Monday, October 29, 2012

The Coming American Persecution

A persecution of Catholics in America is swiftly approaching. Obama’s HHS mandate, which actively seeks to force Catholics to pay for moral evil, is merely the first shot in the coming secular war against the Church and the principles She upholds. We Catholics must prepare for it, or else be swept away by the coming evil tide.
This coming election will determine when the persecution of Catholics begins in earnest in America. If President Obama wins re-election, he will have four years to implement his policies of persecution of the Church. If Romney wins, his election will merely delay the inevitable future persecution (if indeed his promises are true).
The persecution of Catholics was a long time in coming. American culture is rapidly becoming more crass, more arrogant, more concerned with itself and its pleasure than with fostering virtue - and has now for generations. 
Such a culture must inevitably reform itself, or participate in its own self-destruction.
But before any culture destroys itself, it will come to abhor and seek to destroy the very institutions that keep it intact. Marriage, children, religion – relentlessly, pressures are being brought to bear on these institutions holding society together, in attempts to fundamentally alter them or even destroy them. And the Church, the guardian of these institutions, is the first target of these secularizing forces which seek their destruction. 
And this persecution will be intense. As Cardinal George of Chicago famously declared: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in a public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”
But in a way, this is the natural state of the Church. The Church, peculiarly, always fights best when She is fighting off Her back. Broken, defeated, persecuted – it is then that She stands most powerful. The gates of Hell will never prevail against Her.
And they are coming. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tribute to My Mother

It is a sad truth of fallen humanity that physical beauty fades over time. The years are especially cruel to the looks of most women.
Not so in my family. My mother has defied time and grown more beautiful with age.          
I noticed this a few years ago, and used to think this was just my perception of her changing. My memories of her are much happier now than they were in my dark years. (Good memories of anyone were rare then.) Good memories of a person tend to influence one's views of other characteristics, as well, including physical beauty.
But then I went looking through some pictures of her in our early years. And it is clear she has grown in beauty over time. 
The explanation for her defiance of age is simple. Good people are beautiful; goodness is itself attractive. And my mother has grown more and more holy as the years have passed.   
She has always been zealous for God and for her neighbor; always prepare to give of herself whenever necessary.
Anyone who knows anything about my mother knows that she is a firestorm of activity (I used to call her Fire Mommy because she was so active), the epitome of a Type A choleric. Her name literally translates to peace – which she often pokes fun at herself for, because is a very strong-willed woman who has no problem letting others know what is on her mind and doing things other people fear to do. 
But over the years, she has tempered her zeal with understanding; she has grown calmer, more patient, more loving. Her judgment of when and how to intervene and discuss important matters with others has become acute. 
She is still a zealous servant of others, without regard for her own comfort. She is still willing to sacrifice herself for others to almost absurd degrees, making herself (at times, quite literally) sick with worry for others. To take one example: she drove 10+ hours (round trip) through terrible traffic on a weekday - just to bring me my car which was left in the shop over the weekend. 
She still drives me nuts on occasion. She loads me (and my siblings) down with all sorts of things to take with me when I visit the family. She still predicts that will lose to me in Scrabble games while she is winning by thirty points. She still quickly offers help to anyone any everyone but rarely accepts assistance. 
And I fear for her; she takes on so much that at some point she may break down under the weight of her service.
But she loves with her whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and constantly displays that love. And Christian love truly does conquer even the hardest of hearts – including mine.
My love for her is but an imperfect shadow of hers for me. God grant mine for her be a shadow of what hers is for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Quick Beatdown of Relativism

Truth is relative; there is no universal truth. What’s “true” for me isn’t necessarily true for you.

There is a school of philosophy which posits the argument above. This school of philosophy, known as relativism, is both pervasive in modern society and destructive to it.
Relativism holds that viewpoints have no inherent objective truth or reality. Moral principles or ethics cannot be inherently true or real; they are subjective, and different individuals can hold different moral standards. In its extreme form, since we all experience the physical world through our own senses, and since our own senses disagree, even the physical world is not necessarily real. 
George Orwell, in his dystopian masterpiece 1984, directly challenged the philosophical concept of relativism through the words of his novel's hero, Winston Smith: “Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws to not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center.”
Orwell's hero, through those words, rebelled against a totalitarian regime which altered all records to make them conform to what they said was reality. This regime also demanded that its citizens conform to their dictates of what reality was - during the novel, Smith was tormented by an agent of the government named O'Brien, who demanded that Smith state that two and two equal five. 
Like the totalitarians in 1984, relativists attack the very concept of unchanging truth, arguing that individuals simply make up their own truths from their own senses and personal experiences.
The philosophy of relativism, at first glance, lends itself to ridicule. One snarky response to the relativist statement beginning this post is the question “Is that statement true?” After all, if truth is relative, then surely I can disagree with a statement that others assert and claim it as true - and I would be justified.
But this does not suffice to answer hardcore relativists, who introduce the problem of language into their analysis. Since the word true means different things to different people, the statement can be paradoxical to one person but completely "true" to another person.
This rather cynical belief system (which taken to its logical conclusion precludes all human knowledge) has infected modernity like a plague. Morality, law, religion, human experience – all these are based on mutable tradition and societal custom, according to the relativist, and are not based in "truth."
Very few people are actually relativists, at least in the strictest sense of the term. Few believe that stones are not hard, water is not wet, etc. Most people believe in the inherent reality of the physical world.
But in modern society, there are many moral relativists who argue that good and evil are merely societal constructs, and that "good" and "evil" simply mean different things to different people. Morality is therefore mutable.
Somewhat ironically, moral relativism is often eschewed in practice, even by professed relativists. Very few people actually behave as though moral truth is relative - after all, humans do not all simply kill or steal willy-nilly. Society could not simply not function if everyone acted as if morality were purely relative - society has to agree to a moral code or else self-destruct.
But moral relativism runs rampant in modern society, where it creates interesting logical contradictions. Thus, we have a world where “fetal homicide laws” (in which the murder of a pregnant mother is a double homicide) coexists with legal abortion in all 50 states of America. We have a world where different religions are considered to be equally true. We live in a world where one religion is considered to be just as good as another - even though they make competing, contradictory claims about the nature of God.
Orthodox Catholicism precludes the very concept of relativism. Catholics believe that there is real good and real evil, and a clear distinction between the two. We believe in an absolute truth - and we call that absolute truth is God, the source of all truth and knowledge.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Corporal Works of Mercy (Part 3)

Welcome the Stranger
This is the most abstract of the corporal works of mercy. It is easy to picture a man giving food to the poor or cup of water to his neighbor.
But who should we consider a stranger?
This question might seem easy to answer at first; some classes of people are obviously strangers. A man moving into a workplace for a first time, a family moving into to an apartment next door – they are obviously strangers, in need of the support of others as they go through changes in their lives.
But we, as Christians, are called to take a broader view of exactly who is a stranger. For strangers, in the Christian conception, are not merely people that we have never seen before.
Lonely souls are truly strangers. The sorrowful recluse whom everyone sees at a gathering yet ignores – he is a stranger. The homeless man on the street – he is a stranger. The unpopular kid at school mocked by bullies – he is a stranger. 
These lonely souls are more in need of help than the obvious strangers, because these people are rejected by most of their fellow men. They are truly strangers, estranged from nurturing human contact.
When discussing this corporal work of mercy, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) leaps to mind. A scribe asked of Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’s answer – the parable of the Good Samaritan – was simple yet profound; everyone, even those we despise, are our neighbors and in need of our help.
A similarly broad conception of the word stranger applies to this corporal work of mercy. Everyone we meet whom we do not know is a stranger. And God commands us to welcome these men and women - both those whom we do not know and the lonely among us.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rant Concerning a Romney Ad

I have tried to avoid discussing politics on this blog (I have another blog dedicated to my musings on politics), and have largely refrained from inflicting upon my political rants upon you.
So I apologize in advance from this piece, but I need to say this somewhere.
I recently saw this ad from Mitt Romney's campaign.

This was my reaction to the ad. (WARNING: Mild profanity alert.)
It's not that I don't understand the logic of this ad. From a political standpoint, it changes nothing. Every careful watcher of this presidential campaign already knew that Romney supported abortion in cases of rape and incest.
And I understand the logic behind Romney's decision to air the ad. Romney wishes to blunt the idiotic "war on women" nonsense that the Obama campaign has accused him of. He also has adopted the common political tactic of "running to the center," which involves seeking to get moderates to vote for him and emphasizing his "centrist" political positions. He seeks to emphasize positions that appeal to "moderate" voters, since he figures that his base will vote for him anyway.
I must state right away that my opinion of Romney as a candidate remains unchanged by his choice to run this ad; I will still vote for Romney this November.
And yet, the ad still bothers me immensely, for two reasons. 
The first problem with this ad is a political one: in a base election (and in this polarized America, this is an election where candidates increasingly rely on their base), why on earth would you advertise to your supporters that you support abortion, even in some cases? I can already picture individuals (Mark Shea comes to mind) already opposed to Romney seizing upon this ad to argue that Romney is simply another Obama, and convincing others to do the same. I can also picture devoted pro-lifers being so turned off by the fact that Romney supports any abortions whatsoever that they refuse to vote.
But the second objection is far more important, for it is moral in nature. For if the fetus in the womb is really a child, then a voter or politician must oppose abortion in all cases. ALL CASES. Nothing justifies the murder of an innocent victim - not even the horror of rape.
For Mitt Romney to advertise that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape and incest is for him to advertise that he is not truly pro-life. He does not hold that the child in the womb is truly a human worth protecting in all cases.
And this bothers me immensely. Where is the candidate who will say that ALL life is sacred and must be protected, no matter the cost?
I will still vote for Mitt Romney because I disapprove of Obama's evil policies. But I do so with a very heavy heart.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pornography: Sexual Window-Shopping

I have a confession to make: I have never understood the concept of window-shopping. To me, the practice always seemed to be little more than an exercise in intellectual and emotional masochism. Window-shoppers feed their innate human desire for material goods by staring helplessly at goods which they cannot obtain.
Women are more prone to be window-shoppers than men. (I have no idea why that is.) But men are more likely to “window-shop” in a far more destructive way: namely, by engaging in the scourge of pornography. 
Pornography is the sexual equivalent of window-shopping. People who watch pornography attempt to feed their gnawing desire for companionship and pleasure by looking at other people whom they desire sexually but cannot "obtain," so to speak. 
But whereas women are more inclined to stare at purchasable objects in attempts to satisfy an urge to possess those goods, men objectify women to satisfy their own personal pleasure. 
Pornography is obviously more problematic than window-shopping on a moral level. For window-shopping merely encourages others to engage in longing for things they cannot satisfy. But pornography does far more damage to the human soul and spirit than window-shopping could. It causes people - mostly men - to objectify other people for the purposes of stimulating sexual pleasure.
It’s a peculiar trait of human beings that we want what we can never have. We want more, more, more, and are never, ever satisfied, except in God and his love.
Pornography encourages this evil tendency; it causes humans to want sexual pleasure for themselves which they cannot obtain. It is an evil form of sexual "window-shopping," reducing others to objects to attempt to gratify urges which cannot be satisfied. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Finality of Vocation

Two of my best friends were married yesterday! It was an absolutely beautiful and joyous wedding - and a LONG time in coming. They are truly a beautiful couple, and God will surely bless them in the years to come.
As they made their vows to one another, I was struck by a realization of the finality of their chosen vocation. They pledged their lives to each other, quite literally, “until death do us part.” The bond between them is now forever, and cannot be broken. (Mark 10:9)
On reflection, this is a terrifying thought. For my two friends pledged themselves to love each other forever, irrespective of what trials or tribulations may come. Disease, financial trouble, disaster: whatever may come, my friends must face those trials together, and not "quit" each other when the going gets rough, so to speak. 
All vocations, by their nature, are final. The married man is bound to his wife, and the wife to her husband. The priest is married to the Church. Nuns become "brides of Christ."
The single man, by contrast, is free in ways that others are not – he is free to do as he pleases, and not bound by vow to serve another person.
Now, of course, the single can and should live out a life of service to God and neighbor. The beauty of the single vocation is that one can choose to serve others in whatever manner best suits his talents, without being bound to another's decision.
But the world has adopted a principle of radical individualism. From the mindset of an individualist, there is no specific obligation to do serve others - an individualist seeks primarily his own good. 
This is a mentality violently opposed to the very concept of vocation. A man who seeks only his own good does not concern himself with serving others. The individualist chafes at the bonds of vocation, and seeks the freedom to do whatever pleases him.
The current crisis in vocation is in large part the fruits of the modern world’s attempt to flee the bonds of vocation and adopt a spirit of radical individualism. The hook-up culture is an expression of this trend - casual relationships without obligations replace the bonds of marriage.
Instinctively, however, people do not wish to be free of the bonds of vocation - most men and women still wish to give themselves completely to another in marriage, even if they do not fully understand the sacrifice which that entails. 
This call to vocation - to give ourselves to God and to our neighbor - is part of the beauty of humanity.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What If Your Child Was Gay? A Christian Answer

Christians who favor traditional marriage sometimes face a simple "trap" question from advocates of gay marriage: "What would you say to your child if he or she was gay?" Many Christians stumble over the question when asked, giving half-answers that don’t satisfactorily answer the question.
There is absolutely no reason for consternation. The correct answer is simple and is exactly 4 words long: “Child, I love you.” And then, the parent should give the child a hug.
Absolutely nothing more is necessary - provided certain conditions are met. For the parent must always provide unconditional love to the child, no matter what the child says or does.
A child should know that he is loved unconditionally, that anything he does, says, or is will not shake his parents' love for him. He must know that although parents must disapprove of any evil actions he commits, he will never be rejected for anything he does or suffers.
This unconditional love is not acceptance of the consequences of the condition, of course. For love is far more than mere acceptance of flaws (something which many in the modern world are confused about). Parental love requires a willingness to demand the best of the child, to constantly seek the spiritual good of the child.
Parents should make clear to the child the meaning of marriage and sex – having “the talk,” if you will - BEFORE such issues arise. Thus, the child should know that temptations - such as homosexuality - are not sins, and can be overcome and turned into a greater good if borne patiently. The child should already know that his same-sex attraction is a cross that he can and must bear if he is to be a good Christian - and for that matter, a happy person. 
This knowledge must be reinforced by the parents practicing a Christian lifestyle in their own marriage. Parents must make known to the child in their own lives the meaning of love – by embodying marital love in their dealings with their spouse; by lives of service and self sacrifice to one another
Is this problem difficult to resolve? Of course. But Christ demands that His followers take up their crosses if they are to follow Him. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Agnostic on Evolution

The topic of evolution is much debated in some Catholic circles. Some Catholics strongly uphold the theory of evolution, while other Catholics utterly reject it in favor of strict creationism.
I am an agnostic on the question. I must confess that I really don’t care whether animals were formed by evolutionary means or were “pure” creations of God. Such a question does not affect my belief in the Catholic faith in the slightest.
If God chose evolutionary means to form His creatures: Awesome! Through evolution, His wisdom is revealed by his beautiful direction of a natural process to spawn a multitude of different creatures.
If God chose to create His creatures directly: Excellent! His power and omnipotence is shown by His shaping of each individual creature.
Whatever method God chose to achieve the multiplicity of animals on earth, the doctrines of the Catholic Faith remain true in either case. God made man different from animals, gifting man specifically with reason, intellect, and free will, and sent His Son as a human being to redeem us from our sin - this does not change regardless of whether creationism or evolutionary theory is "true."
The question of evolution is of course interesting for scientists, who will (and should) continue to experiment to discover the method God used to achieve the multitude of animals on earth. But the question of whether or not animals were formed by evolutionary means is in some sense an immaterial question for Catholics, at least from a theological standpoint.   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Corporal Works of Mercy (Part 2)

1.      Feed the Hungry
2.      Give Drink to the Thirsty
Readers, I promised you a more in-depth look at the Corporal Works of Mercy. Here they are...
These first two corporal works of mercy are similar in nature - involving the same command to serve those who need sustenance.
At first glance, they both seem to be basic. They command us to give food and drink to those who need them. 
But a seemingly simple question arises: To whom do we give food and drink? Like the scholar who asked "And who is my neighbor?" in the Gospels (Luke 10:25-37), we are called to give to anyone we come across who needs our helps.
For most individuals, these two corporal works of mercy are primarily domestic affairs. Parents are called to provide for their spouses and children. Guests who visit are to be taken care of. 
These works of mercy often takes the form of mundane tasks: cooking meals, washing dishes, buying groceries, earning money for our families – those simple things we do every day. Done in a spirit of grumbling, these tasks are spiritually sapping; performed in a spirit of joy, they prove fruitful and are truly works of mercy.   
But we must be prepared to feed and to slake the thirst of more than our family and friends. We personally must feed all we can, and slake the thirst of all who need it, to the best of our ability. This includes the poor, the disabled, and the underprivileged.
Obviously, in the short term by through the simple charity of almsgiving. And indeed, some fortunate men and women are best suited to help the poor through this method - businessmen, financiers, and the wealthy.
But for most Christians, more than mere philanthropy is required of us. We are called to give of ourselves to those in need - by giving our time and energy to the poor.
Most of us are called to minister to our families and friends. Others are called to go to soup kitchens, and feed the poor through with their hands. Others are called to a missionary life, going out to foreign lands to nourish those in need. Still others are called to assist those on the streets and feed the homeless.
One thing is clear: we must give to those who need food and drink, in whatever fashion in which we are able to do so. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Return of the Poetry Session

It's been a while since I have tormented you, readers, with my bad poetry. Well, you shall be spared no longer.
This will be a somewhat ironic poem, since I am sitting in front of a screen. Oh, well...

Slave to the screen’s Pied Piper in a box,
Imprisoned by an image on a wall,
Held captive without shackles, bars, or locks:
A living, breathing, gaping china doll.
Sprawled on a chair, a mannequin now lies,
Chained to a shadow world with filmy eyes,
Trapped in a noisy, bright kaleidoscope,
Suspended from a foolish, flickering rope.
Unreal fantasias hold the doll in sway,
Snatching each wasted piece of life away:
The screaming image, blaring at full blast
Slowly entombs a brain inside its cast.
Another man through vision going blind
Another viewer melting in his mind.