort of dualism, and simply focuses on the power and sovereignty of YHWH, the Lord God. Given this very consistent feature of Hebrew Scripture, the idea that the enemy would be there, is very odd indeed; without precedent, really. (Yes, I am thinking, as well, of Genesis.)

Fr. Schehr offered this solution: what if "satan," in this context, is not a proper name, but a more generic title? What if this figure is not the enemy of God and man, but one of God's servants -- whose job is something like a prosecuting attorney: to examine, to probe, and to be (to use a very anachronistic term), a "devil's advocate"?

Then, the reason he does what he does becomes clear: he's not saying Job is sinful; he's not! But rather, Job's approach to God is not founded on the right basis. Job approaches God, out of fear that he may lose what God give him; he offers sacrifices, "just in case" his children sinned, even though there's no evidence they did: he's trying buy God's favor. He worries that if he's not good enough, if he doesn't do everything just right, he will lose grace. Thus, the accuser says: if he loses all his good things, he will go sour.

God says, No -- but then why does YHWH allow the test anyway? Since God is all-knowing, one reason is not, that the "test" will show up the accuser; but rather, that it will bring Job to a new level of faith. I.e., the satan may be right in his insight; maybe Job's foundation isn't well-dug; his faith needs to be disconnected from the good things YHWH has given him.

Thus, the trials of Job are not without meaning or purpose. They serve to secure Job's salvation in the only way it can be: in YHWH himself, and nothing else. And that is why, when YHWH appears to Job, at the end, Job has no further words. He has all he needs, and he falls silent.

As C.S. Lewis said so profoundly: Jesus is the answer before whom all questions die away.