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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels and its relevance to today

Yesterday was what used to be called Michaelmas or the Feast of St. Michael.  The modern calender includes the other archangels, especially Raphael and Gabriel, but there are also lesser known angels like Uriel, the Angel of Death (a role some ascribe to Michael).

To understand the legend of St. Michael, you must understand the name.  Modern renderings are lazy, abbreviating it to God-like, which is exactly the opposite of its intended meaning.  In reality, Michael is correcting rendered as the question "Who is like to God?"  Indeed, it is almost a taunt because the answer is no one.  It was first asked, presumably by Michael, of the highest angel among all angels, Lucifer, when he believed his worship at the throne of God was more worthy than the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus.  The asking of this question had Lucifer, and all his supporters, tossed from the Heavens because they could not bear the answer that they were not.  They could literally not face God with the knowledge of their presumption.

This is an important question for us today as well.  It affects our worship, our morality and our charity.

Our worship is for us, not for God.  Our best efforts are but a reflection of God's glory and are for us to allow God to come for us - we cannot make the journey to God.  God accepts our worship because He loves us, not because it is essential to Him.  Indeed, our worship (especially the singing in most parishes) is art on God's fridge.  The worship of the angels is simply a better brand of refrigerator art when compared to the ultimate Harmony of the Blessed Trinity.  We must keep this in mind whenever we attempt spiritual works, such as prayer and fasting (for example, the 40 Days for Life).

Our morality, likewise, is for our benefit - not to meet some divine ideal.  God is perfect and has no need of morality or of moral behavior on our part.  Rather, all moral behavior is designed to make us happy in our humanity and any moral teaching that does not lead us to that end is not from God.  This is why the remarks of then Cardinal Ratzinger about the disordered nature of homosexuality are so off the beam.  For those who were born gay, the best way for them to be is gay.  They are wonderfully made and our votes in Maryland in support of their right to marriage should reflect that, as the alternative is to say that fidelity and promiscuity are the same thing - an obvious lie.

Finally, there are the issues of charity and justice.  We do not do charity because we are trying to earn points with God.  Instead, we do so because we are already in God and God is in us (even the unbaptized) and our works are a reflection of the love that comes from the Creator. God uses us to help in His work, but it is not our work that we are doing, so we have nothing to boast of.  That being said, we need to look for politicians to vote for who will create a charitable society, rather than one that is based on self-reliance, which has its root in hubris and the sin of Lucifer.  We always need to ask ourselves, "Who is like to God?" and the answer is still the same.  Nobody.  Still, I would not vote for a lifetime supporter of Ayn Rand, even if he is Catholic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Forty days for life

According to my Church Bulletin from St. Mary's of three Sunday's passed (I have been hospitalized ), today marks the beginning of forty days for life in the local Arlington and District Catholic diocese.  Parishioners are encouraged to pray and fast to end abortion.  Presumably, because the election is in 40 days, there is a tie in to the General Election on November 6th.
There are two ways to look at this call.  The first is that by personal penance, sacrifice and example, God will move the hearts of pro-choice voters to elect pro-life (Republican) candidates.  The second is to get people to eliminate selfishness and be predisposed to see what God will want them to do regarding electoral issues and life.

These are two very different spiritualities.  In the prior view, God is a bit of an ogre who demands that we obey, the test of which being eternal life.  The the latter view, God is our loving guide who will speak to us if we are open to his presence - the way to do so being self-denial.
Those who believe that God is an ogre who must be placated are unconvinceable on abortion.  They are sure that they way is right and, quite sadly, no amount of argument will get them to change their view.

Those who truly use this fasting period as a time of discernment, however, may have a change of heart - but it won't be the change the bishops are desiring.  If their fast has them look honestly at the issue of abortion, they will see that there is little that can be done to reverse Roe v. Wade judicially - as a ruling to simply send the matter back to the states undoes most civil rights protections as well as the right to be left alone in some areas by the government - which in essence gives the loudest religious voices an undue influence in our polity.  While religious leaders cherish such influence, it is not really what America is about.  Voting for Romney for who he would appoint to the Court is also a mixed bag.  Bush, Sr. appointed Justice Souter and Bush Jr. appointed Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom agreed with Justice Kennedy that the Commerce Clause was adequate to regulate Partial Birth Abortion, passing up an opportunity to overturn Roe (which was the real reason the law was enacted in the first place).

Human Life Amendment is equally unlikely, as anyone who takes the issue to God in fasting can tell you.  More than 14 states support abortion, so no such amendment will happen.  The meat of the amendment, the extension of personal rights to the unborn, can already be accomplished by Congress (but not by the states - the personhood amendments are an attempt to get another bite at the apple in Court).  Of course, to have a chance, such a law would likely draw the line at assisted viability (22 weeks of gestation), the second trimester (13 weeks) or even the start of the fetal heartbeat.  At this stage, exceptions for the life and health of the mother are appropriate, however rape or incest exemptions are not as a legally recognized fetus must be considered a person in their own right under the law and receive the full range of equal protection provisions.

Equal protection is why personhood does not meet the smell test.  Treating a mother who orders a born child killed and an embryo killed cannot be different if personhood is granted by law.  Additionally, embryos who could never survive would also be granted legal recognition under such a scheme, leading to malpractice claims that would damage the ability of women and children to get needed prenatal care before whatever line is drawn in law for personhood.  No malpractice policy would allow treatment any earlier.

If there are ways to work around the criminality, police power and tort law issues inherent in protecting first trimester embryos, they should be put into Mr. Ryan's personhood bill and we can debate them - provided that they don't create loopholes that Planned Parenthood can drive a truck through.  If prayer and fasting makes Pro-Life Advocates open to working on these issues, they can actually put forward a reasonable bill that Catholic politicians would have to support.  Until there is a bill, however, this really can't be considered the primary pro-life issue.

Poverty can be, however.  Some estimates show that poverty and fear about the future is the cause of most abortions.  It is not enough, by the way, to help women and girls through crisis pregnancies.  A system is needed to subsidize all families with children so that economic are never an issue in bringing a child to term.  Too often the Church pushes adoption as the solution (they have quite the infrastructure for that).  Many girls would rather eliminate the pregnancy instead and so would their very Catholic parents.  Until the Church speaks up for an income floor for all families with children and becomes an exemplar for them by paying their own staff in hospitals, schools and parishes such a living wage, it is hard to not find their words hollow.

In this period of discernment, the question must devolve to which candidate and party will most helpful in restoring and improving the safety net and bring about economic justice.  One look at the candidates shows what that answer must be - and I suspect that this is why there are more and more vocal Catholics supporting the President this year.  Prayerful discernment undertaken honestly should keep increasing that number.