Sunday, December 18, 2016

Purpose and the Self: a Turn toward Home

You can track your life and chronologize it. Where you went to school, where you worked and for how long. When you married and whom. The names of your children. What you gained and what was lost. You can make a chart of all that and, in certain respects, it can be taken to summarize a life.

For a closer perspective, you might define your life in terms of purpose. The causes one supported, one's politics. What you believed in, when and where, and what you did and why. Written biographies swirl with recitations of chronologies and statements of purpose, all amounting to a declaration of a person's decision-making and worldly effect at a particular place and in a particular time. Even so, you might be inclined to ask yourself, Who am I, really? In the end, am I really my voting record? Am I the fact of being in favor of this or that legislation? If my opinion is held to be valid, in this place and time by this or that set of persons, am I defined or justified in my existence? Am I merely my tastes, my habits, my accomplishments and connections?

For a young person, being right - politically, culturally - is a great accomplishment. It means that you have figured out how to live in your society with a measurable degree of success. It provides not only solace but is encouraging, energizing, serving to reward the hard work of thought and action. The question of standards or perspective (context) enters into the picture in a meaningful way when one discovers a flaw in oneself or the grounds of the moral text one has inhabited. This is why a life lived in society, for society, is almost bound to offer episodes of success followed by disappointment. The ground is always shifting. The standards are flexible, from place to place, from time to time. Exigency is bound, after a time, to produce short gains in decision-making. And one comes to understand that one's life amounts to something more than policy. Still, we must shrug off disappointment and continue on, for there are things to do. Tests to take, careers to form. People to help, art to make. A house to pay for, children to raise.

You probably think I am leading this conversation toward a discussion of God in one's life, but I am not. I am leading it back toward you.

What then is the purpose of life? What is all our effort aimed at? The purpose, the meaning, the point of life surely runs deeply in ourselves and it can be characterized in many ways, being so profound that it must allow varying forms of language and thought. For the present moment and at this time I have in mind that life is comprised principally of an interior act of going forth and returning to oneself. Put another way, I believe there is an arc to one's life where the child grows into adulthood to fulfill the dreams of childhood. In time then the adult seeks to return, to readdress, to inhabit the heart of the child, for the heart is the seat of desire, the very desire that propelled the child to seek its way in the world to begin with.

We are defined by our desire, by our yearning, by love seated in belief. Only so much of what we are can be defined by the times in which we live. In the end, one is that self that has existed since the beginning, looking out over the world, seeing what you have done in it, and then looking back toward yourself, into your heart, for the final answer.

Desire makes likes meaningful. Love makes life bearable. The self that encompasses its desires bears witness to the comings and goings of life and is ultimately unmoved. We can reside in those comings and goings, being busy with work, talk, and entertainment. We can exhaust ourselves every day with the stuff of life so that we have no time or energy for contemplation, but the heart resides nonetheless, and it bears witness.

And so we return to ourselves and in that movement we see the arc of our lives. We cannot simply know our heart, but we must inhabit it. We must return. When you sense in yourself the desire and wonder you felt as a child you will know that your life's purpose is what it always has been and can never change.

Since the beginning your heart has sought its companion, and in the end it will find peace.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Night Reflections on Sunday Mornings

So it's Friday night and here I am washing dishes getting things cleaned up for dinner and whatever lies ahead for the weekend. Friday night is always such a relief, but you know, we'll all be right back it at come Monday morning. I mean waking up earlier than we'd like to, making lunches, commuting, rolling into the office (or wherever we're expected), and generally doing those things we just finished doing this week and are bound to keep doing until we change our minds or circumstances somehow change us.

It's a good life, don't get me wrong. I for one have fought hard with the world and with in particular with myself to achieve exactly this routine, this stability.You may feel the same about your life, in act I hope you do. I hope your life is as deliciously predictable as mine is. Drama at a minimum, good humor never beyond one's reach. Comfortable and broken-in.

And it helps, certainly, to have Sunday Mass to look forward to. Church on Sunday is exactly what's needed to tie everything together. Where else are people flat-out grateful that you simply showed up? There is nothing to plan and nothing to fear. It will all go exactly as it always does, thanks be to God. You will hear something worth thinking about and get the chance to sing a little (and no one can complain). You will see the same nice people you see every once-a-week, the young and the old, and with no other obligation than to pray for each other.

Administering to this affair is a man or men whose sole purpose in life is to see to it that you get to heaven. Getting to heaven is, after all, the point of the entire exercise - I mean, this is what binds the efforts of the week with the activities of the weekend. And if heaven is even half as good as it is promised to be, then your one hour a week, accompanied by thoughtfulness and time off for good behavior, will be more than justified.

So. Wash the dishes and enjoy your weekend. And on Sunday take time off from everything and see to the heart of things. And don't forget to stop by for coffee and donuts.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

OpenCatholic Voting Guide - Future Edition

I have forgotten more than I ever knew, and what I know now I cannot lay claim to as being my own.

What does this means for politics? I view election decisions as I would any other. I review the candidates and choose whomever strikes my heart as the best choice. I do not worry about politics, I simply do my part. I participate and make choices. The votes are tallied and a winner is announced. I am glad, or shake my head, and I go on about the business of life.

"The business of life," one might say, "is political. It is transactional in nature. Competing forces are at work, and it is our job to support the truth." And I say, the business of life manifests itself politically but in its nature or essence is religious. Life is founded on faith. Faith (love) gave us life. It is this love that compels us to choose life over death. It is this love that compels us to help each other, to make the world a better place. 

A life lived in love guides one to decide to love. Decisions made otherwise run the risk of not being founded in love.

Love runs many risks - does it not? - of looking foolish, or being non-topical, or irrelevant. People tend at times to treat love as a luxury, something to be put aside when hard decisions must be made. I say, no one is forcing you to make your decisions in a particular way. You can decide on what basis to decide.

You can decide based on love.

What I know now I cannot lay claim to as being my own. I know that the world is falling away and that so to I will one day. I will do so, I will pass away, as all things must. This is nothing new. But it is new - it is always new to say - to say, I will pass away in love. I hold my prospects in a clear light, and I am overwhelmed with sadness and joy. Sadness for the passing of things. Joy for the love that is in our lives and will live on eternally.

It is in this light that I live. It is in this light that I vote.

Peace to all.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The OpenCatholic Voting Guide

Vote with your heart, for the well-formed heart cannot lie and it will not fail you, for it is founded in love.

Vote for love just as you worship in love.

As you love, so should you vote.

As you love, so will you be set free. Set free from fear and consternation. What is doubt? Is is shame before what is pure. What is pure? The love of God.

So vote with your heart as you would wish God to love you to the end, as indeed he does and he will, forever.

Peace to all.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Faith is not an Opinion

I am Christian, and that is not an opinion, that is a truth. I did not decide to be Christian. I did not opt to believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah any more than Peter did in his confession. I did not assemble a reading list, join a discussion group, draft an outline, or throw darts. The truth of my faith, that I am Christian, was presented to me as an incontrovertible truth, perhaps the only thing in this or any world worthy of the title "truth."

Nothing was more apparent to me growing up than that there is a God. And so I asked questions. My reasonable, agnostic parents handled my questions pretty well, as I recall. If you want to get the measure of a person's heart, ask them who God is. They may not necessarily say they believe, but a lot can be inferred from a person's manner! But as I said, I believed in God because that is what you do with God, you believe in him. In asking about God, it was obvious that first He must exist in order that I should inquire who He is. One does not "work out" whether God exists. You inquire within, and when your heart says, Yes, and you have been formed in a certain way, then you allow that Yes, and you take it into your life.

In my twenties, as I became a man, I believed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior of mankind. I did so because, being formed in a certain way, I had no choice but to admit that which is true. It was as if I was gazing into a vast pool of objects, every conceivable thing of this world, even ideas and concepts having assumed physical form, and from that vast array a pearling light emerged and chased away everything and lodged in my heart, and the name of that pearl was the Holy Spirit and it spoke from within me the words "Jesus Christ."

I recall my conversion of heart in this manner, as an illustration of an event in this world, to communicate the fact of that occurrence. I want to make apparent my lack of choice. I want to make clear that I did not form an opinion. The choices would come later but the moment of conversion was not chosen.

I also want to make clear that what occurred to me - dressed up in the metaphorical language above - is what happened to Peter, to Paul, to Thomas, to all the Apostles, and to every Christian since the beginning of time. This is what makes me a Christian. This is what what makes all of us Christians.

I am aware, of course, that I live in a time when the right to express one's opinion is highly valued, as it should be. As it must be. And because the right to express opinions is so highly valued, then the fact of having an opinion too is highly valued, as it should be - up to a point. I am not in the business of reading souls, but from what I see about me, the ideal state for many people (one used to say "Americans," but the tendency has become virtually pandemic), is one where they can choose (and possess) whatever they want. People expect to be able to choose (and obtain) their schooling, career, spouse, car, laws, taxes, guns, gender, children, and friends, all to be categorized under a lifestyle, chosen freely. Some people even choose a religion. They might agree with their parents' choice of religion, or they might look around and choose another based on what it has to offer them. Of course, people expect to be able to change their mind with respect to their choices, including their religion. And maybe all this choosing is a good thing. Maybe it helps people to eventually "choose" God - or to be open to that which lies beyond mere choice. I think this happens. I think a lot of people get tired of listening to themselves decide what they should choose and one day ask themselves, What else is there? And in that question, that person has prayed a prayer with only one answer. And they will hear and perceive that answer if they are willing to listen and watch closely.

My role, as a Christian, is to say what Christianity is. To say what it is and to live what it is. My role, as a Christian, is to serve others, not to think I am better then they are. If I do this, dutifully, with care, love and humility, I will inherit eternal life. This, too, is not an opinion. If it were an opinion it would not be true.

Let's think about that statement.

An opinion is a statement based on personal preferences which take into account a set of facts, experiences, and impressions to form a position that can be rendered in written and oral form. Opinions are valuable property. Much of what we do and a good deal of who we are is represented by opinion. We take opinions seriously, and we should, because one's opinion can form the basis for one's actions. So, for example, we follow closely the opinions of  politicians and support those whose opinions match closest our own opinions.

So, opinions are important, and from some perspectives almost everything is subject to opinion. Math and science, most people would assert, are not subject to opinion, though we have learned that this is not strictly speaking true, for the conclusions one forms from empirical data is in fact informed by personal or cultural preconceptions. Opinion is, in a sense, the means by which an intelligent being negotiates its society and the world in which it lives. One recognizes, assembles, and chooses. One opines, therefore one functions.

And so religion may seem susceptible to opinion, and perhaps it is, at least up to a point. One can imagine the Jews of Jesus' time, wandering about,worried about the Romans, etc., hearing this man and liking what he had to say, feeling that here was someone who cared about them, as individuals. This is the humanist approach to Jesus. The Jews liked Jesus, on the basis of personal opinion, up to the point where he said or did something that did not conform to their their opinions. Whether it was his proclamation of the fulfillment of Scripture in his coming, or that one would have to eat of his flesh in order to have life, at certain points the Jews fell away. They did not like what they heard. They disagreed with it. And, acting on their change of opinion, they walked away from Him.

And so it makes perfect sense to live by one's opinions. Up to a point. But I am not Christian owing to opinion, and I do not have opinions with regard to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

To form an opinion with respect to the Catholic Church, or its teaching, would be to form an opinion with respect to the body of Christ. I believe, by faith, in the body of Christ, made present in the Mass, and I do not allow myself the error of forming opinions regarding Christ or his Church. As the teachings of the Church filter down to and through society and are negotiated, I have opinions. I have opinions regarding how one or another teaching can best be addressed or carried out, in the present time, with what available resources, etc. I have opinions regarding means, not substance. Even then, I am mindful of whatever means are proscribed by the Church. I defer to those means, and I have never regretted doing so. Doing so, I have learned that means and substance are closely connected, even identical in certain cases. I have become accustomed to avoiding separation whenever possible. I have made myself more consistent, more reliable, in my personal life, by modeling my behavior on that of the Catholic Church.

In doing this, I have also made myself more free, more certain, and more available to the lives of those around me, including especially the most vulnerable and my family. How could I do less? Certain in my faith and in the Church that has been tasked with proclaiming my faith, I am free from doubt. My heart is certain, therefore my opinions are commensurably certain. I am sure of myself. I do not hold back.My faith and my Church insist that I not hold back, but that I go forth and proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. I am told this - all Catholics are told this - at the conclusion of every Mass. This proclamation does not admit opinions, nor should it.

I wonder at times whether my blog and website title, OpenCatholic, isn't somewhat misleading. I can see how someone might believe that "OpenCatholic" hints at some kind of project of "opening" the Church to new thoughts and ideas, which is not to my purpose at all. But then, I should not worry how someone might misread "OpenCatholic" if the content is consistent with my intended purpose. The OpenCatholic project, when viewed from within the Church, is a platform for Charity in word and deed, a call to be open to others regarding the faith (proclaiming the Gospel) while being open to the lives, beliefs, and journeys of those outside the Catholic faith; or, in short, listening, that all may be saved. Viewed from outside the Church, OpenCatholic seeks to draw persons to within it by virtue of the life of the Catholic faith as described and carried out in word and deed, that they too might proclaim the good news.

The point of OpenCatholic is to bear witness to the truth that I come to you as a Christian, bearing good news, not so that you may form a good opinion of me but so that you might accompany me in accomplishing the work of the Lord. OpenCatholic is therefore a vehicle for a means to a very particular end; one which I endeavor to shape and guide in accordance with the substance, with the teachings of the Church and the life of Jesus Christ, may God have mercy on me, that I may do His will.

I am Christian, and that is not an opinion, that is a fact. I did not decide to be Christian, and I did not decide that your life, that every human life is worthy of love, that all are worthy of salvation. That is not an opinion, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that it is an opinion, that it is subject to revision or amendment or compromise. If you are curious why Catholics hold the opinions they do then take note that opinions and opinion-making have nothing to do with what we believe in our minds and in our hearts, and in what comprises our lives, and in what encompasses our souls. We do not have a choice in believing what we do, only in how to carry out Christ's mission on earth through the teachings of His church. To that end, we ask for your prayers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Compromise or Kingship?

A world where Christ is King, where God reigns, all that is good derived from Him. How would we live in such a world, except by giving thanks while striving every day to do what is good? Yet this is the world we live in. Christ has conquered death and promises eternal life to those who follow Him. All we need to do is to turn away from the false goods of this world and toward Him.

It seems simple, and I suppose it is. And yet we pay homage to the false goods of this world which are not of God. We are distracted by duties, errands, and obligations. We problem-solve. Every profession offers a jargon which we fall into, allowing our days to be described within the boundaries of job and family. When frustrated, we do not seek truths, but causes. Causes are naturally associated with the very thing that frustrates us, sharing the same language. We see poverty and blame the 1%. We see violence and blame the man with the gun.

We like to point and click. Point and click. That is good. That is bad. Click click click. All day long. Does this sound like thinking to you, does it sound like heaven?

One can be naturally right and yet ultimately false in betraying the source of all that is good. We claim political victories for ourselves, yet what have we done? We have carried out the mandate of mercy. We should give thanks. In the name of power we rewrite the rules, and everyone agrees, because nothing goes down easier than compromise. A point of faith is converted to a personal decision, allowing one to embrace choices contrary to doctrine, even while faith itself is God-given. It's a funny inversion of first principles. I wonder if such people believe that gravity is a personal decision?

We live in a world ruled by Christ the King, yet we aid and abet our worst adversary in turning from His laws. It is not that we fall short of perfection - there is no shame in that - but we rush toward it, gleefully throwing off the trappings of heaven for the tattered threads of Personal Goals. We no longer travel. We fulfill a Bucket List. We no longer yearn, or dream, we wait and see.

I do not see a civilization that assumes too much, but one that believes too little. We are too ready to give up: on the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the poor, ourselves. We should agree never to give up, ever, on anyone. We should celebrate, today and every day, what God has won for us. Eternal life, freedom from all pain and suffering. We need earn it, and to do that, we need only admit with our lips what we know in our hearts.

That Christ is King.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Words for Mortality

Opportune. How would I know to be worried about what I do if the risk of dying were not involved? I could go on and on making mistakes, biding my time to change my ways, or not. "Immortality" (alive and incapable of death) would be an ocean with no shore - worse yet, land without an ocean to gaze out on, wondering what lies beyond the foreseeable horizon.

Skeptical. I am in life but I do not see life. I am alive but cannot qualify or quantify death except by faith. Faith provides me with everything I need to know - but not everything knowable - so life is skeptical of death, and perhaps death is skeptical of life. What is the value of this fleeting thing, this temporary state, a way station for a quantity of minerals, tissues, salts, and water? But faith is not skeptical of mortality. Faith knows exactly the depths breadth, and quality of death, for what was death before He came into the world to redeem Life? Death was known only in its partial, natural state. Death was a false prophet of an end it was not death's to claim. Now we have the full measure of death and of mortality, as much by what does not belong to death as what does.

Musical. As one's fingers strum a guitar, or as starling sing to the dusk, we move in and around our mortality, taking risks great or small and those being only the ones we are aware of. As a child I would wonder, if I am delayed at something even 5 seconds might that not decide my fate; where otherwise I would not be hit by a car, or some such mortal event? How little I understood the serious nature of one's life, that it is not one's own to do with as one wishes, but God's gift, to live out in heartfelt service. What after all is music, but the truth in one's ears?

Cubed. Approach mortality lightly or with serious intent and it is the same on all sides. You might upend it, by a tremendous effort, but you will tire and let go, and down it will clatter, presenting exactly the same aspect as before. So you will call in friends to help you sustain your efforts at unbalancing mortality, but after a remarkably brief interlude, you will be staring at each other over the tedium and strain of that collective effort and lose sight of mortality altogether. Look out, lest it crush your foot when it falls!

Saucy. I mean it moves its hips about and looks you straight in the eye as if it knows what it wants, and perhaps it does. Maybe this is all it wants, my life. Is that all you want? You can have it, if you know what to do with it, you'll have to show me first. No? No ideas? More winking and strutting about? Poor mortality, poor death, without a future to believe in.

Resolute. Mortality means business, and business is good. And good is the word I use to describe a thing, and being mortal, my passing judgment on whether a thing is good or not relies on standards not of my making, you can be sure of that, otherwise I am, like mortality, saying one thing but believing another. For death is no more true than is life, only less so, for we cannot die again once dead. But eternal life is ours for the asking.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Spotlight on Writing on Spotlight: Tradition and the Open Heart

There are two kinds of writing. Writing that talks about a thing, and writing that talks about talking about a thing.Writers begin writing thinking they are doing the the first, discover they are the really doing the second, and then stop caring about the distinction. This is wisdom.

And wisdom consists of two, equal parts. One part is not appearing foolish. The second part is doing good. Wisdom carries a moral component. Your grandparents may not necessarily be intellectually brilliant, but they are wise. They have learned not to do foolish things and when they do something, when they make that effort, or are called on to respond to a person's need, they do good. They do what is right.

*****

These thoughts occur to me as I consider the movie "Spotlight," which concerns itself with the The Boston's Globe investigations and reporting on the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. I enjoyed the movie immensely. The human effort to reveal truth and injustice is exhilarating and inspiring. It is a story that never tires and must be told. Let's pray that our social/economic system continues to support meaningful journalism! And this was not a mere scandal, but a crime of immense proportions, involving systemic sexual abuse of children condoned by the very Church that holds the keys to heaven, and of which I am a member. Of course, the pedophilia story was not news to me. I considered closely these crimes before entering the Church, deciding that I would not let anything, however virulent, stand between me and my Savior. And I have seen first hand at least some of the safeguards now in place. Specifically, I have taken video training required for any person involved with children which helps one to identify and respond to instances of sexual abuse or evidence of possible abuse, and I take note of efforts the Church and safeguard organizations have made.

This of course is one thing the church needs to do, is to put in place safeguards, including endorsing third-party organizations, that ensure that pedophilia is treated like the crime it is. Any occasion of pedophilia should draw a swift response and be made public including reporting to the authorities. The second thing the church needs to do is be open to accountability, and this means suffering criminal and civil charges. Many instances of such accountability have been rendered, with one notable exception.

Cardinal Law.

It is remarkable to me that Law fled Boston without being held to account for his part in overseeing the pedophilia crisis in Boston. He underwent trial in the papers, to be sure, but no charges were brought. Instead, he took up residence in Rome and served on several councils in the Vatican. Law became a mainstay conservative voice. He pushed, as one example, for censure of the American Women Religious, a colossal effort that ended with a mild rebuke, thank God. He attended the 2005 Papal Congress.

In other words, the orchestra leader of the Boston pedophilia crisis, who guided and endorsed moving abusive priests from one parish to another, who oversaw minor private settlements in lieu of criminal accountability, was subsequently allowed a voice in church affairs, including selecting a Pope

It does not make me happy to point these things out. Or I should say, there is a particular lack that makes me more concerned than anything else. I wouldn't expect the Vatican to "fire" a Cardinal over almost anything. I don't think they have a mechanism for that action, though Pope Francis is working I believe to put into place such measures for future reference. No, what bothers me is Law not holding himself accountable to the city of Boston. Cardinal Law, running away. Cardinal Law, not bearing on his back the Cross, but nimbly eluding it.

If I had Law's ear I would tell him that there remains one thing in his life that he must do, and that is to return to Boston to be held accountable. Fly to Boston. Confess your sins to the people. Cleanse your soul and represent your Church as Christ would, accepting punishment, though in this case for the sins you bear. Because that is what all this is about really. Being Christ. Righting the wrongs we do to each other and to ourselves. Cardinal Law's life in Rome is not the credit of the Catholic Church. He and perhaps only he can atone for that error, as for all the errors of his past.

This is true for Cardinal Law as it is true for each and every one of us.

*****

Returning to my initial point, wisdom carries a moral component. His experience in Boston did not make Cardinal Law wise as he seems incapable of meeting a just moral standard. He is smarter, perhaps. Smart enough to protect himself if not others. It is concerning that he has taken on the role of church conservative too, this man who holds a justifiably strong reputation for his work in the 1960's in civil rights and for ecumenicism. The push toward ecumenicism, it should be recalled, was a component of the progressive effort to decentralize Vatican power and to move liturgical celebration to involve more of the laity, a change seen now by traditionally minded Catholics as disastrous for the sanctity of the Mass and the health and well being of the Church.

Law was a Church progressive, as a component of social progress. Now he is a Church conservative. Why the change?

It is somewhat beyond the scope of this column to opine on the rightness of this or that form of the Mass, except to point out one must trust where one has traveled if you want to get anywhere new. But clearly it is not to the credit of Church conservatives that Law is counted among them. Through Cardinal Law, conservatism, or traditionalism, will be read as comprising or at least endorsing self-aggrandizement. It is fine I think - it is right and just - for members of the Church to promote traditional forms of the Liturgy, but there is no reason to believe that Cardinal Law really cares about any of that. Cardinal Law cares about staying away from the city of Boston. Cardinal Law cares about not being held accountable for his role in a culture that allowed the rape of children. This is true, I believe, of Cardinal Law, who appears to have taken on the role of traditionalist as a form of personal protection.

*****

Let's look at the conservative/traditionalist and progressive dynamic a bit for more background.

One sees in social conservatives a tendency to protect what is right as being ultimately good, where as social liberals promote what is immediately good as ultimately right. The conservative and liberal therefore it would seem cross paths at a certain point in the moral compass even as they forever try to pull each other toward their line of thinking. We see this dynamic in politics, obviously, and in the Church. It is a polarizing, bi-lateral dynamic that suits politics but to my mind does not suit the Church. I have experience with new and old forms of the liturgy and have spent a good deal of time with both progressive and traditional laity and priests. In my opinion, a traditional approach is best, but only if one can assume the tenets of tradition in humble, ongoing fashion.

The traditionalist who is confident about the ultimate truth of the Church and the Magisterium, who confesses, who observes the Law, and yet can be open and loving toward all persons, regardless of their opinions or orientation toward the Church or anything, socially or politically, holds much greater distinction than the progressive who, viewing the Church through the lens of social truths, is always holding back their full commitment. It is a curious thing, that Church progressives often appear more restrained, emotionally, intellectually, than Church traditionalists. The reason is that the progressive is a skeptic of, ultimately, God. Skepticism of God's power as witnessed by the Catholic Church in its teachings via the Magisterium is written into the progressive viewpoint. Therefore, a progressive is always having to ask themselves, Is what I am doing right? This is a fine question to ask ourselves politically and socially, but religiously...how do I put this. The horse is well out of the barn and down the road of what is right and what is not.

For a traditionalist the question is not What is right, but Am I capable of doing what is right? The answer is, I am not, except by the power of God. By this formula, rendered in so many ways, the traditionalist prays for help and gets it, from God, where the progressive relies on the strength of their good intentions, which may or may not (A) be right in the first place, and (B) succeed in rendering ultimate good.

Lest I be accused of oversimplifying these distinctions, let me point out that, to my mind, neither traditional or progressive orientation is compatible with conservative social politics, at least the brand of social conservatism practiced in the current time. However one addresses God, progressively or traditionally, the only place you can get to, through Christ, is one of mercy toward all. God is the judge. My role is to preach and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These two points ground the central dynamic of Christian life. I have found a position of anti-liberalism to be antithetical to an open heart, a heart of flesh. I say this having viewed the world from the perspective of Church progressives and traditionalists. First comes humility, then action (or opinions). Assuming action (or an opinion) is warranted at that point.

*****

First comes humility.

First, by admission, and last, at death. Let our final breath not be our first humble utterance! As I stated, Cardinal Law has chosen, so it seems to me, a personal conservatism as a self-protecting shield against God's truth. We are warned against this kind of "empty show,"and it is a fine thing to identify one's own habits and tendencies toward self-protection and then to willingly, consciously, lay aside the shield, to put aside doubt and to open oneself to the mercy of God. In lieu of politics and opinions in the Church I would love to see more humility, more faith, more openness, and a whole lot less hostility toward the world. That is what I ask for from Cardinal Law. That is what I ask from you, my reader. That is what I pray for in myself.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Writing the Culpable Sphere: a Patch upon the Moral Climate

I last wrote on January 23, 2016. I have written nothing since then. Instead I have been doing and mulling. Mostly doing, but always mulling. Among the topics I have been mulling over is the subject of moral culpability, though I rarely think of it in those terms. I think about what is right and wrong, and whether people are at fault, and whether I can say they are at fault. But when I sit down to write, the phrase "moral culpability" occurs to me to describe the sorts of things I have been mulling over. I suppose this is what writing is to a degree, an act of putting n order one's thoughts and experience.

Besides the doing and mulling I have not felt inclined to write or needed to. Writing carries its own anxiety and pressures and I wanted to live off the anxiety-grid, or at least that particular grid, until I could see a way forward. I don't know that I have a way forward per se, but I do want to write about moral culpability, and for many reasons, but mostly because I believe it would be beneficial, personally, to do so. It will help put things in order and clear the air that surrounds me. I hope it will produce a "way forward" related to this loaded topic. I hope it will be of interest to my readers.

First and foremost, I am concerned at how people levy the terms of morality - right and wrong - against each other. More and more, people are inclined to voice strong opinions on moral issues. More and more, people are content to broadcast these opinions, to send them out over the social networks. The broadcasts are accompanied by behavior I can only describe as wall-building, or surrounding oneself with opinions and information that match exactly the moral tone that person broadcasts.The effect is loud and narrow. It is very much a phenomenon of our time, I think. And our time is nothing if not competitive and confrontational.

Social media allows a person to interact and form groups with like-minded individuals either through the media itself or by establishing connections with persons they know personally. This is good, of course, up to the point where the group becomes either exclusive or sees its mission to be to attack other groups. And the typical grounds on which other groups or individuals are attacked are moral ones.

Attacking a person on moral grounds has become easier with the advent of social media. Thus, the advent of the social media "troll." One can speak indirectly and never be personally confronted. There are no editors to filter the message. It used to be that a person with an opinion needed to write a book or publish a letter in the newspaper. What an arcane conceptual framework that is! Now, you simply log in, let it rip, log off, and never have to account for the effect of your opinions.

Isn't it ironic that as we come to terms with the detrimental effects of toxic emissions on the world's atmosphere, we have turned to poisoning the atmosphere of human relations? The current presidential contest is a perfect picture of this imbalance, a tableau of smugness and vitriol on all sides. How pitiful. How sad.

How sad....O so much more sad it is that we levy moral charges against each other's character and person. If I could publish a banner paragraph across he skies it would read, "What you don't know about any given person makes your judgment of them the opinion of a fool." Christians in particular are challenged in this regard. We have laws that we look to for guidance. So far so good. But then we esteem the action of others in accordance with those laws. Not so good.

Allow me to say at this juncture what has always been obvious to any adult, but seems to have gone the way of the newspaper editorial, and that is that people make the best possible choices available to them at the time they make that choice. Unless one is present at the time of choice-making and can help that person to choose, by invitation, then there is no opportunity to comment on or evaluate that choice. God, who knows our hearts, will judge. Of that we are sure. And we judge ourselves, constantly, and all too harshly.

I have done things that were wrong and I have done things that were right. My estimate of the rightness or wrongness is based on my understanding of the Law. I am confident, when I confess, that the wrongs I confess are indeed wrong, but I hear the word "wrong" only from myself. The shame is personal. From God all I hear is forgiveness in the form of absolution provided by the priest.

As a Catholic I am better able to recognize and confess what I do wrong because I am surrounded by what is right than I used to be able to do when I did not know with the same certainty what is right and what is wrong before God. This confidence comes from God, not from people and their opinions. It is a grace and a gift. When you tell someone they are wrong you do not help them to be right. You simply make yourself look foolish and you likely make that person turn away from you and whatever you pretend to represent to support your assertions.

There is no surer prescription against religion than the narrowly expressed opinions of its adherents.

Moral culpability. We are all culpable, but none of us are favored with having the last word no matter how loud we shout. I can think of no better position in religion, or politics for that matter, than to build a firm foundation in Christian moral law, to do good for others, and to praise the good in others. To praise. How often do the Psalms praise the Lord? And yet how much time do we spend fomenting against this or that group, trend, lifestyle, etc., etc., etc.

I think there are two kinds of persons in this world. There are saints and then there are the rest of us. Who but a saint, a person invested with Holy Grace, can stand apart from the belittling strife of politics and the social, culpable sphere and provide light? And how do we attain to this state? By putting our selfish, foolish selves aside as one sheds a garment and allowing God to shine through us, as He sees fit to do.

It is a simple thing, after all, to do what is right, then to stand aside. To do God's will by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and stand aside. Not to point at oneself or others. Simply to do what is right and bow your head and stand aside. To let God's light shine through. It is simple. It is the only way to live and not harm or hurt or get in the way of others. How little we know each others' hearts. How little we know where each other is in their journey toward God. And yet how easily we insult each other and make ourselves a stumbling block on that journey. How I yearn not to do ill, not to interfere!

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Choice and Means, Partial and Whole

We are vulnerable to moods, are we not? It is remarkable to me, when I am aware of it, how my thoughts and feelings shift one way, then another, depending on any number of factors. Certain pillars (or buoys, depending on how things are going) have been set into place - family, church, work, exercise - but the thoughts and feelings swirl about, landing here and there, almost as if on a whim of their own.

When I sit down to write, as I do now, is it not because I am in the mood to write, to see something written by me? Is what I write not conditioned by wherever I happen to be in my mood? I think so, and yet there are forces at work, perhaps even thoughts & concerns. An interesting occurrence of several months ago comes to mind. I sat down to write a blog on a topic that had been on my mind for months and I was burning to get it down on paper. The moment to write had struck. I wrote the blog in one session, over two hours, and promptly appeared to have lost it online! I was beside myself, and sat down again and wrote another blog (two more hours) to cover that topic and published it here. A month or more later, and I noticed that the first draft had been saved, in some manner, and I re-read it against the second version. The postings were very different in tone (as my mood had shifted, and I had already worked through the topic once in writing about it), but the overall import and message was identical. The thought had not shifted.

So, the mood to write is not so much a personal feeling, as a point in the trajectory or narrative of that topic of conjecture, where I feel committed to work out and share a living thought. I never blog when I know what I am going to say. That would be boring to me and undoubtedly to the reader.

What has been circulating within my mind lately is choice, or the gift of choice; our capacity to chose one thing or another, based of course on whatever factors are in play, but more so on the fact of choice as a feature of being. We choose because our will compels us to do so. How is it that we have this ability, and why? Why would we not be created so that we simply turn toward what is good, as a plant turns toward the sun? We are constantly choosing - to do this or that, depending (so we say) on one or another factor; we discuss choices, extol or regret them, and comment on the choices others make. We demand that others make the right choice, then turn around and say we had no choice but to do what we did.

We are immersed in choice, but seem resistant to acknowledging "choice" as a thing in of itself. The decline or disappearance of philosophy helps to explain this state of affairs. That, and the current super-profusion of visual and material effluent in which our culture swims. But, no matter. The truth of a thing is not mere expostulation, but the fact of its being. Therefore, one can always approach truth, or circumnavigate it, even walk away from it. But one cannot pass through it, wish it away, or own it.

This is true of choice, as a category of humanity. This is true of God, and it is true of love, which comes before all things. The sensibility that reads God's love as being merely a kind of generous sympathy or tenderness is selling God, love, truth, and himself short. Love is kind in that kindness is implicit in love, but mere kindness is not love. Love can only be all that love is, just as God can only be the unity of all capacities, parts, and principles that is God. 

If what I say is true of God, and love, it must be true of good and evil. We are inclined, tempted, to choose; to pick apart God, love, good and evil for the parts we like or dislike and call them our own. But to do so is an error of the first order. The life of our Lord demonstrates the principals outlined here. To imitate Christ in his understanding would be to accept people as they are given to us, as he does the Samaritan woman at the well, not to pick them apart, not to address them in part, but as a whole person. 

In this form, Christ tells Peter he is the rock upon which He will build his Church; he does not say, Peter, there are good things in you, and if you work a little harder I might be able to offer you a job. Likewise, he admonishes Satan to "get behind him." What a telling phrase. The Lord does not berate Satan, or criticize this or that behavior. He does not "criticize" him. He directs him, as a whole. He raises Lazarus, from the dead, as a whole person. He heals the crippled, the sick, and makes them "whole." God is complete, a "Father." He addresses the Blessed Virgin in her entirety, giving her over to the disciple he loves, at the foot of the Cross, not in art, but as a whole, as now being his "Mother."

Every one of us is likewise a whole and a child of God, who granted us the ability to choose on behalf of the whole of ourselves what to do and what not to do. Turning again to the the life of Christ, it appears that the critical choices we make are with respect to God and truth. The Pharisees are berated for their hypocrisy. It is clearly in their power whether to persecute Jesus, whether to wear fine robes, whether to extort their people and lie to God. The tax collector is not berated for being a tax collector, but praised for his humility. That too is a choice, to accept the dictates of one's conscience, even in contradiction to one's "self interest." 

We cannot deny that we have choice, and we can't deny that others have the capacity and the right to choose. To do so would be to refute the two commandments presented to us by the Lord: to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, again, is love as the truth that is love, not mere sympathy. What is true of me is true of you. Granting myself the right to choose, I must allow you the same right.

What we do with our choices is, of course, a critical matter between ourselves and God. It is only in the depths of despair that we feel that our choices do not matter - and don't we rush to assure each other that they do matter when someone fees that way? Yes, the capacity to choose - that we can act upon our will - is a critical and glorious component of our humanity. It compels persons and history. The fight for freedom to choose. The ongoing efforts at obtaining for all persons the means to live well. Equal rights (to choose). Opportunity (to choose). 

Can one deny choice and love? Can one deny, with an open heart, a person their right to choose?

As a Catholic, I must extol choice. I have no part in judging the morality of another's choices. However I react to people's choices, it is my personal reaction only. I can choose how to respond to another's choices, of course. I can approve or disapprove, for what it's worth. And what it is worth is very, very little, indeed.
 
I have no part in how or what a person chooses in relation to God. And all choices are in relation to God. I say this as a person might say, I love. All is God, I say. All is love. I have no part in what part of God, love, or truth commits to a choice, except for the choices I make for myself. 

We choose, with what means are at hand, to live as we wish as our thoughts and feelings dictate. In truth, we are all partial creatures, even as we are whole in the sight of God. Perhaps it is only as one body that we are whole among ourselves. The universal Church. Is this what the Lord intends for us? If it is, then the sooner we commit to mercy, the better, for ourselves and each other.

Amen.




Amen.