Saturday, June 27, 2015

SCOTUS Reflections after Mass

I am not a fighter. I was taught to fight, but I had to be pushed, and I have fought, out of frustration and anger and ignorance. But I am a lousy fighter. Actually, that's not true. I won my fights, but I have no more understanding of fighting, now, than I ever had before.

I may, now, argue for or defend others, but I do not have it in me to argue with those who are not angry. I do not argue, though perhaps I should. I admire people who argue well. They do a lot of good in this world!

So I do not argue for Christ. That must seem pretty lame, but it's true. I take exception to acts of exclusion and disregard, true, but I can't carry on a discussion. Or maybe that's not true. I think, in some ways, my behavior conducts argument and discussion, but I don;t want to try and explain that right now.

I'm thinking about the SCOTUS decision on marriage being allowed gays, and how lovely it is. A day later, I serve at church and enjoy and admire my priest's "natural law" arguments. Afterwards, I am not conflicted or confused. I do not feel right or wrong. I am simply happy.

Why is this?

My impression is that I have come to think with my heart, and to trust that fact, and my heart knows no conflict. My faith is entire, but my intellect - the scope of my understanding - is limited in certain respects to the here and now. I say to myself, All is God's. All that is good. I recall thinking that some of the so-called "contradictions" of the Bible are there in order to test us in exactly this point, that we should believe rather than merely arrive at faith as through a logical puzzle.

I feel I have been blessed with a strong faith, not merely in points of doctrine, but in the body of Christ as doctrine. I know my life is forever. What happens politically has no more weight, I believe in my heart, than the effect of a falling leaf. Joy today, sorrow tomorrow, and joy yet again. Our personhood is a vessel by which our soul leaves home on a testing journey only to return again, intact or tattered, for mercy's sake.

Therefore, in an important sense - maybe THE important one - I have a choice. I can stand on my pride and celebrate my warm ethical/moral feelings and look down on the statements of my priest or the Church, or, I can be grateful for the peace God has granted me and wish the same for all.

After Mass I found myself uttering a short prayer for our wonderful priest, Father John Boyle. This is right and just, from a Catholic perspective. So, if you are gay, I am happy for you. May you know great joy! But I am no less happy for Father John. I count every moment I spend with him a blessing and in that my heart is sure.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pure Love: a Challenge (or, Exhortation) to Catholics

The Church has its obligations, which I addressed in part in my last blog, and Catholics have theirs, which the Lord makes clear. That we are to pray and gather in prayer. That we commemorate his death and resurrection, as one. That we pray for each other and worship God, the Father.

That we gather and give of our hearts, as one.

Revolution is a fine idea. Perhaps the finest idea of all when we seek universal good. But that good does not stop at the door of the church. A person who leaves the Church for political reasons has, in effect, confessed non-belief, that God does not care for the Church. That the Church, the faith, are abandoned, first by God. That is the underwritten statement in non-attendance.

But I do not believe that people who do not go to Mass believe this. I think people feel the weight of their convictions, moral, intellectual, and religious, and are compelled by the Spirit to live accordingly. When there is conflict a person must ultimately live with themselves. A person who refuses to attend Mass because of the political/moral practices of the Church can, it is true, point fingers, but it would be disingenuous not, at the same time, to admit one's own moral failings.

A person who does not attend Mass has his or her reasons, and those reasons are likely founded in an interior conflict between the moral law of the church, as preached and practiced, and the moral truth that person has come to understand and accept in their heart. And to these people - and we are all these people, at one time or another - I ask a question.

Who put that truth in your heart?

If you have the courage of your convictions, you will live those truths in your life, and as Catholics our lives include in large part the church. You should bring yourself, your prayers, to Church. You should confess your fears and desires unabashedly to the Lord. And you should tell your priest too, while you are at it.

There is no ultimate, controlling reason for fear or mere discontent to allow one to lapse in one's obligations to the church, to the body of Christ. If the Church is obligated to carry the meaning of the Mass - that pure love - to the streets, to all humankind - then we are obligated as well to bring ourselves - the persons God created, formed and compelled by the Spirit - to church.

A lapsed Catholic is a confused Catholic, and a confused Catholic has immediate recourse. Get up next Sunday morning and join us. We are your neighbors, many of whom share your concerns, to be sure! We are always here, even at the point of death.

The Church will not change if the only people who go to Mass are the ones who do NOT object. No, we need everyone. We are Catholic. We are universal. We want it all. We need it all. Life and love, now and forever.

We need your prayers. And we need YOU.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why not Mercy? A Challenge to the Church

We incline to write as we speak, and we speak as we live. We live as others live, in a society composed of many parts. One of those parts is the religious, but when we write about religion from the perspective of our social selves, we lose something, we put something to the side, and the discussion suffers for that loss.

The purpose of religion - any religion, I would say, though I will speak in examples of Roman Catholicism - is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things. It is to live in the knowledge of one's creator, God, who made all things. Religion offers self-knowledge of a form not found in society otherwise. Religion does not rely on outcomes, as our outcome is promised and perfect. Religion does not depend on contingencies, but on the dictates of the conscience and the heart, through faith.

Religion cannot fail and religion does not surprise. It teaches. Everything I know of God is known by billions of others, present now and in time eternal, the past and future. What I experience is known to God but is not mine alone. I am not an exception. I am the rule, but the rule is not mine to claim as my own.

Religion cannot fail anymore than faith can fail, but society fails us constantly. And the social institution of religion fails, time and time again. It does not have to, but it does. Even as religious texts show us examples of intelligent intercourse between the religious and the social/political, our religious institutions fail.

And the reason they fail is lack of faith.

Two incidents from the Gospels come to mind here as background for this discussion. First, from Matthew 22:20-22.

And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away."

This bit of instruction concerns, on the face of it, payment of taxes, but there is no reason to stop there. As always, Jesus is telling us more, with respect to the matter of proportions and assignment of duty. One has an obligation to God and to the state, or to the social/political. One should not treat God like the state, nor the state like God. They are both important. The construction of this passage, where God and Caesar are allowed parallel though divided fealty, is pretty astonishing, and challenging.

Few are the priests or faithful who rush from church into the arms of meaningful contemporary discourse; and fewer (and fewer...and fewer) are the socially engaged who rush to church to worship God. Division is the rule, and division is not the Way. Far from it. Where religious institutions fail is in treating social issues like religious ones. The hypocrisy ascribed to religious institutions (and, by extensions, to their members) is founded on this fundamental misconstruction and misassignment of obligations.

This is a strange inversion of the errors of the Pharisees in Jesus' day, who treated religious issues like social ones. Time and time again, Jesus cautions us, chastising hypocrisy, warning against material rewards, as in this second incident, from Luke 11:37.

“While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you."

Again, Jesus is teaching that the religious and the social are both valid and deserve our balanced respect and attention. The Pharisees neglect the interior, or God, while attending to the exterior, or social - that is, what is Caesar's. Religious institutions founded on the Gospels take due note of the Pharisees' errors and serve God passionately. Their error is a perfect inversion. They view society through the lens of religion - not faith, I believe, as I will demonstrate soon - but religion. They apply religious conventions and reward systems to social matters. They ask that Caesar be more like God, and that society conform its practices to religious ones. The interior of their cup is lovely, but the exterior is a muddled mess.

They do all this, because it is very difficult to serve one master and respect another. Not serve another master, mind - we know that is not possible - but merely respect. But, as Christians, we have no choice, do we, leading us to the third and final passage of scripture I will quote today, from John 13:34-35.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What does this mean? What can it mean, except what it says? When know that God is love, and that love is perfect. It is unconditional. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor 13:7). One cannot simply love God, but one must love others. One must engage, work, and respect socially and religiously.

*****

Returning to definitions, the purpose of religion is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things. God gives us this, and we need only accept it to know ourselves in perfect relation to God and each other. There is no conflict where both the religious and social are approached through faith in God. A person who approaches society with skepticism or in judgmental fashion is one who lacks faith. I would say they run a greater risk than the socially responsible person who is skeptical of religion, simply because religion should know better. A religious institution that fails God and society has no one to blame but itself.

One can believe in God and not go to church. God and church are not the same thing, but faith is perfect in itself. The atheist who decries God has a friend in Job, but the church that neglects or abuses the powerless or marginalized has no friends.

Why do educated persons across all cultures continue to leave the church? Because the church does not love society, it objectifies it, and in doing so it objectifies its individuals and often condemns them. Fearing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, it founded its own hypocrisy instead. If the church loves as it has been commanded to love, if it attended equally to the social and the religious, if it rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar's, no such errors would occur. It would allow that people do what they do, in the social sphere, and it would love them regardless.

  • Are you gay? Fine. I hope you are happy. Don't forget to come to church where we gather together to worship God. Our God, your God. Every one's God.
  • Are you divorced? Sorry to hear it. That must be tough. Say, why don't you come to church. We have a system in place where you can confess your errors and be forgiven. Then you can celebrate God with us and receive communion because, well, not one of us is without error. 
  • Have you had an abortion or are you considering one? That's pretty intense. You should come to church and talk it over with the priest. We want you to know your options. But, if you have the abortion, please come back and ask God's forgiveness. He will give it to you.
  • Do you use birth control? Uh, why are you telling me this? That's really your business, not mine. See you at church.

If the purpose of religion is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things, then the purpose of a church is to grant to any and all God's children a sanctuary where they can practice this truth. The church should be the one place where this opportunity is guaranteed, for all persons, regardless who they are. That is where the church's obligation to society begins and where it ends. Mercy in the pews, mercy in the streets.

Why not. Why not love. First, last, and foremost. Why not.

In order to be perfect faith must encompass both the social and the religious, equally, giving unto God and Caesar alike what is theirs. Loving God and each other as we love ourselves. We must bears all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Where society transfixed itself in quarrelsome debates, we should shine forth in perfect faith - understanding, caring, loving. The church should not take sides in any social debate, except to proclaim mercy for all.

Mine is not a personal aspiration. I do not own it, but I share it. I share what is not mine but what belongs to all. I share it because it is already not mine, it is already the property and the right of all. Even more perfectly than the guarantee of liberty and social equality, that imperfect form, I share mercy, from God. The church has the exact same obligations as I do, in the same proportion, and I challenge it to fulfill those obligations.

Amen.

Next, I will issue a challenge to Catholics, specifically, those who avoid the Church. 'til then!