This blog started out as a collection of scripts for an online radio show of the same name. It riffed off of my 2004 book, Musings from the Christian Left, now republished as The Conscience of a Catholic Radical.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

On the Sunday obligation

This week's Arlington Catholic Herald contains a piece on the Sunday obligation by Fr. William J. Byron, S.J. where he looks at the obligation in terms of the western movie term "much obliged" - in other words, that the obligation should be out of gratitude - primarily to God and also out of a shared part of the Eucharistic community. This essay was intended to explore the question of why such an obligation is necessary in light of the fact that most are not motivated to go out of a fear of damnation, which was more present in earlier times.

Father makes a good effort and I am certainly not one to begrudge the necessity of gratitude to spirituality. Indeed, it is the kind of spiritual anchor one would expect of a priest who follows the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola. Still, his analysis misses something that I reflected on a while back in a blog post I wrote in 2009 on my Christian Left blog on the first three Commandments. You can read it at

My essential point was that we worship not for God's sake, but for our own. A God that needs our worship is something less than divine. Indeed, given the quality of most worship, especially the congregational singing, it is essentially art on God's refrigerator. Even the worship of the angels, in comparison to the harmonies of the Blessed Trinity, is simply a better brand of refrigerator art. Indeed, the sin of Lucifer was the belief that his worship was essential to God - more essential than even the sacrifice of Jesus (who was also a creature). We know where that got him.

I say this not to deny the need for Sunday Mass, but merely to assert that it is our need as individuals and as community. God does not need or require it for Their own sake. The realization of that, however, is not why people stopped going to Mass. The reason many stopped really was Humanae Vitae, either because they were unwilling to pick and chose doctrine and therefore simply sever ties (a problem that readers note that I do not have) or because the arrogance of Rome in decreeing this, especially as both the American bishops and the panel advising the Pope on this issue were going the other way before Pope Paul VI relied on authority rather than what many saw as the obvious facts, both on married sexuality and the possibility that a blastocyst could be a person. The obligation to attend Mass goes hand in hand with the obligation by the Pope to listen to faithful. The perception that Paul VI and his successors were tone deaf to the concerns of married Catholics, whether true or not, is a valid explanation of why many have stopped attending - save to touch base on Christmas, Easter, and for weddings and funerals.

I urge those who have lapsed for this reason to come back and demand to be heard, especially as the bishops seem to be doubling down on the question of contraception again, this time in flirting with closing down services in response to how contraceptive copays are being handled in health care reform (coverage itself was required by EEOC since 2000, mostly without objection from the faithful). Demand to be heard. If you do not, they will speak for you anyway in a way you don't necessarily agree with. If the hierarchy truly is wrong on this issue, we owe it to our fellow Catholics who happen to be bishops to offer correction for their own sakes. If we let them persist in their error, than it is on us if we don't say something (including the error of acting in our name without asking us first).

Reflections on Pentacost and the HHS suit

This past Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Pentacost - where the Holy Spirit descended upon all of those assembled in a form similar to tongues of fire. This is an important point. She did not descend (and the gender in the original biblical Greek is feminine for Spirit) on the Apostles alone, who then blessed the others - but instead touched everyone in the community. Likewise, the baptism of the Spirit and other gifts were generally expressed - not a product of ordination.

It was not until centuries later that a monarchical episcopacy evolved - mostly because when cities had multiple communities, the Overseer (which I would translate as Pastor rather than Bishop) kept control of the distribution of Communion rather than creating additional pastors of equal station. At first, bishops were elected by the people. It was only later that the clergy took on this function, which was then fought over between the civil government and the papacy in the western Church. Given that, like in the early Church, the people now have as much literacy as the clergy (a development that took place within the last 150 years), the people can be trusted with this function again, especially in societies where the state is not attempting to control the appointment of bishops, such as the United States.

This brings us to the queston of the religious freedom lawsuit, which the Archdiocese of Washington has joined, along with the local Catholic Charities organization and Catholic University of America. To my knowledge, the decision on joining the lawsuit, or even insisting on a need for religious freedom vis-a-vis the rights of employees to contraceptive health care, was taken at the top of the organizations in the lawsuit. Further, unless Jones Day is donating their labor, I suspect that the cost of the lawsuit is coming from the Cardinal's Lenten Appeal (I have not heard of a separate fundraising effort and most pro-life activities funding comes from the Appeal).

I don't suspect that prior to undertaking this initiative, the Cardinal or even the Director of CCDC (or the President of CUA) bothered to ask the affected employees, the clients and students or even the donors about whether they wished resources to be devoted to a lawsuit that is best described as Quixotic (since it is likely not ripe absent the issuance of a final HHS rule). I suspect that had be been asked, we would have said no to the whole thing. Our claim on the gifts of the Holy Spirit is as sound as that of the clergy. If the true lesson of Pentacost were really front and center in the minds of the bishops, they would have at least asked (although they likely know the answer - which is why they did not).

Perhaps there is a way to make them take notice. If you made a pledge and don't like what the Cardinal is doing here, send a letter objecting rather than your usual monthly payment. If enough of the faithful do it, perhaps His Eminence will take note.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The nature of sacramental marriage - The Arlington Catholic Herald

The nature of sacramental marriage - The Arlington Catholic Herald by Russell Shaw.  My response: The sacrament of marriage is always between the parties.  It is morally the basic adult right to leave one's family of origin and cleave to another in a new family, with both a new family being created and the two families of origin joined.  Since canonically, this can happen with an infertile couple (due to either age or medical condition), nothing more than an archaic view of sexuality prevents gays from sacramental marriage.  Indeed, if Jesus as bridegroom is also the Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples, there is nothing to indicate that marriage must be a relationship where the male dominates the female.  Celebrating gay weddings might, in fact, provide a much needed lesson on equality in marriage to those who cling to both women and the laity knowing their place (both within the marriage and in the Church).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Killing Traditional Marriage

Last week, North Carolina affirmed traditional marriage and President Obama announced support for marriage equality, without actually promising to do anything in the federal courts to gaurantee these rights.  As anyone with a computer and cable TV knows, the issue of marriage equality and traditional marriage has taken a central place in the public conversation, including on my show on

As I was doing my daily walking meditation, I came to the conclusion that marriage equality really is a threat to traditional marriage and that this is not a bad thing. Several of the people I have argued about this with have given me hints.  One, who has a theology degree, was even explicit about it - but I did not catch on, stating that marriage is like the union with Christ, where Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his spouse. 

He was absolutely right about that analogy, which does not comport well with a modern understanding of marriage as a partnership of equals.  That's the point, of course.  Those who believe in traditional marriage don't believe in equality within marriage.  They still believe in a hierarchical view where the husband really is the principal partner and the wife is a dependent, if not property.  With gay marriage, there are either two people in the dominant gender or no one from it.  Either way, it is truly a marriage of equals, making it an archtype of modern marriage, but not the traditional variety.

The marriage equality movement should embrace the charge that we are out to kill the traditional understanding of marriage with the husband as the dominant spouse.  It is time for the understanding to die and we should say so proudly.  We must also dig deeper and make those who defend traditional marriage explain their beliefs on whether in marriage two people are one flesh, and therefore equal, or whether the husband is still the dominant party.  You might find some sputtering.