Monday, November 03, 2014

The Morality of Voting and the Hierarchy of Issues

If we were to read together through the beautiful Letter to the Hebrews we would see that Jesus Christ and each of his priests are to each of you a brother; a preacher of a penetrating Word that gets at the heart of matters; one able to sympathize with the need to be challenged in order to grow in holiness, and one who is called by God to stand before Him as your representative. It is with this mandate and honor that I wish to say a word about the moral implications of the elections coming up.

My job is not to tell you who to vote for or against. I wouldn't want you to tell me who to vote for so I won’t do that to you. But, what I am called to do is help and guide you toward making moral decisions. All of our actions are either morally virtuous, morally neutral, or morally sinful. As your priest, as your Pastor, my vocation to teach, sanctify and govern most certainly includes preaching about morality. It is not wrong or illegal to speak about politics in Church if we focus on the morality of politics rather than partisanship. We can certainly talk about morality in Church.

A vote is a political act, but it is also a moral act. And a Catholic should not vote according to partisan politics but most importantly according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience. Our votes have moral implications because votes are powerful things that that can often either do good or do harm. With our vote we are capable of enabling and supporting the moral or immoral acts of politicians who have great power and influence over God’s people. The power of a vote becomes more and more apparent the tighter and tighter our elections become.

In order to help us wade through the morality of the issues at stake in an election, the Catholic Church in America gives us a helpful document called “Faithful Citizenship” which is a guide for Catholics on how to exercise their faith not only in their private or interior life, but in their political life as well. In it, we see that there is a hierarchy of issues and it stands to reason that those that directly affect life should be on top while those that indirectly affect life should fall beneath them. The document does do a good job of explaining this hierarchy. It also explains well how some political issues have to do with intrinsic moral evils, things that are essentially sinful and can never be justified. Other issues may concern things that are evil under some circumstances but can be justified in others. There are some things that faithful Catholics must always reject, for example, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and attempts to redefine marriage. This doesn’t come from me; this is clear, faithful Church teaching. Besides these, there are other issues that faithful Catholics can disagree on or that aren’t absolutely or essentially evil, for example, capital punishment in rare circumstances (which we don’t typically find in this country), the proper response to poverty, and how to address unemployment or health care.

The latest version of the Faithful Citizenship document is indeed very helpful, and I think the strongest version of it yet. It relies heavily though on another document from the Church in America that hasn’t gotten as much press or attention. It is called, Living the Gospel of Life. Let’s take a look at this. This is a little lengthy but I think it lays out nicely the proper approach that a faithful Catholic should take to the election coming soon. Listen to how it uses the image of a house to illustrate the various issues at hand. Some issues form the frame and the walls of the house, while others form the foundation. It says:

Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues… Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all those areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages. But being “right” in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the “rightness” of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as “the temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then these [issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, etc.] fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. [But] all direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.
The earlier teaching of St. John Paul II, on the Vocation and Mission of the Laity, has a similar message. He said, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination." Again, this doesn’t come from me, this comes from the Church.

We have seen clearly and consistently from our shepherds that the house of issues, like the temple of the Holy Spirit, should be respected for what it is. It would be unreasonable and maybe even sinful to vote for some issues as if they were the foundation of the house when they are really only the walls or crossbeams; or to put the foundation on the top of the house and the roof on the floor; or to build the whole thing on sand.

Again, I am not telling you who to vote for or against. What I am doing is challenging you, and me! to vote not according to party affiliation first and foremost, or because our parents and grandparents have always voted for a particular party, but instead according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience. A well-formed conscience is informed by the Church’s clear and consistent teaching concerning the hierarchy of issues, the intrinsic moral evil of some issues, and the legitimate disagreement that can be had with other issues.

 Remember what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews. I am preaching this in order to be for you a “brother”, your “representative before God,” someone painfully aware of his own need to be challenged in the moral life. I know that for some this homily has been quite affirming. For others it may be as Hebrews described, “sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” But I’m not being your true brother, your true representative before God if I fail to speak about moral issues both when it is easy and when it is hard. When the moral life gets hard we don’t just leave each other alone. We pray for each other, we challenge each other, we support each other. And together we “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

Sunday, May 11, 2014

4th Sunday of Easter, Year A: The Father and the Fold

Abridged version:
This Sunday is the fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, but we also call it “Good Shepherd” Sunday after the image of the Good Shepherd presented in our readings today. Typically we devote this particular Sunday to fervent prayers for Priestly and Religious Vocations and we should certainly do that today. But we also pray for your current shepherds, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, our bishop, Archbishop Kurtz, and the priests and deacons who serve us every day. With the pressures on the Church from the world around us, it is not easy to be a shepherd.

St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Peter stood up boldly to the Jews of his day, exhorting them to repent for their cooperation in the crucifixion of Jesus. And in his own letter, Peter described how he often suffered for doing what is good. But, he persevered, he followed the Lord’s example in suffering for the truth with humility and courage. Many people responded well to his courage – three thousand persons in one day were baptized! This great shepherd of the early Church, St. Peter, out of love for the flock made up of Jews and Gentiles, called them to faithfulness. Those who heard his voice responded because they heard in Peter the voice of Jesus Christ. What set Peter apart from other shepherds, from other voices calling for the attention of the people? It was his willingness to truly love the flock. And true love always involves some degree of sacrifice, even suffering.

When a husband cares for his dying wife, this may not always bring the most pleasant feelings, but he does this because he loves her. When a son cares for his ailing father, this brings difficulty and disruption, but he does this because he loves him. When parents sacrifice their own goals, or wants, or needs in order to provide for their children, this can bring difficulties and disappointment, but they do this because they love them. Similarly, we can recognize a true shepherd by his love for his sheep, by what he is willing to endure for them.

True shepherds are those who lead their flock with self-sacrificial love, who boldly preach the truth with love despite the pressures or ridicule. When the wolves come among them, true shepherds do not run away, afraid for their own welfare, neglecting that of his sheep. No, they stay, throwing themselves among them, standing guard and confronting the wolves in order to protect the sheep. This can be a test for anything or anyone trying to shepherd your life. What does that shepherd do when you are in danger, a danger that could envelope the shepherd too?

The account of the good shepherd that we hear from the Gospel, about the shepherd who calls his sheep by name and leads them out to pasture, illustrates God’s great love for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd walks ahead of us, periodically calling us forward, reassuring us in the chaotic world around us with the gentleness and familiarity of his voice. Jesus said, “the sheep follow the shepherd because they recognize his voice… they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers… whoever enters through me will be saved…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Through all the voices crying out to lead us, can we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus?

Through some time each day in prayer and Scripture reading, by challenging ourselves and each other to remain faithful to the Church, by coming to Mass every Sunday and making a monthly confession, we will be able to hear and follow Jesus’ voice above all others. And when you bring your children to Mass and to confession then you ensure that they too will be able to hear His voice above all others. Politicians, Universities, the Media are all clamoring to shepherd us and our children. Only by consistently hearing the voice of the truth will their hearts and ears be attuned to that voice so that it pierces through all others. And only by experiencing the nourishment within the sheepfold, will their grow to love it rather than resent it.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Vigil, Year A: Captivating Joy and Healing Light

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Welcome! I welcome all of you today, especially friends and family of our parishioners who are visiting this morning. Whether you are a daily Mass-goer or only occasionally go to Mass, you are Welcome here. We have good people here to pray alongside and support you, to answer any questions you may have and to help you build a more regular practice of your faith. I know that some people remember having a priest that they did not feel like they could go directly to with a question or concern or need. They felt like they had to send someone else to speak for them. They didn’t feel like they could knock on the door or call their priest. I am not that kind of priest. I have a formal way of celebrating Mass but that does not mean that my personality is always like that or that I want to be distant from you. You can always come to me directly with anything at all.

It is such a great joy for me to be celebrating with you this Easter Vigil, my first Easter Vigil as a pastor and as the main celebrant. Tonight’s celebration in which four adults, four candidates, will be Received into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, will be a beautiful experience. After their own special profession of faith, and reception into the Church, they will be immediately confirmed. They will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit who enhances and completes the graces they received in Baptism when they were younger. Finally, they will receive their first Holy Communion, in which Christ feeds them with his glorified Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. What a miraculous night! In one continuous celebration, will be made members of the Church, soldiers for Christ, and share fully in Holy Communion!

The power of this day reaches all of our hearts wherever and whoever we are… just as it reached the hearts of St. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb; and the hearts of St. Peter and St. John, causing them to run to announce the Resurrection to the disciples. Even Catholics who rarely attend Mass, find their way back to this Easter day. Each one of us, from the daily Mass-goer, to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic, have carried some darkness, some obstacle that Christ today wants to illuminate with his glorious Light. Today, darkness is no more; it yields to and is conquered by, the Risen Son. No matter what it is that keeps us from a deeper, more personal friendship with Christ, today He conquers it with his healing light: whether it be a doubt about our faith, or a lack of zeal or devotion, or a memory of an offense in the past that has kept you away, or the darkness of a tragedy in the family or of frustration with yourself – no matter the darkness, the healing Light of Christ shines on it today.

Have you all ever been to Mammoth Cave in south central Kentucky? I remember going on a field trip there in high school. One of the shticks they do is to lead a group of people into the heart of the cave and then turn out all the lights. Then the tour guide asks the group to put their hands in front of their faces and try to see them. It’s no use, in the heart of that cave, there is no light to get used too. Our eyes will never adjust, he says, not matter how long we sit there. The moment you can start to feel the tension in the cave, the tour guide slowly turns the lights back on much to everyone’s great relief. We got a sense of this earlier, when all of the lights of the Church were off, representing the individual and collective darkness that mankind suffers without the Light of Christ. Soon though the Easter Candle, lit from the Easter fire, showed us the way.

The temptation for each of us, though, is to just get used to the darkness rather than let the Light of Christ illuminate it. We become acclimated to bumping around in the night – it becomes our new normal. And I’m speaking for all of us here today, myself included. We get used to the same bad habit, guilty pleasure, personality quirk, or weakness and we forget that the Light of Christ is much stronger than those things. We forget that the Light of Christ has actually already won. We tend to think of ourselves as downtrodden and hoping for victory, rather than victorious and hoping to maintain the victory

Don’t let the devil rob you of your joy. Again, everyone from the daily Mass-goer to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic has something holding them back. Today, no matter what it is, let Christ’s Light heal and conquer it. Today is a day of joy and gladness – a joy and gladness that lasts for 50 days, and God-willing well beyond. This is the day when Christ works in our hearts with His grace, getting us more used to him, the Light of the World, than to the darkness and making new, or deepened, faithfulness to Him and to His Church our new normal. Today he leads us and he not only turns on the light, but walks us out of the cave, and he not only keeps the Easter fire burning, but leads us into the Church and into the center of the divine life of the Trinity.

In that great movie, The Mission, Mendoza, a slave hunter on the cusp of conversion, says to the Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel: “For me there is no redemption, no penance great enough.” Fr. Gabriel replies, “There is. But do you dare to try it?” That is our Lord’s challenge to you and me: Do we dare try to let His Light, His Joy, His Redemption change and transform our lives?

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