Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spitting Mad

Though as a former tomboy I will never manage to be as ladylike as my mother, I do try. And I regard spitting as disgusting. But "spitting mad" is the only way I can describe how I felt listening to the Catholic spokesperson on a radio program last week. This nun was a far better spokesperson for the President than for the Church.
     While it was somewhat shocking that Obama would trample so blatantly on the religious rights of Catholics, what is far more shocking and disturbing to me is how many people—even Catholics—are defending this HHS mandate. 
     I guess people just don't get it.
     This should be alarming to any American, no matter what their personal opinion is about contraception or the Church's teaching on it.
     It's like the French situation a year or two ago. I'm not a Muslim, but I'm outraged that the French government decided that Muslim girls could not wear head-scarves to school.
     The move they made next—to make it "more fair," I suppose—didn't
help at all: not allowing any students to wear any religious item, including crosses or crucifixes. All it did was confirm the fears of people of any faith, who had immediately wondered, "Who's next?" It simply showed that the ruling secular humanists weren't singling out the Muslims but disrespecting all religious people. Was that supposed to make the Muslims happy? So what if they spread the persecution to more people? And even so, it still wasn't fair.
     I wouldn't want my right to wear a crucifix taken away, but it's still worse for the Muslim girl. In my religion, it is not a sin not to wear a crucifix. Even my scapular—if the government tried to steal my right to wear that (though how they would know, since it's hidden, is itself troubling), I would find it intolerable, but that is a matter of personal devotion, not a commandment. I don't have to wear it; it's not a sin not to wear a scapular.
     But for the practicing Muslim girl, as far as I understand it, it is a sin for her to go out in public without a head-scarf. I personally don't regard it as a sin, but I respect her conscience. 
     What is a sin is for a government to force someone to do something against his or her conscience.The government's job is to protect our rights not strip us of them.
      It's annoying that people defend this mandate by saying that many Catholics themselves don't have any qualms about using contraception. That doesn't change the fact that other Catholics do.
      Not all Jews observe kosher laws—does that mean that the government has the right to step in and tell the kosher Jews to get with it and believe what other Jews believe?
      I was planning to draw out this analogy at length—asking if the government has the right to force kosher Jews in the food industry to serve pork—but then I found this week that a bishop already has done so, and much better than I could. 
    So I highly recommend the parable Bishop Lori presented to Congress; I especially like how he shows the meaninglessness of the President's “compromise”. Here's the link:  Testimony of Most Reverend William E. Lori.

    Everyone should be worried, to put it in Bishop Lori's words, "that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs."
     (To write to Congress, click here: Conscience Protection)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Life without Sacrifice

There is no such thing.

We’d like to think there is. Many live their lives simply trying to please themselves, and think they are thus avoiding sacrifice. Many avoid God, religion, or following all the dictates of their professed religion, because they don’t like the idea of sacrifice. In their minds, either God is mean and wrong to ask for sacrifice, or He is too nice to do so.
      But there’s no escaping it, even if we are blind to its presence, or even if we reject God. Some may think they serve no one and certainly no god, but that’s impossible. Whether we admit it or not, the temple in our heart can’t be empty. If we refuse to allow God in there, some other idol(s) will slip in, in His place. And that idol will always demand sacrifice.
     This sounds crazy, I know, but think about it. Let’s say I decide I will be happiest if I have a lot of money. I’m so dedicated to riches that I decide to let nothing stop me. So I put making money above following the law (provided I won't get caught). I put making money above exercise and rest, since I’ve got to put in a lot of hours to advance at work. I put it above being fair to my co-workers, because getting that promotion is integral to achieving my goal. So I’ll backstab or even lie about my co-workers. I may not admit it, but money is my idol, and the sacrifices I make to it are my conscience, my health, and good relationships with my colleagues.
Or let’s say what I care most about is pleasure. I don’t want to slave away at my job; I only work so I can pay for my pleasures. So I do just enough to keep my job; I don’t care about the company I work for, its well-being, or about pleasing my boss. I like people who are fun and with whom I have a good time. If they stop being fun or have problems, I avoid them if possible. I engage in activities that are pleasurable, even if they’re bad for me or risky. I may not admit that I’m worshipping pleasure or sacrificing my integrity, my long-term welfare, real friendship, my health, and possibly my life to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am.
Of course in both those cases, all I’ve listed are the temporal sacrifices, which any open-minded person can perceive. But believers also notice the spiritual price to be paid: worshipping money, pleasure, or anything instead of God ultimately means the sacrifice of my character, of my virtues, of my eternal soul.

Most people aren’t as extreme as these examples though. They want money and pleasure and friends, so they give something to each. But they still fudge giving much of anything to God. 
But many do allow God in the temple of their hearts. Nevertheless, all of us—being sinners—have at least at times let down our guard and also allowed some minor gods to creep in there too. We don’t admit that they’re idols, so we think God won’t mind sharing some space with them. We think we can please Him and them too, and get the benefits of pouring a few surreptitious libations in their direction.

      Much as we would like to, we can’t keep our pretty cake intact and eat it too. Everything comes with a price. Often the price is worth it. Working hard at one’s job is worth the cost involved to provide for one’s family. But not if means having only crumbs of time left for one’s family.
Growing in virtue and going to heaven have a price too—I have to follow God’s commands, even though it means denying myself or doing something difficult—but that price is well worth it. Any sacrifice I need to make—my pride, my grudges, indulging in excessive pleasure, my pet sins, getting my way—any and every one of these sacrifices is well worth heaven and union with God, who alone can satisfy my soul.

The Mandate: A Case in Point
Contraception is evidently one of our national idols. It’s a sister goddess to sex; we don’t like the former as much as the latter, but we put up with the one to enjoy the other. It doesn’t matter that contraception comes with a price; we prefer the costs of contraception to the costs of sex alone—babies and sexually transmitted disease. It doesn’t matter what contraception demands of us, we’re willing to pay it.
It doesn’t matter that she interferes with the total gift of self that sex is meant to be; that in her chemical form she has unpleasant and sometimes serious side effects—from moodiness to sterility to cancer to possibly even death; that she doesn’t always come through on her promises, but lets babies and disease come to us even after we’ve sacrificed to her. She can always open her mantle and show us her twin, abortion, who’s often been secretly at work there anyway.
We would rather pay all these costs than even consider the alternative. We could avoid disease much more effectively simply by saving sex until marriage and being faithful within marriage. We could space our babies simply by paying attention to the signs of the wife’s fertility and abstaining while she’s fertile. Many, many people evidently consider this way too high a price to pay. We’d rather have sex available at all times. (Plus most people don't know that conscientious natural family planning is as effective, if not more so, than the Pill, so even those who do save sex for marriage usually won't consider natural family planning.)
So we’ll make any sacrifice that contraception demands. Even sacrificing the conscience of others. Better tread on someone else’s first amendment rights and weaken the future protection of our own than diminish the worship of our beloved goddesses.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Expanding Valentine's Day

When I was a child, I once heard an adult scoffingly remark how silly it was for children to exchange Valentine cards—Valentine's Day was for grown-ups, for couples.
      That really stuck with me, and when I was a teenager, Valentine's Day was generally depressing. 
      (One year though, the unthinkable did happen: an FTD truck actually drove down the long dirt road that ended at my house in the boonies with a dozen roses for me! But since they were from a nice fellow whose feelings I didn't reciprocate, after a flash of excitement, I just went from feeling sorry for myself to feeling sorry for him and slightly guilty too.)
      It stuck with me too when my eldest kids were little—I didn't take too much notice of Valentine's Day with them. Not until that year that we went to the library for what would prove a memorable storytime.
      The librarian was reading a children's book about the meaning of Valentine's Day. Inwardly I groaned. This is so ridiculous, I thought. But then I started paying attention. It was about a child who was making a valentine for her grandmother. Valentine's Day, the author asserted, was a day to show our love to one another.
      It hit me like brick. How sad that I'd missed the point for so many years.
      (But I don't think I'm alone in this misconception. And I still think it's silly or kinda weird that some kids' valentines say things like “Be mine”. Chalk up another one for the greeting card industry, I guess.)
      At any rate, since then, I've seen the holiday in a different light. Of course, I make sure to express my love to my husband—we always try to do something special. But I don't limit it to him. I try to make sure my kids feel loved too. And that they express love to others as well.
      So if you're feeling left out this Valentine's Day—remember that there's no need to. Get busy.
      We who try to follow Him who is Love Incarnate should all be busy on Valentine's Day. Reach out especially to anyone who might be lonely today. Your widowed father, the little old lady next door or in the next pew. There are Eleanor Rigbys in all our lives. Be a channel of God's love and thoughtfulness to them.
     And if you can, try also to visit Jesus, the most neglected Lover of all.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Romance—Doomed to Die?

Yesterday I caught the tail-end of a radio interview, in which a young man said that if he were ever to get married, he would make it a rule that after seven years the marriage would automatically be deemed over; if they wanted it to continue, they’d have to get remarried.
We’ve gone from idolizing romance to cynically expecting it to die.

So what’s the secret to staying “in love”, to keeping romance alive in your marriage? Is it even possible?
Well, the first thing is to realize that it is perfectly normal for romantic feelings to come and go. Too many people in our culture today don’t understand this and give up when it goes, not realizing that it will come back. (Witness such songs as “You’ve lost that loving feeling [3x], now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh-oh.”) C.S. Lewis once pointed out that actually it would be extremely impractical if it remained in all its first intensity. How could anyone get anything done if one were in that infatuated stage constantly?
Another thing to recognize from the get-go is that romantic feeling—like any magical creature—flees from pursuit. If you try too hard to capture it, it eludes you. If you try to imprison it, it will escape. It is like a wild, free unicorn. You must create the right atmosphere—a beautiful garden—for it to thrive, and it will return. And you must be very patient; you never know when it will come.
It's crucial, then, to build your marriage on friendship and respect. (If it wasn't your original foundation, it's not too late to build it now.) That is the rock that will keep your relationship from being swept away by the storms that will surely come. It will also see you through the doldrums, when romance seems dead and gone.
Attitude is everything. When we first fall in love, all we see (or care about) is the beloved’s good qualities. We’re blind to their faults. But as we get to know one another better, the latter become more obvious. If we’re not careful, the faults and foibles can in turn blind us to the good qualities or make us take them for granted. That’s when familiarity breeds contempt.
It’s probably human nature—fallen human nature, that is—that tempts us to focus on what’s irritating in others and how we ourselves are unappreciated. But this is a fruitless exercise. While we can and sometimes should try to influence others, the only person we can change is ourselves. (And, by the way, guard the power of that influence by using it sparingly. The more you utilize it, the less potent it is. If you become a nag, you lose all influence.)
Instead of mulling over how you’d like the other to change and what you do for them that is taken for granted, flip that around. You can’t make your spouse change or appreciate you; you can only change yourself. Stop and reflect on what you are taking for granted in your spouse, and be thankful. Stop and reflect on how you might be irritating or where you might be failing to love: what should you change? what more could you do for your spouse?
We need to see and love the whole person: not just the qualities nor just the faults. Appreciate and wonder over the former and accept the latter, humbly recognizing one’s own imperfections.
The philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book on Marriage held that our initial “infatuated” vision of the beloved was not false, but a gift from God. We were given a unique insight into what makes our beloved so wonderful, so lovable, a share in seeing our beloved as God sees them. And von Hildebrand says we must not lose that but guard it. Recall what attracted you to your spouse in the first place. What additional qualities and virtues have you discovered since then?
Your job is to be your spouse’s biggest fan and biggest cheerleader. To build that person up and find ways to make them feel loved and cherished.
Ups and downs are part of every marriage, and indeed every life. Getting through them, holding fast to God and one another, is precisely what builds and strengthens love.
Most important, always remember that the heart of love is self-sacrifice. Love Himself clearly demonstrated this throughout His life and, most of all, in His death on the cross.
Is any of this easy? No. In fact, sometimes it is impossible. That is, impossible on our own strength. “But all things are possible with God.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I wonder if worrying should be considered a national pastime. We certainly spend a lot of time doing it, often without realizing it.
         When Jesus told His followers to leave off worrying, in his famous “Consider the lilies…” passage (Mt 6:25-33), his audience had a lot more reason to worry than we do. Most of them were poor, and they were living in an occupied country, under Pontius Pilate, who had shown little respect for them or their lives. Yet He said to them, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’"
Most of us in the West don’t have to worry about what we're going to eat or wear, as we are not faced with the likelihood of going without food or clothing. We often worry about things far less basic to survival. We worry about being liked, paying for all that we think we need or want, our reputation—which in turn causes us to worry about not looking good enough, saying the wrong thing, etc.
We also worry about more important things, of course, but things we have no control over: the economy, the safety of our loved ones or of our country, etc.
But worrying over anything, even the most justifiable in worldly terms (e.g., our own life), Jesus says is a waste of time: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” Rather, He teaches us that being a child of God means trusting that our heavenly Father will care for us.
Actually, worrying is something of an insult to God; it shows a lack of confidence in His love for us. Rather, I should entrust the things that worry me to God. I should build my trust by recalling what He has done for me in the past when I gave my concerns to Him.
         Instead of worrying, Christ urges us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Doing that automatically kicks me out of center stage, and puts God there, where He belongs. Seeking God's Kingdom also gives us His perspective and helps us get our priorities straight. 
        After all, what is life about? Isn't about getting to heaven and bringing others with us? I need to spend my energy more on working with the Holy Spirit to sanctify my soul and to be a channel of God’s love to the souls around me. Everything else is temporary.
And seeking God's Kingdom and righteousness before all else yields the opposite of anxiety: peace and joy. When I stop fooling myself in thinking I can have it both ways—serve God and seek my own interest—only then will I have peace. Otherwise I become anxious to get my way and greedy to keep it, whether it is a little thing, like a little pleasure or reward I anticipate for myself, or achieving my five-year plan. When I let go of all these things—when I become like St. Paul who was content to feast or do without—only then I have peace in God’s will, only then I can “rejoice at all times.”
Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” means seeking His will, attaching myself to His will, not my own. And when I do that, I can know joy because I’m aware that whatever happens, happens according to His will. (Everything happens at least according to His permissive will if not His perfect will, for He uses even the sins of others against us for our good and the good of the Kingdom). He reassured us of this: “I know my plans for you, and they are for good, and not for evil” (Jer 29:11). And “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
         There’s really only one thing to worry about: am I pleasing God?