What do you trust? A question of where to place our faith

Readings for Today

This weekend’s homilies were given at Our Lady of Lourdes, Saint Louis, MO, at the 5pm Mass on June 9, 2016, and at the 9 and 11am Masses on June 10, 2016.

In what do you trust? Science? Wealth? Politics? Only yourself? Or is it that you do the will of God and seek primary relationship with Jesus? This weekend’s readings challenge us to seek to do the will of God, to place primary trust in Jesus, and to live as he wishes. It it not to suggest that science is bad, for I want my doctor to know good science.  It is not that wonderful things cannot be done with someone who is generous with their wealth. It is not that people should not work to make political change.  But if we are seeking peace and fulfillment, happiness and salvation, it is first found when we follow Jesus. Only then do we find the peace that surpasses understanding.

Some thoughts on the election

This was probably one of the most brutal elections many people remember.  Often it seemed to be characterized by anger, and a constant demonizing of the other.  It was not pretty.  Many simply hoped that it would come to an end.  In one way, it has.  The election occurred and Donald Trump is the president-elect.  But in a completely different way, the election exposed deep and ugly chasms between the way we see and think about each other.  For some, it is not so much that racism was exposed, for example, but rather that it was more extensive than previously believed.

And so what is to be done, now that the election is over?  What is it that we are supposed to make of the current state of the country?  Because the results of the election also demonstrated just how complex everything is.  There were people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 who voted for Trump this time around.  If conversations around Facebook and other places are any indication, there were many instances of anger and painful insults.

It does seem that what is not understood is how is it possible that someone could have voted for the candidate running against the person we support.  And often without understanding all of the reasons we mimicked the vocabulary that was used.  People were ignorant, stupid, “lib-tards” and racists.  A criticism of one candidate often let to the assumption the other was supported.  But the bottom line is that perhaps the chasm between us in this country has never been greater.

Pope Francis addressed this when he identified the illness and disease of the day.  “I believe the greatest illness of today is cardiac sclerosis,” he said.  In other words, the hearts of people have simply become too hardened to see or hear the word of God in their lives.  Is it that this election exposed this cardiac sclerosis present in each one of us?

It is so easy to see the shortcomings of others.  But what the political process revealed is that too many of us simply cannot see the face of Christ in others.  We ignore the face of Christ in the unborn child whose dignity and rights become less important than that of the mother who chooses to abort her child.  We ignore the face of Christ when we label entire groups of people as rapists, criminals or murderers, with not understanding of the reality of people seeking a better life.  We classify people of one faith as terrorists, because a small number of their membership does really awful things.  We fear accepting refugees fleeing the very terrorists we ourselves are afraid of seeing.

How many undocumented immigrants have we gotten to know?  How many Muslims have we actually met?  How often have we listened to the pain women who have had an abortion feel after it is over?  How many refugees have we come to meet to hear their story and learn their plight?  Is it that we admire Pope Francis, that we like the idea of Pope Francis, but not enough to imitate Pope Francis in his commitment to serving the poor?

If nothing else, this election asks the prodding, prophetic question about whether or not we believe Jesus said what he meant in Matthew 25, when he told us he was the unborn child, the immigrant, the refugee, the one in prison, the hungry, the homeless, indeed the person in need?  Do we serve Jesus by serving these people, or do we ignore them?

It seems important to understand that we need to seek and find the dignity of Christ in all people.  We need to be open to listen and hear people with whom we profoundly disagree.  We need to find again the compromises that do not dismiss other people’s opinions and beliefs, but to hear them, and by doing so allowing our hardened heart to become softened.  While listening to others may not cause us to agree with them, at the very least maybe it will help us in growing in our own understanding of an issue.  Providing a variation of the inisight of love from Saint John, is it possible for us to hear the voice of God if we cannot hear the voice of each other?

Homily for Sunday, June 8, 2014 (Pentecost)

Vigil Mass Readings for Today

Mass Readings During the Day

Perhaps during the civil war we were as polarized as today, but there does not seem to be another time where the country was so divided by political party.  It absolutely seems we are in a time where if the Democrats say one thing, the Republicans will say the opposite.  And, if the Republicans will say one thing, the Democrats will say the opposite.  In fact, mention certain individuals, like Barach Obama, or George W. Bush, or Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi, and there will be an almost immediate reaction of one sort or the other on the part of the persons who hear these names.

Continue reading

When is a Chicken Sandwich More than a Chicken Sandwich?

Let me say at the outset that I have never been to a Chick-Fil-A.  And, let me say at the outset that I am convinced we need fewer fast food restaurants, not more.  (Especially because I find myself eating at them far too often.)  And, let me say at the outset that I do not share a Christian fundamentalist world view.  And, let me also say at the outset I can understand the perceptions of many people who hold a variety of opinions on  contentious  issues that cause tremendous divide in our country and elsewhere.  It is far from settled, and like so many things we witness in American politics these days, there are strong numbers of people on both sides of this debate, which means a political solution is not likely any time soon.  There will continue to be states that approve gay marriage and civil unions, and there will continue to be states that enshrine in their constitutions and law the view that marriage is limited as a legal contract between a man and a woman.

It is also easy to see why certain issues raise the anger of people.  Concerning the issue of gay marriage, there are those who see the prohibition of gay marriage in terms of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s in particular, and hold these beliefs quite strongly.  There are others who believe the Bible, or the Koran, or their own philosophy about marriage limits its definition to a relationship between a man and a woman.

The question the Chick-Fil-A decision raises concern more than the beliefs of a CEO about gay marriage.  It seems that more fundamentally this issue, and the question of the Health and Human Services mandate about contraception coverage in the new health care law, is a question about the role of religious beliefs in the public square.

A little history is important here.  Consider the following quote below from the Library of Congress website.

Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.” Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create “a city on a hill” or a “holy experiment,” whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves “militant Protestants” and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.

Important then, to the people who settled here, was a protection of beliefs, a protection of people to hold certain beliefs without fear of reprisal from the government.  Put a different way, the role of many protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is not to protect the government from the individual, but to protect the individual from the government.  Because the experience of the early colonists was to escape persecution, it was important to them that minority views and positions be protected from government power.  While I cannot speak for other states, in Vermont the concern about freedom of speech was so strong that legislators were immune from any action for words they spoke in the legislature.  (Article 14 of the Vermont Constitution:  The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in the Legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever.)

Of course, putting this in writing and acting upon it are two different things.  It is clear the colonists were not always tolerant of other positions.  But, the fundamental protections sought by holders of minority opinions enjoy a long history of being upheld in the United States.  In fact, significant protection is afforded religious institutions, and individuals who belong to them, the freedom to practice their faith.  The courts have protected this right time and again.  Whether it is the right of students in a public school to protest by wearing armbands, the right of parents to choose a Catholic school for their children, or the right of members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at funerals, the fundamental right is clear.

One could make the case this was accepted until such time that the United States became a country of greater diversity.  When the population was a essential Judeo-Christian, the question of religion was easier to understand.  As people of other traditions and faiths, such as Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews arrived in the United States, they forced the question of religious and political tolerance.  With the arrival of the Enlightenment, and the increased acceptance of reason alone to answer questions once left to religion, there were also those who accepted no religion at all.

But a case could be made that in an age where diversity is encouraged, it is a limited diversity.  The portrayal of people of faith is always the extreme.  Radical Muslims, Christian fundamentalists, or religious terrorists are often the way people of faith are portrayed.  I remember talking to the US Bishops Spokeswoman on Pro-Life issues a number of years ago, when Eric Rudolph blew up abortion clinics.  She was scheduled to appear on national network news programs, in particular to stress the Catholic Church, while opposed to abortion, did not support violence against clinics, or the individuals who worked there, or sought services there.  However, before she was to appear, more than one network cancelled her appearance because they had found a fringe Christian who supported the bombings.

At the heart of the debate, I believe, are fears on both sides.  People of faith, are becoming more and more concerned about the prevalence of the view that religion is only a private matter, and that expression of Christian beliefs is only appropriate if they are kept to oneself.  This is not simply the question about the views of the CEO of a fast food company.  It is the view that certain religious beliefs, if held, exclude a business from locating in a particular area.  For those who decry the beliefs of the CEO and argue the appropriateness of statements by certain political leaders that limit its location in certain areas of the country, this is a logical extension of a belief, as they see it, that opposing gay marriage is standing against bigotry and is then to be challenged.  They are quick to point out the issue is no different than the opposition to interracial marriage.

But those politicians who are speaking out against Chick-Fil-A on the basis of the beliefs of the CEO, and are stating they will use the government to prevent the location of Chick-Fil-A in certain areas, tread a very dangerous path.  It is not that much different than the dangerous path tread by the supporters of Arizona’s immigration law, who believe the way a person looks is grounds to stop and ask for documentation.  That rather than “innocent until proven guilty” there is an increasing belief that one must now prove their innocence.

The support of free speech cannot be selective.  I cannot support free speech only in instances when I agree with the speech being expressed.  Unless there is evidence that Chick-Fil-A broke the law, then the views of the CEO, whether supported or reviled, cannot be the grounds to keep a business from locating in a particular area.  I suspect the reason that some politicians backed off from their original statements was because their legal counsel warned them about first amendment issues.

The point seems to be that we are not comfortable that we cannot force those to accept beliefs that appear so clear to us.  To that end, people on both sides of this issue (and others divisive issues) are angered as much by the lack of control over another’s beliefs as they are about the specifics of an issue.  A reasonable argument could be made the decline of religious practice in areas like Europe (and North America) has as much to do with the unhealthy combination of religious and secular power as it does with specific beliefs and dogma.  But those who seek to be “thought police” run the same risk.

The frustration of this inability to control is evident in just about every single issue of importance.  This evidence of this is everywhere.  There are “good PACS” and bad PACS.  There are people who donate large sums of money to causes that are good and those who are bad.  But for the person of very strong beliefs, the irony is that those on the far right and the far left, the liberal and the conservative, are often persons who have the same personality, one that finds it hard to admit there is grey in the world, and that not all things are black and white.  This is true not only of those who hold traditional beliefs, but also of those who argue against traditional religious beliefs.  The fundamental issue is not a belief, but is becoming increasingly a question of winning and losing.

It is hard to know how many people who stood in lines at Chick-Fil-A did so based upon religious conviction, and those who did so based upon the overreach of government concerning the first amendment, and those who did so simply because they were curious.  It will be equally hard to know if the people who attend the Chick-Fil-A Kiss-In, are there based on conviction, a belief that certain ideas are simply too dangerous to hold, or they are simply curious.  Individuals are right to debate (even very passionately) about controversial topics.  But the right to hold beliefs should be held sacred, and great care needs to be taken to protect the right of people to hold them.  (A word that is not used lightly.)

So, if the issue is control, perhaps the real discomfort is that we will not find consensus on most issues as long as people on both sides of any question are adamant their view must prevail.  The messy part of democracy is that there are issues I support that will become law and there are issues I do not support that will become law, and vice-versa.  But what the founders recognized as essential, the ability of citizens to practice religion or not, must remain sacred.

Civil Discourse

In a recent Internet post, Scientific American posed an interesting question. “Why is everyone on the Internet so angry?” It is an interesting question, and I only need a brief examination of my Facebook page to recognize that there is some truth in what they say. A recent NPR story, indicates that while most of us think we are objective in our search for information, almost all of us tend to focus on that information with which we already agree.  Recent opinion polls indicate that when it comes to ascribing blame for the current polarization in Washington, both sides tend to blame the other.

So what are we to make of this current situation in discussing issues of significance in our day? It is true that the Scientific American article points out the complications the Internet presents engaging in dialogue.  “Communication, the scholars say, is really about taking someone else’s perspective, understanding it, and responding. “Tone of voice and gesture can have a large influence on your ability to understand what someone is saying,” Markman said. “The further away from face-to-face, real-time dialogue you get, the harder it is to communicate.”

In the instant nature of Internet dialogue, or perhaps the instant nature of Internet diatribe, the ability to remain anonymous when making comments, the ability to react immediately to one side of an opinion, and the belief that one side or the other presents the objective truth while the other has a bias, are challenging realities to the nature of objective discourse.  While it is true that there have always been heated arguments in the course of human history, the absolute pervasiveness of information available on the Internet, and the seemingly unlimited ability to comment on this content immediately, have created a challenging circumstance.

Too often in commentary today, things are presented as an “either-or”. There simply is too much black and white thinking on both sides of most issues. For example, there are those who decry the Supreme Court’s ruling on citizens United, which gave person status to corporations. But these same voices defended issue oriented ads purchased by nonprofit organizations and unions. It seems both sides would be better served with eliminating the ability to contribute anonymously to any organization. But the ability to stand up and confront people who make their views known is an important component of honest dialogue.

For all those who claim that news can be objective, the evidence suggests otherwise. Fox News, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, and a whole host of Internet news sites begin from a basic editorial bias. Such is human nature.  It could be argued that any reporting of the news, is the reporting of the news as seen by a particular individual, with a particular understanding, with a particular bias, with a particular set of experiences and opinions that make it difficult for any of us to say with absolute certainty that what we witness is in fact objective truth.

This is not to suggest that objective truth is not real.  It is to suggest however, that when suggesting something is objective, it is perhaps best done in the method of an ancient medieval scholar. The method of St. Thomas Aquinas was in fact to consider the most persuasive arguments on a variety of topics that were available in his day, both those with which he agreed and those with which he disagreed. His method of “getting at the truth” often involved considering the strongest evidence from both sides of the equation. Were Aquinas alive today, I suspect that he would be encouraging these same types of real debates, rather than the thirty second soundbites where people usually simply argue with one another at the same time, or political debates where the answer is prepared before the question is asked.

Such is the hope of what is written here. Namely, reasonable, intelligent, dialogue, using a variety of sources to raise important questions of our day.  Of course, not everything discussed here will be deep, profound, or life-changing. Some things that are discussed here will be frivolous, quirky, and really won’t change much of anything. Perhaps this site will only serve a need to share ideas, to place out in cyberspace, one more silly attempt, to search for truth and meaning. And after all, isn’t that the challenge of mature human life?

“Working out solutions to the kinds of hard problems that tend to garner the most comments online requires lengthy discussion and compromise. “The back-and-forth negotiation that goes on in having a conversation with someone you don’t agree with is a skill,” (Art) Markman (professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin) said. And this skill is languishing, both among members of the public and our leaders.”

So, as I tell my students, when they write something in cyberspace, they are best served to remember the person that reads it is in fact, a real person.  Would that we all could remember this.  Let’s hope this is the start of something new.