A few nights ago I was praying Evening Prayer and the antiphon for the Magnificat was this:
I think that I say this every single year, but one of the things I love about being Catholic is the liturgical year, and the fact that not only is Easter an entire season (not just one Sunday), but that Easter Sunday itself is repeated for eight consecutive days. Today is the second day in the octave of Easter, and it is liturgically still Easter Sunday. Today is Easter. Physically it is Monday, but spiritually it is Sunday. It is amazing!
Hope: one of the three theological virtues. As Christians we have hope in many things, our primary hope being the promise of Christ that through the perseverance of our faith and cooperation with God’s grace, heaven will be our eternal inheritance. Unfolding under this hope, is the hope that God, in his goodness, will place within our lives the graces necessary to reach that end. Of those graces, one that we might not consider very much, is the grace of being admonished by our fellow Christians. To be admonished when we lose our way so that we are brought back onto the path of God’s divine wisdom, is a grace for which we should pray. Over the past few weeks, this is a grace I have been reflecting on in my life, pondering whether those in my life would take up the responsibility to admonish me were my soul to find itself in graveobstinate danger.
There is an ongoing situation in my family which has weighed heavily on me for quite some time. To summarize as discretely as possible (only a handful of my closest confidants and family are even aware of the more specific details): I have a very close non-Catholic, but Christian, family member who has chosen to become romantically involved with a Catholic. The Catholic is divorced, but has chosen not to go through the annulment process, and is therefore presumed to be validly married to their still-living spouse. For this individual to enter into a new relationship without the Church investigating to determine whether a marital bond actually exists between them and their spouse, is to violate the vows of that marriage. On this topic the Church is unambiguously clear. The goal of this relationship appears to ultimately be marriage between my family member and the Catholic. As you can see, this poses a moral dilemma since one party is currently married.
Because of the love I have for this close family member of mine, and quite frankly, for my fellow Catholic, I have done everything I can lovingly do to persuade my family member to encourage their significant other to initiate the annulment process or to break off the relationship, so as to not to take part in the violation of another’s marriage bond. I have done this because I take the words of St. James seriously:
My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Through personal conversations, Scripture, and Catholic media I have appealed to the sacredness of marriage and our duty as Christians to respect that sacredness. When that appeared to have no effect, I utilized social media to share benign information that is of general interest to the public, but also pertinent to this situation in the great hope that should they see these things their heart might be softened.One thing I shared, for example, was paragraph 1649 from the Catechism which outlines the duties of married couples who have not had their marriage bond annulled to remain single or be reconciled per 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Anyone can plainly see that this particular passage from the Catechism is quite non-judgmental, sensitive, and altogether merciful and hopeful. This is my position on this situation. My words and intentions have never come from a place of judgment, hate, or ill-will.
And yet, my family, particularly Catholics within my family, have not been happy that I have expressed my concerns. I have been met with accusations of “casting stones,” of “trying to take the speck out of my brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in mine,” of “setting up stumbling blocks,” of “judging” and “personally interpreting Church teaching incorrectly.” I have been quite tactlessly told to accept this situation and get over it. I can understand these things coming from those unfamiliar with Catholicism, but to hear these things from Catholics has been a huge blow to me. To hear trite secular slogans like “so-and-so deserves to be happy,” and “how could you condemn so-and-so to be alone for the rest of their life” used to shame me for the Faith we share has been a stunning shock to me. This response seems so foreign to the Gospels, the New Testament, and the life of the Church, that has been difficult to make sense of it over the last few weeks. But more than my difficulty in making sense of the anger that I have received, this response is striking a deep chord in my own ongoing battle to live for Christ.
For long time readers, you know that I struggle with same-sex attraction. When I came out to the world a little more than three years ago, I was humbled and blessed at the immense support I received, from friends, family, and strangers who knew me not. I simply could not believe how much support I had. But one question I never asked myself was: in what way do all these people support me? Do they actually believe I am doing the right thing by attempting to live the Church’s teachings? Or do they simply support me for choosing one of many different paths, perhaps selecting the one that seemed right for me at that particular time in my life? More importantly, if I were to ever find myself going down the wrong path, maybe choosing to marry a man and live a semi-domesticated life with him, would they support that choice or admonish me and try to convince me to return to God? I guess I had always hoped and assumed that at the very least, the Christians around me would do what they could to bring a lost brother home.
But now I am unsure whether they would admonish me. They may, according to the example they have shown, consider my earthly happiness a higher virtue than holiness. They may encourage me deeper into sin, and possibly even celebrating that journey. The people I have believed that I could count on to lead me back if I went astray, may not actually help me. The family I had hoped would help me carry my cross when it was at its heaviest just might be the first ones to let it crush me to death. And what’s even scarier for me is that their example has shown me that they are unafraid to bully, harass, or shame someone who wants to bring me back to the right path.
This realization has left a heavy burden on my heart. This situation has helped me see that in my moments of weakness I cannot blindly assume I can rely on family. This startling epiphany has brought me to tears. But I cannot lose hope. My opponent the devil is stalking me like a lion, waiting to devour me (1 Peter 5:8-9/Genesis 4:7) , and I do not have time to focus on what is not. I must pray more fervently than ever for God to place people in my life who will support and admonish me in my times of need, who will encourage me to strive for the greatness I was made for, and the holiness for which I am destined. This is one of the reasons that I have decided to get involved with Courage, something I should have done years ago. When God closes one door, he opens another.
But I am still a part of my family, and I pray for a peaceful resolution to all of these problems: the anger, the frustration, and doing the right thing. I do not desire that we should be separated now or in eternity, and that is why I will continue to not be ashamed of the Gospel that saves (Romans 1:16), and will not fear to encourage my family to strive for holiness. The situation is tense right now, and perhaps by expressing my newly discovered fears here, the situation is going to be more tense. But love covers a multitude of sins, and the prayer of a righteous man is effective, which is why I ask all you readers to pray for me and my family. I’ve included a prayer for you offer alongside me:
Prayer to St. Joseph in a difficult problem
O glorious St. Joseph, thou who hast power to render possible even things which are considered impossible, come to our aid in our present trouble and distress. Take this important and difficult affair under thy particular protection, that it may end happily. (Name your request here)
O dear St. Joseph, all our confidence is in thee. Let it not be said that we would invoke thee in vain; and since thou art so powerful with Jesus and Mary, show that thy goodness equals thy power. Amen.
St. Joseph, friend of the Sacred Heart, pray for us.
So this question on healthcare and social justice has had me thinking all day, so I pulled my out my Sources of Catholic Dogmas book. It appears to me that two encyclicals may help me to further understand and contemplate these topics, and thus, will be of great value to me.
Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII (1891) and Quadragessimo Anno by Pope Pius XI (1931). If anyone is interested in reading along and discussing these, sound off in the comments. It may turn out to be some good Lenten reading.
Last week I responded to a post on Mackerel Snapper regarding the idea that healthcare is a right and is fundamental to the pro-life movement, that without, essentially turns pro-lifers into pro-birthers. My response was this:
Here is the problem with this. This implies that people have a right to healthcare at someone else’s expense. The cold hard truth is that some things are incredibly expensive to get care for due to a number of factors including specific skill sets, development of technology, etc. If I have an absolute right to those things no matter my ability to pay it means that someone somewhere has no right whatsoever to freely determine what they will do with their own productive property (capital, time, talent, etc.) I can perhaps say no, but someone down the line MUST say yes if someone has an absolute right regardless of their ability to compensate the person or people serving them. This is really the same line of thinking that others use to force others to violate their consciences. It is a mentality that I’m owed a certain quality of life and someone else must give it to me no matter what.
There is an explicit moral obligation to not kill others. However, there is not an explicit moral obligation in Scripture, or otherwise, that healthcare coverage is a universal right. We certainly have an obligation as followers of Christ to do what we can to help others and to comfort the afflicted as we are able but that is a far cry from absolute universal healthcare coverage.
Surprisingly, my comment became the center of a follow-up post, entitled, Missing the Point of Catholic Social Justice. I was both surprised and flattered that someone had actually taken the time to read my thoughts, and then respond.
Every time I write something concerning Catholic Social Justice, I am always met with rebuttals that, for lack of better phrasing, super duper miss the point…Yet, in response, a reader posted this all-too-common spiel. [insert my comment from above].
I will admit that, regarding application, the reader presents legitimate concerns. But that’s all they are: concerns. They are factors. They don’t do anything to change the original premise.
So many of us hold the belief that justice is somehow relative to our own personal situation. But it’s not. Justice is objective. It is static. It doesn’t care about material obstacles. It doesn’t care whether *we* think it’s fair or not. And it certainly has no problem demanding sacrifice.
It’s a great response, but Mackerel Snapper, I believe, also misses the point of Catholic social justice, and I think that there are several blind spots in a statement that flat-out says “healthcare is a right” and stops it right there.
The first problem is that, despite the staticity and objectivity relating to justice, the application of the principle are highly subjective, and always will be. While justice might not care about material obstacles, we live in a material world, and any application of justice must take those material obstacles into account, and very well may be hindered due to material limitations. To pretend that they don’t exist, and that justice demands that we meet its standards regardless of the material obstacles that exist is to not live within reality. There, is of course, the fact, too, that medicine is not itself a static field, and is always evolving, and does not evolve across the globe at the same speed. What is possible for one person in a particular place and time is not possible for a second person at a different place or time. So to say that a person is entitled to healthcare is in itself subjective and warrants further discussion due to the inherent disparity that exists in a non-static universe.
The second problem is related to the first, and it comes from the very subjective nature of defining what is healthcare, and which parts fall under the category of that fundamental right? Are life-saving and quality-of-life procedures the same? Are all quality-life-procedures in themselves equal? Are a blood transfusion and dental braces the same? Is the providing of toothpaste and dental floss a fundamental right under this broad right to healthcare?
These may seem like ludicrous examples, but they highlight the necessity of having a legitimate discussion, rather than making broad statements. If only, though, these were the only issues.
There is of course, the concern of personal freedom. Unlike the rights to speech or self-defense, or worship, which don’t require the participation of anyone else, the right to healthcare, does. It requires that others serve you, and if it is a fundamental human right, it stands to reason, that humanity has an obligation to provide enough doctors and physicians in order to provide healthcare to all of our brothers and sisters. So what if, there is a shortage of doctors, or a workload that is so heavy that patients do not truly get the adequate care and attention that they need? In order to meet this human right, people must be drafted into the workforce, regardless of whether they want to become doctors or not. “Oh come on!” you say. “You’re being absolutely ridiculous.” No, I’m not. If healthcare is an absolute right, then, as Mackerel contends, no material obstacle should stand in the way. If someone has the brain power to become a doctor, they have an obligation to justice, even if that is not what they want to do with their lives. Don’t think that there has never been a state that did not allow its subjects the freedom to choose a profession they enjoy, or that such a state doesn’t currently exist in the world today, and will not at some point exist in the future.
Mackerel finishes with a quote from Pope Paul VI from Populorum Progressio:
In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.”
Contrary to what the original post implies, this is not a statement of some static right to healthcare, and neither is what the Catechism has to say on the topic:
Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.
Rather than stating that health care is a right, it simply states that society must help in the attainment of health care. When I read that it conjunction with Pope Paul VI, it would seem to me that the issue does not come down to a static demand of justice, but rather, a conversation within society about how to balance personal rights and responsibilities of all of its citizens towards each other, and to determine what the minimum living conditions are for its citizens in its unique place and time in human history.
I am not anti-healthcare, or anti-justice, but the issue is, like most things Catholic, far more nuanced than Mackerel Snapper seems to express.
Oh Lent, that wonderful time of the year. If you’ve heard of Lent, but aren’t quite sure what it is, Lent is a very ancient Christian custom. It is a penitential season, meaning we do penance, meaning we make sacrifices, to loosen our slavery to the flesh and the world and rely more deeply on God. It is a season of sanctification, a time of year that we double down on our cooperation with God’s grace to become the men and women we were intended to be from the beginning.
There are moments in our own lives when we are too blind to see the harm we are causing ourselves, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually. We want what we want, believing it will make us happy, believing that instead of harming us, it will fix us, strengthen us, complete us. I have been there so many times. I always seem to be on the edge of it. Willing to make any excuse as to why it is better for me to choose an easy wrong, than the difficult good that God asks of me.
Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction. And that is not because I’m SSA and Catholic. But rather it’s because in general I consider myself (and I think that friends and family would agree) to be a pessimist, a realist, someone who, while a believer, has the type of personality that would find it difficult to believe in the miraculous, the divine. I’m the type of person that who would be quick to doubt if I met someone who had had visions like St. Faustina. In a way, I am very much like Agent Scully from The X-Files. But at the same time, I can easily, at times, believe that God speaks to me, even in the most subtle of ways. Take today for example.
As usual, my alarm went off at six o’clock this morning. I know, I am too lazy to adjust my alarm times for the weekends. So I just kept hitting snooze for about half an hour until I shut it off, not wanting to continue that game for another hour, which is when I actually wanted to wake up. So I fell back to sleep, and had one of those dreams that is just all over the place. Maybe you know what I mean if you’ve ever woken up briefly, and promptly fallen back asleep for a short period of time. Now there were several interesting aspects to my dream, but only one has to do with this topic: my mother was in this dream.
Now, it’s not unusual for my mom to be in one of my dreams. But her behavior in this dream was not usual. Now, ignoring the uneasy and erratic dreams I had in the months following her death, her behavior in my dreams is usually pretty consistent, and a lot of the dynamics that I had with her in life are present. I’m snarky to her, and she is snarky to me. That’s the gist of it. But this morning, it was very different. She didn’t say or do much of anything. In fact, I don’t think she said a single word. She was merely present. Her attitude and demeanor was not usual. It was a kind of happy sadness. I don’t know if there is a word for that or any other way to describe it better, but that’s what it was.
When I woke up again about 45 minutes later, I just knew that I was supposed to pray for her, that I needed to offer up Mass for her as my intention. I can’t explain it. While it wasn’t an apparition or a vision as many Saints have described in relating visitors from Purgatory, and it wasn’t a direct spoken message from God, I had no doubt that it was a message from God. So I got up, did my morning thing, and went to Mass. I did the best with what I have to be intentional, and to participate in the Mass. I sang, I tried to focus on the readings, and I tried to absorb and learn from Fr. Johnson’s homily about complaining (certainly felt like he was talking directly to me). And when it was time for the offering, I simply asked God to give my mother the mercy and grace she needs. I tried to put myself on Calvary during the consecration, and receive Holy Communion worthily, but I must admit that my mind did begin to wander. Once I realized that my mind was now on some random political subject, I became disappointed in myself. I had failed to really pray for her, my mom.
And then: On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross…the emblem of suff’ring and shame…
Many people will tell you that my mom’s favorite hymn was either In the Garden or Bringing in the Sheaves. If you’re Catholic you may never have heard of either of these hymns. But I know that my mom really really liked The Old Rugged Cross. And so when that was the post-Communion song that they chose for Mass this morning, a song, that I have only ever heard one other time in a Catholic Mass, it was all the confirmation I needed that indeed my dream was not some coincident, and that my petitions for my mother had not been of no effect, but that they were being heard.
I do believe that God speaks to his children, and that he can speak to us in many different ways. Some he speaks audibly and visually. To others he sends his mother, or a saint or angel. And to others he speaks subtly in dreams or music, or events he coordinates in our lives. But we must be sensitive and open to these promptings. Make that your goal today, to ask God to speak to you and to receive the grace to hear his voice.
One of the first major issues that the catholic church had to address in post-apostolic times was various forms of gnosticism. Gnostic beliefs can be simplified, and perhaps oversimplified, into a system that views the material world to be flawed to such a degree that some might consider it to be bad or even evil in the sight of a spiritual and good God. Flowing out of this belief there arose various challenges to crucial Christian beliefs, particularly the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus. To some degree or another, one or both of, these beliefs were denied to be true by gnostics. The flesh was bad, and God, who is the utmost example of perfection and reality, would not descend to become flesh, and he certainly would not have remained in the flesh at his glorious resurrection from the dead.
This weekend we heard, during the Gospel, the Beatitudes. Last Lent I read Pope Benedict XVI’s incredible trilogy Jesus of Nazareth where he delves into the significance of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the doorway to God; by living the Beatitudes, we see the internal life of Christ. The Beatitudes are the spiritual biography of Christ, to read them is to read the heart of Jesus. It follows, then, that if we are to become like Christ, we need to pay particular attention to the Beatitudes.
Let’s look at the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Have you ever looked at this one and wondered what exactly it means to be poor in spirit? Is it to be depressed? To be sad? To exhibit melancholy? Nothing of the sort. I have it on good authority that a better translation of this first Beatitude from the Greek is “how fortunate are those who fight for the very breaths of their lives.” I imagine a man who is drowning, fighting, struggling to stay afloat, choking on the water, trying so hard to breathe and not to succumb to the grips of death that crash over him and pull him under. He is blessed if he fights it, if he does everything that he can, even though he holds on by a thread, to save his own life.
So it is in the spiritual life. We are blessed if we understand what is killing our souls and we fight against it in order to hold onto to eternal life. We all know which commands of God we break. We all know which situations in our lives that threaten to consume us and suffocate our love for God. We all know that situation that we don’t want to let go of, the situation that we desperately hold on to because it brings us comfort, even if it takes us far from God. I certainly know what it is in my life, and if you don’t actually know what it is in your life, take some time to examine your life closely.
Christ tells us that it is in this place that we are most blessed. It is here where we have the opportunity to fight for the very breath of our lives. Here is where we are given the chance to meet God by fighting to remain with him, fighting to carry a cross, rather than give into destructive behavior, whether that destruction is exterior or interiorly invisible. This is what is meant by being poor in spirit. It is a place of a desperation of sorts, but a desperation totally illuminated by faith and hope. It is a place where we don’t despair, but desperately cling to the goodness of God in complete and utter trust. And our reward? The Kingdom of Heaven. Every meaning and manifestation of that term becomes our possession, both now and in the future.
The call? To acknowledge that place in our soul and to get rid of our excuses for hanging on to it, and to fight its chokehold on our lives, whether that hold is subtle or ridiculously apparent. Fight it every day, and fight to remain close to Christ. You will not only remain close to him, but enter into his interior life in a deeply intimate way.