Friday, May 28, 2004

Alicia is going to host a discussion on her Fructus Ventris web log about medical ethics. (Thank you very much, Alicia)

Please note the link to My Domestic Church on the left. It's a nice site. A few days ago I wrote about worry that the Catholic Church might become a single-issue Church over abortion. When I was in the Orthodontist's office the other day, I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly called "The Case against Perfection." It's a very long and detailed article concerning the secular arguments against using cloning and gene therapy and in-vitro cleansing to design your perfect baby. So you can see, throw in gay marriage and the Catholic Church is anything but a single-issue church. Abortion, contraception, gay marriage, stem-cell research, in-vitro selection, mapping the human genome... the science of the human body is fast overwhelming our moral language.

I worry: Back in the early 1600's, it was astronomy and mathematics that were beyond our moral language and the church made mistakes about science which she was centuries in overcoming and admitting. We have a lot of new Galileos, mapping the inner universe of our body just as the old Galileo mapped the outer solar system. Explorers want in the worst way to go there and we can be sure, because when have explorers ever been stopped, that they will go there.

The question: Once the new world is discovered, once stem-cell cures for Parkinson's or MS or MD or Alzheimer's are discovered. What then? What will Catholic parents do when the cure is there for others but morally unavailable to them? How many of us, today, reject the Christian Scientists for letting their people die rather than allowing simple, medical treatment. One of my neighbors, a young mother, died over Christmas from a kidney stone infection. She was a Christian Scientist who refused treatment and left two pre-school children behind.

The answer: Who am I to say. My conscience is still in formation.

The Pope worries Indiana and Chicago Bishops over American materialism.

I was mulling over writing down some thoughts about John Ashcroft's press conference where he discussed our coming "Summer of Terror." (Isn't that just like America to come up with a catchy title for our fears? "Summer of Terror" -- it sounds like a new Disney World ride.) Anyway, I remember Ashcroft spoke about the threat to the G8 Summit in Georgia in early June and the threat to the Republican and Democrat Conventions in Boston and New York. I remember that he showed seven pictures of wanted terrorists and he told us to be on the lookout.

Do you think I could find a transcript of his speech? I'm good at finding things on the Internet and in this case I even stooped to going to the White House site and looked under National Defense and Homeland Defense... nothing. It was so easy to find Al Gore's speech, which was so much less important, perhaps the Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department really are struggling.

I found this description of the speech from Command Post and I found this frightening post from Jeff Nyquist, but why John Ashcroft's speech isn't plastered all over the Justice Department site, or the Department of Homeland Security Site or the White House site... I just can't explain.

But anyway, my thought was that we are not very likely to ever have peace on Earth, good will toward men because, in the end, what use would there be for Heaven if the world wasn't fallen? But if such horrible things happen, Christians need to display their virtues, their courage, their fortitude, their temperance, their prudence all the more. If ever such massive attacks as Jeff Nyquist fears come about, we'll need to put the golden rule to work like never before.

There will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here. The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a 'Heaven' for them.
-- C.S. Lewis again, from "Mere Christianity"

Update: OK, here's the transcript I was looking for.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes golf or his motor-bike or bridge or a dog the centre of his life is being just as 'intemperate' as someone who gets drunk every evening.
-- C.S. Lewis writing about the Cardinal Virtues
-- Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude

Growing up in the midwest, in the country, a mile from the nearest neighbors, temperance was a constant teaching of our parents. Temperence, moderation in all things. But one thing my parents taught that Lewis leaves out is temperance in your church life. My parents were members of church committees now and then, and we were always in church on Sunday, but I remember well my father saying, "The church is always in need and it will eat your life alive if you let it." We seldom, if ever went in for church activities during the week as a family.

I saw a man at my old Methodist church with a wife and a child quit his job and lose his house, he moved in with his in-laws, that he might deliver more meals to the needy. I saw him run a youth program, without pay, all his energy focused on bringing the unchurched to God, while his own son acted out, spitting on other kids, crying hysterically, in care of others. I saw him endlessly filming and editing the church services, without pay, to send out to nursing homes and to those away on vacation, while his family, at home, was falling apart. I saw my father's warning played out in real life and I think about it now, when my new parish has another need of someone, for something. I'm willing to help, but...

Temperance in all things, my father taught me, and family comes first.

Oh, I know all about Jesus telling people to leave their family, consider them dead, and follow me! But were those families left behind Christian families? Jesus was talking about turning people to God, not about breaking Christian families apart. I'll happily call Bingo if my family is marking their cards. I'll happily run the ring toss at the Fall Festival with my sons. I'll even take my turn on a committee, but I won't intemperately find myself at church every other evening while my children play catch against the bricks.

It's hard to find a place in Al Gore's speech to jump in and comment. So much of it was a rant, unworthy, if you ask me (which you didn't) of a former Vice President who was only a hair's breadth away from the presidency.

I went into the speech I linked above to look for the line about dragging the United States of America through the mud... and didn't find it. But I do find it here, posted on the same site... I wonder if it was an ad-lib? Anyway, the link in this paragraph appears to be more complete, including:

How dare they blame their misdeeds on enlisted personnel from a Reserve unit in upstate New York. President Bush owes more than one apology. On the list of those he let down are the young soldiers who are themselves apparently culpable, but who were clearly put into a moral cesspool. The perpetrators as well as the victims were both placed in their relationship to one another by the policies of George W. Bush.

How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney Administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein's torture prison.

Now, you know why I'm posting that section. In raising four kids, I never saw a more damaging moment in the Presidency as when Al Gore stood out on the White House lawn with 100 Democrat Congresspeople, after Bill Clinton was impeached for his craven activities and lies, and said that Clinton would be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in the nation's history. Talk about dragging the nation through the mud -- every middle school kid in the country who didn't know the details of how to nearly have sex, learned quickly from the news. You've heard about these bracelets little girls wear which stand for sexual favors... that has its genesis in the Clinton Oval Office, if you ask me... which, again, you didn't. And you know, if Al Gore would have stood up for what is right at that time, if he would have resigned or just sat on his hands... I think he would be President today. In short, Gore's speech yesterday shows the good judgement of the rural areas of America (who elected President Bush)... they believed that if Gore would compromise himself for Bill Clinton, then he just might not stand up for our Nation. Based on his speech yesterday, I don't believe he would have either.

Update: John Podhoretz didn't like Al's speech much either.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Born of Sin

There is, about her, an attractiveness
that's born of sin. She has a knowing glance,
a heartfelt touch, a smile infused
with ancient promises and proffered chance.
I find her ready, so eager for me
to rid myself of all that holds me back,
of all that interferes with my release,
of all that interrupts my loving her.
She doesn't draw attention to my lack
of focus on her needs, but seeks, instead,
to make me feel at home, complete, at peace
within her arms, redeemed within her bed.
There is, about her, an attractiveness
that's born of every sin she's heard confessed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Discernment went well. The decision I've made to become Catholic was something thought out, something I'm convinced is right, something, in the end, that I'm ready to defend. I'm looking forward to the coming RICA classes. I don't think dismissal will be too hard -- perhaps I might continue to go to Mass with my family on Saturday evening and just go alone on Sunday morning for dismissal study.

I began, tonight, to see some of the deep fissures in even this local church, let alone the global Catholic Church. During my discernment, we spoke a bit about contraception and gay marriage. We all know people we love and respect who have used contraception and others, both friend and family, who are gay. We all know of friends and family whose marriages have fallen apart around them. We all know and love people who sin just as we ourselves live in daily sin. Drawing a line in the sand and refusing communion to politicians who support abortion, or refusing communion to individual catholics who vote for politicians who support abortion... in effect, turns the church into a single issue body. Is this good? I'm too young in my faith to make that call... but I don't get the impression from what history I've read of our Tradition that the Catholic Church is historically a single-issue church and I don't get the impression from the Bible that Jesus was a single-issue teacher.

One instructor said that the Catholic Church can be a very comfortable place for unthinking people, people who are happy to be told, 'This is Right' and 'This is wrong' and that's that. The instructor said that the church can also be a very turbulent place for people who think.

This, of course, is dangerous ground because there are plenty of people who think who are very comfortable with the Catholic Faith and there are plenty of people who don't think hardly at all who bash the church out of pure ignorance. This comes quite close to the nuance thing... saying that the more intelligent you are, the less difference there is between Right and Wrong. The Protestant Churches, more and more, just don't go there, where 'there' is divorce, homosexuality, abortion, infidelity... sin. They don't go there because they don't want to alienate anyone and reduce their rolls even further, even faster... but this has the opposite effect as many studies have shown (none of which I'm going to try to find tonight). Whether we care to hear about issues in black and white or not, we need to allow Right and Wrong to be preached. If some go away mad, at least they have a passion and aren't luke warm.

We raised our teenagers with a plan: arguments are going to happen and it's the kid who should go away mad. They should go away mad because teenagers are built to rebel, it's part of growing... if they have no boundaries to bash against and never have the opportunity to yell, "It's just not FAIR" well... then they'll most likely be rather spoiled fruit.

I feel the same about my priest giving a sermon against contraception, against gay marriage, against abortion, against divorce... against the lives of some of my friends and family... perhaps it isn't fair. Get used to it, don't be spoiled in your faith, there are boundaries.

Update: Liberal Churches See Drop in Attendance


Tonight's RCIA class is Discernment. The discernment process tries to determine whether we're ready to move ahead to the next phase of RCIA. I'm at the first phase, the pre-catechumenate phase, and I hope to move on to the Catechumenate period. That was the purpose of our homework at the last session where we had to write down answers to questions like, "Who is Jesus for you?" and "What are you seeking from the Catholic Church?" and "What do you want from God?" and "How and When and for what do you pray?" If our teachers think we're ready, and if we accept, we'll be going through the Rite of Acceptance in the first Sunday in June.

I will find out more tonight, but one thing I'm concerned about is Dismissal. The final part of the Rite of Acceptance is your dismissal from the assembly, you will now be dismissed on a weekly basis until Easter vigil. At the dismissal you will further discuss the Word of God and the homily (sermon). It's never easy to be the one who doesn't partake in communion, but I also have a family there in the pew... will I have to leave them at the end of the sermon every week for most of a year? Some other sites I've read say that dismissal takes place after the gospel reading... so that would mean I'd miss the actual homily/sermon each week.

Well, I'll take it as it comes.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Because Protestant mentality encourages church shopping, most
Protestants end up in a church they like with people they like. In
other words, they end up in a church with people just like them.
In the Catholic Church that doesn't work. I often say the Catholic
Church is more like a bus stop than a club. Like a bus stop, there
are lots of very different people gathered together for the same
purpose, not just because they have the same hobby.

-- Dwight Longenecker, National Catholic Register

Although I've certainly seen people leave the Methodist Church and pick up happily in other churches, I think Longenecker overstates when he says Protestants end up in Churches with people just like themselves... there's too much conflict for that to be true. Pastors play a very important role. But I really liked the image of the Catholic Church as a bus stop.

Donald Sensing has a nice entry over on "One Hand Clapping" about Ascension Sunday. The comments on the entry are interesting, too, with an apparent agnostic asking something like, "Isn't it really more probable that a couple of buddies of Jesus hid his body and none of this really happened?" This is just the type of question "Mere Christianity" and "Everlasting Man" are meant to answer... how best to boil down entire books as a comment into a blog entry?

If you remember back few months ago, there were many articles about Bush and "The 'S' Factor" about why he was leading in the polls. The 'S' in 'S' Factor stands for 'Stupid.' Meaning both that Bush is too stupid to see both sides of issues and how this comes across so well among stupid people. There has been so much written on both sides about President Bush being dumb and Senator Kerry being so nuanced that he doesn't understand right from wrong that it has become almost meaningless. I imagine it's overplayed on both sides.

I thought of that while reading C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity."

We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more clearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consquently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether.
-- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

So if the "Bush is Dumb" and "Kerry is too Nuanced" lines are no longer enlightening, where do we go? We have a lot of politicking ahead of us yet in 2004, but perhaps the choice between Bush and Kerry can be brought to bright relief by Kerry's comments after President Bush, 16 miles into a 17 mile mountain bike ride, fell yesterday. You'll notice in the article that Sentator Kerry's spokesperson didn't deny John Kerry made fun of President Bush's "training wheels falling off," only that it was "off the record." And what is the bright relief? It isn't that Kerry would make fun of someone who fell and injured themselves (which is bad enough), but rather that Kerry fell off his own bike in Boston just a few weeks ago. Not only didn't Kerry finish his ride while Bush did, Kerry's accident was much more dangerous than Bush's since Kerry fell into the oncoming lane of traffic (apparently no one was coming) while Bush was riding in the wilderness. So, a couple of weeks after Kerry's experience of falling in Boston, Bush falls in Crawford. Kerry's first instinct is not to say, "Boy, I know how that feels, I hope he's alright." No, Kerry's first instinct is to belittle the president for something he, himself has done as well. Who thinks like that? I cannot imagine voting for a person who thinks like that.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Humanae Vitae 

Our priest gave a rip roaring homily this week. I was impressed. This was a Holy Day of Obligation (Ascension Sunday) so the church was packed and he took the opportunity to teach, not to make people feel good about themselves, but to make them uncomfortable with the cultural status quo.

He spoke about contraception and Pope Paul VI's HUMANAE VITAE from 1968. He called the Pope's letter prophetic and argued that many are defying the letter without ever spending the time to read it. Here's a taste of Human Vitae:

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.

Our priest then called out politicians who call themselves Catholic but don't support Church teachings regarding birth control and abortion and other topics. He spoke about how these same politicians are condemning the Church for teaching what the church believes. In the sermon, our priest said that the people in power won't start out with large laws restricting the church, but with little things, like the California decision to make Catholic Charities provide birth control pills to their employees. Soon, the government will decide to start taxing the Church because they'll claim that teaching what we believe is the same as taking sides politically.

It was a full and strong talk... a call to the faithful to stand watch. It was the type of sermon that once could have happened in a Methodist Church, back when they fought righteously against drinking and gambling, back when it was a scandal in the Methodist Church to divorce or get pregnant out of wedlock, back when a woman aborting her baby would have been unthinkable. But now the Methodist Women proudly take part in the "March for Choice" in Washington.

But, on the good side, there is conflict in the Methodist Church over their direction... read this nice article about Methodists and Stem Cell Research vs. Dr. Seuss.

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