What is a Catholic to do?

votingI’m one of the 100 million or so Americans who watched the presidential debate last night.

Like other students of history, I had no illusion that I was watching the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  It was more like two kids on a playground dissing each other’s family backgrounds.

But in a little more than a month, I will cast a vote for President and I hope you will as well.  It is vital to cast a vote for someone who has a chance to win and best reflects Catholic values.

In saying this, I am fully aware that neither candidate is in any way or manner a paragon of Catholic values.  But we have a responsibility to vote for the one who is closest, or perhaps in this case, is the least objectionable.

Staying home or writing in Bishop Sheen is a cop out – a sin of omission in my book.  You have to take a viable stand.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to attempt to tell you the particular person to vote for.  However, here are some questions to ask yourself before voting; some require doing a little homework.

  1. Do you want more government or less government?
  2. Do you want higher taxes or lower taxes?
  3. Which candidate will better defend to the death the constitution of the United States – and especially the Bill of Rights?
  4. Which candidate will appoint justices to the Supreme Court – and other federal courts – who will defend the constitution?
  5. Which candidate will better protect the right to practice your religion, not just in your home or a church, but in the public square.
  6. Which candidate will better protect human life from conception to natural death?
  7. Which candidate has demonstrated greater honesty and integrity?
  8. Which party platform better represents your view of the world?
  9. Do you believe in democracy or communism?
  10. Do you believe that private enterprise — or government — is best at creating innovation and job growth?

I believe these are the important questions.  They merit prayerful, thoughtful consideration.

We are looking at two major candidates with many human flaws.  But don’t let that distract from the fact that they have exceedingly different views of the world and would take us in very different directions.

Catholic will decide the winner of this election.  How we decide may determine whether we can continue to be free to practice our faith.

Idle worship

phone2Despite the old joke I tell my kids, I really didn’t walk 25 miles to school in the school, uphill both ways.  I either lived with a mile of school – or took the school bus.

Taking the bus wasn’t a thrill, but at least I spent the time waiting with a couple good friends in the neighborhood.  We talked sports, books, television and, occasionally, homework.  The important thing is that we actually talked to each other.

A few days ago, I was driving to grandma’s house in the morning and found myself following a school bus along its route, which meant stopping every few blocks while the bus loaded its students.  I’m guessing the bus was bound for a junior high school because the kids were too big to be cute munchkins and too small to be pretend-adult high schoolers.

But unlike my buddies and me a few decades ago, they were not talking to each other.  Every stop had a small crowd of kids looking at their cell phones.  Most were pecking at the phones, either texting or playing games.

In passing three stops I didn’t see any kid actually talking to another kid.  There were a couple who didn’t have phones – they were pecking at iPads (or some similar tablet).

And there were a couple kids who were just standing around looking lonely and bored, apparently the product of technology-resistant parents who thought they should interact with real live humans.  Of course, they would have to find one who wasn’t glued to a screen.

Technology mavens probably think what I just described is a sign of progress, of the beautiful interconnectedness of humanity.  Those adolescents may be connecting with like-minded souls around the world, sharing brilliant insights and inspiring thoughts.

More likely, they are trying to break their records at Angry Birds.

These bus-stop scenes seemed unnatural to me.  The kids were mesmerized by their devices, seemed almost to revere them.

An idle activity had become more like idol worship.

This led me to a silly fantasy – that all these kids were reading the daily missal on their smart phones, or perhaps a book by Pope Francis.  I know, what a crazy thought.  But I’m going to be watching for a kid holding a rosary instead of a phone and praying he sets a trend.

Devout comes cheap

prayShe was one of those little old ladies you see often in our parish:  kneeling, praying the rosary, lace head covering, a look of quiet piety.  Ah, what a devout Catholic.

Mass had started, but I was still in the confessional.  When I finished, Father told he if anyone else was waiting, tell them to come back after Mass; he needed to stop during the service.

I opened the door and found myself face-to-face with the aforementioned little old lady.  I whispered to her Father’s directive, expecting a knowing nod in return.  Instead, she muttered that Father was a jerk, an inconsiderate and worthless priest.

I admit my image of this lady changed a bit.  It became difficult for me to see her as a devout Catholic.

This happened several years ago, but came to mind in recent days as various people professed to be “devout Catholics” in the context of supporting abortion, gay marriage, kindergarten sex education, transgendered bathroom choice or whatever.  It got me to wondering what constitutes “devout” with regard to Catholicism.

Devout likely is in the eyes of the beholder.  And there are many characteristics that might make a person appear devout:

  • Goes to Mass daily
  • Goes to Mass weekly.
  • Goes to Mass whenever possible.
  • Is a member of the Knights of Columbus.
  • Teaches CCD.
  • Carries a rosary in plain sight.
  • Volunteers at the local soup kitchen.
  • Strictly obeys the teachings of the Church.
  • Obeys the teachings that are convenient.
  • Really cares about other people.
  • Doesn’t swear, at least not often.
  • Lives a public witness to the faith.

You could do any or all of these things and be devout – or not.  I doubt it is possible to know for certain that someone is devout, but it is quite possible to know that someone is not.  The clearest sign is that they (or their political allies) declare that they are.

Some politicians support abortion, claiming their Catholic faith says they should care about poor women who need to be freed of the burden of a baby.

Some politicians support same-sex marriage, claiming their Catholic faith calls on them to be compassionate to those with an alternative view of God’s plan for marriage.

And of course is the infamous:  I’m personally opposed to XXXX but won’t impose my moral judgements on others.  This usually is applied to abortion, but what about a host of others evils prowling the world these days – slavery, honor killings, religious persecution?

At minimum, a devout Catholic would try hard to live a Christian life, follow the teachings of the Church and make sure those teachings inform every decision he makes.  This is especially important for politicians, because laws really are derived from moral beliefs.

I can’t imagine ever calling myself devout.  My reality is too far from the ideal

Perhaps I am a practicing Catholic, but only if I concede I’m a Catholic who needs much more practice in his faith.

Surf and scarf

BurqiniLet me start by admitting that I’m not an expert on female fashions.  My wife is quite fashionable, but she would look good to me in a burlap bag.  The reality is that I don’t know the names of famous designers or what to call various categories of feminine attire.

So it should come as no surprise that until very recently I had never heard of a burkini.  Maybe you haven’t either.  But if you have wandered over the front page of most major newspapers in recent days, you know that the burkini has become an item of controversy in some beach resorts.

This seems to be quite the issue in France, which really comes as no surprise to me.  The French seem like folks who would get upset by people wearing too many clothes at the beach.

You see, the burkini is a bathing suit worn by Muslim women.  It looks to be a combination hoodie-scarf-wetsuit-sweatshirt. It pretty much covers the entire female body, which is something dramatically different than traditional French beachwear.

I’ve tried to fathom why some French want the burkini banned, but apparently they believe it violates their culture.  One beach-resort mayor said Muslim women should adapt to French ways.

Apparently French culture demands the wearing of very skimpy bathing suits.  I suppose that goes along with consuming snails, moldy cheese and over-priced wine.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are lots of things about Muslim culture that worry me.  Sharia Law has no place in a Christian nation (which I still think we have).  I don’t think husbands should treat their wives like slaves, let alone have more than one at a time.

But wearing too many clothes at the beach just doesn’t seem like a threat to civilization.  Nuns have been known to walk the shoreline in their habits.  Surfers wear body suits in cool weather.  James Bond has jumped into the water in a tuxedo a couple times.

I can’t ever remember my grandmother wearing a swimsuit, but I’m pretty sure if she had it would have covered pretty much all of her.  She was a Methodist, not a Muslim.

I would appreciate a little peace and privacy

Land_Girl_Iris_Joyce_leading_a_bull_at_a_farm_somewhere_in_Britain_during_1942._D8839The federal government keeps giving us plenty to talk about – and more help than we want or need.

New rules handed down by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) require homeless shelters to allow residents to use the facilities assigned to the gender they choose, as opposed to their biological gender.

I expect the rationale here is that some poor, weak, defenseless little transgender person will show up at a homeless shelter looking like a man, claim to be a woman and be humiliated by being asked to use the men’s toilet…or shower….or bedroom.

The rule doesn’t consider an equally likely scenario; a homeless woman fleeing an abusive husband seeks shelter and finds she has to shower with, well, a man who says he is a woman.

I don’t know how many homeless transgender people there are, but I expect there are more women fleeing abusive husbands or boyfriends than gender-confused people seeking shelter.

On a purely practical basis, the women ought to get first shot at being in a safe environment.  On a moral basis, we wouldn’t have this debate if we weren’t second-guessing God’s plan for human beings.

The federal government is creative.  Not to be outdone by HUD, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is conducting summits for lesbian farmers as part of its “Rural Pride” campaign.  Really.  I’m not making this up.

Apparently there are young women who grow up on farms, discover they are lesbians, don’t feel welcome amid the corn, soybeans, cows and pigs and head off to a life of poverty and despair.  This leaves a bunch of Bible-clinging heterosexuals to get rich tilling the soil.

Frankly, there are lots of people who grow up on farms and decide not to stay.  They go off to the city to find their fortune and end up as everything from street sweepers to CEOs.  Maybe we should sponsor summits for brain surgeons, nurses, sea captains and professional basketball players who didn’t stay down on the farm.

Both my parents grew up on a farm.  Both left.  Neither was a lesbian.

Until this week, I never thought much about the sexual orientation of the people who grow the food I eat, let alone the pigs, cows and chickens that make the ultimate sacrifice to fill my tummy.  I really don’t object to lesbian farmers, but I can’t see spending tax dollars to promote them.

A ship by any other name…

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A multitude of watercraft ply the rivers and seas of the earth.  Some of those vessels have names, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

For our immediate purposes, I’m going to deal with only two categories of craft and how they are named.

The first is the naval warship.  These noble craft typically are named after a state, city, heroic character or word that might strike fear in the hearts of enemies.  These are names a sailor likely could relate to and utter with a bit of pride or attitude.  USS Abraham Lincoln.  USS Avenger.  USS Galaxy.  USS Phantom.  USS Thrasher.  USS Viper.

The second category is the pleasure craft.  In most cases these are boats rather than ships.  And they have names given by their owners that suggest that the owner is, well, having fun.  The names are clever and raise a chuckle:  Lobster Mobster.  The Grateful Dad.  Idiots Delight.  Beeracuda.  Reel Busy.  Diesel Dude.

It is vital, when naming a craft, not to confuse these two categories.  You wouldn’t want to face the Russian Navy in a ship called Mr. Tip-sea.  And you wouldn’t want to go out fishing with your friends in a 20-foot boat called USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus seems to have become a bit confused on how to appropriately name a Navy ship and has decided to name one of our fleet after Harvey Milk.

Milk was a well-know gay activist in San Francisco.  He was known to stretch the truth and to have a tendency to being overly affectionate with boys.  Much of his iconic status in the gay community resulted from his murder by Dan White, a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  (At least in Chicago our aldermen don’t shoot each other – they just bribe each other.)

I’ll admit that Milk attained a certain notoriety.  I just can’t fathom his name on a ship full of sailors.  Maybe on a bath house or alternative school of some sort.

I suggest the Navy Secretary go to the Pentagon’s record center and get a list of seafaring souls who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  Name the ship after one of them.  Any would be a better choice the Milk.

Pity, not pride

abortionMillions of women have had abortion – some more than one.

This isn’t a happy fact.  It is sad, horrible, sinful.  But rather than condemn these women (and the men who were part of their story), we are called to forgive.  There is no human failing that God cannot heal.  And we must ask him to help us show mercy.

Keeping all that in mind, there are pro-abortion groups that sorely test my mercifulness.  Recently moving to the top of my list of dark forces is “We Testify.”

The group sells clothing for women with bold slogans like, “I had an abortion.”  And for men, tank tops that say, “I fund abortion.”

This rather shameless group encourages women who have had abortion to tell their stories.  In my blunt terms, they want the women to brag about their abortions.  They describe what there are about:

Every day someone chooses to have an abortion. We are not alone in this decision, however, due to stigma, we’re often made to feel isolated and shamed. Our stories remind us and those around us that we’re not alone. We testify as experts to our experiences. We testify that our spirituality and abortion are one. We testify on behalf of our communities and others who’ve had abortions across the country. When we speak out and share our stories, we demand to be counted

I have a difficult time putting abortion and spirituality in the same breath. There isn’t anything spiritual about having an abortion – but I hope there will be spiritual help for those who have had abortions and want to recover.  They have arrived at a moment that needs pity, not pride.

We Testify won’t heal the hurting; it will simply delay the time when the suffering are willing to experience real healing.

Children choosing

kidsPope Francis hit a raw nerve among transgender advocates this week by suggesting that children should not be taught that they can select their gender.

I expect some readers will read that opening sentence a couple times; I don’t know how to more clearly explain the conflict.  But that won’t stop me from trying…

There are folks in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community who believe children need to be educated in gender theory so they can knowledgably decide what gender they are.  The Pope suggests this is a terrible idea and he supports the Catholic idea that God created man and woman and it is God’s decision which gender each of us will be.

To the LGBT crowd, this is insensitive and hurtful.  They – like many in today’s permissive culture – can’t grasp the idea that the Pope can express love and mercy to ANYONE while not approving of their behavior.  He is famous for going to jails on Easter Thursday and washing the feet of people convicted of horrible crimes.  It is an expression of love for those persons, not approval of their bad deeds.

On a more practical level, teaching young children about sexual options that are contrary to God’s plan isn’t just morally questionable, but a violation of common sense.  Having actually raised a couple children, I believe I have some insight.

There are many decisions parents must make for their children to prevent them from hurting themselves:

  • If allowed to choose their own diet, most kids likely would choose chocolate over fresh vegetables.
  • If allowed to determine which television shows to watch, most kids likely would stray from the Disney Channel.
  • If allowed to set their own bedtimes, most kids wouldn’t get enough sleep to get to school in the morning.
  • Come to think of it, lots of children would reject school and never learn to read or write.

These being practical realities, do anything think it is a sane idea to have little kids being lectured on various gender options and deciding for themselves whether to be a boy, girl or combination or both?

Falling and littleness

madonnaPope Francis fell.  His official spokesman says he is fine.  He went right ahead and finished celebrating Mass at Jasna Gora, a holy place of deep significance for Poles.

It is news when the Holy Father takes a tumble.  He doesn’t even need to be hurt.  A little slip and the media speculate – maybe he is ill – maybe he didn’t get enough rest – maybe his tailor forget to hem his cassock.

Maybe the media still don’t realize he wasn’t elected Pope based on athleticism.

And maybe he is thinking more about the littleness of God than where to place his next step.

I’m not physically present at World Youth Day.  Frankly, I’m past the point where I might be accused of being a youth.  So I watch on television and read what the Holy Father has to say.

He might have stumbled during the Masna Gora Mass, but only physically – not rhetorically.  He spoke about littleness, which isn’t something people usually think about when they think of God.

God is the almighty, King of Kings, ruler of the heavens and earth, the source of everything good.  But for our sake, he also can be little.

When the world needed mercy and forgiveness, God didn’t ride across the sky in a golden chariot, throwing down thunderbolts to cleanse us of evil.  Instead, he allowed himself to be born of Mary and enter our world as a little baby, innocent, weak, subject to the laws of nature.

He picked simple, weak human beings to join his mission:  fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers – even a former prostitute.  His was an army of the little people.  And I think the Holy Father is trying to help us understand why.

An almighty, celestial being is far beyond my comprehension.  I can’t rise to that level.  But God is to powerful and merciful that he can come to my level.  As we say when evangelizing, he meets people where they are.

We’re called to evangelize, not by gazing toward the start, but by reaching out – or down – to those in need of God’s boundless mercy.  We are called to be little, like God.

Evidence that the end is near

endThis is the day of peace, the Friday between the end of the Republican convention and the start of next week’s Democrat convention.

If you watched the Republicans, you likely are torn between moments of hope and despair, wondering if there is no common sense left in this troubled world.  I predict the Democrats will produce similar emotions – I admit more on the despair side for me.

In the past months the terrorist attacks, shootings of apparently innocent souls and savage murders of police are too numerous to list.  I expect most news organizations now have a standard news story format something like:

DATELINE — ______ innocent people died today when _____ shot them to death in _____ . Police are withholding names until families are notified.  They are trying to determine if the shooter acted alone.  Democrats said it was a terrible act of violence and police are to blame.  Republicans said it was an attack by radical Islamic terrorists and ISIS must be bombed into the Stone Age.

Each day I hear people say that our country has never been so divided.  As someone with more than a passing interest in history, I point out the Civil War, Revolutionary War and Vietnam War as just a few times that were at least as divisive.

But yes, it is getting angry out there.

To these broad troubles, I add more narrow (but perhaps deeper) evidence of how distorted our culture has become:

  • A few nights ago I saw a television commercial for an upcoming program that openly used profanity taking the Lord’s name in vain. This wasn’t a movie in a theater or on a cable channel late at night.  It was a regular old channel in early evening.
  • Police in New Jersey recently responded to a call for help from an elementary school. They arrested a third grader for allegedly using a racial slur; he had referred to something at the school bake sale as a brownie.  The parents will send their child to a different school – unless state authorities decide they are unfit bigots.
  • Airport authorities are being sued by a traveler who was bloodied, bruised and arrested after a misunderstanding with TSA agents. She didn’t immediately comply with instructions and become confused when agents started yelling at her.  This wasn’t because she was planning a terror attack, but because she is partially deaf and has paralysis, and was on her way home from treatment for a brain tumor at St. Jude Hospital.

A return to decency and common sense wouldn’t solve every problem we face, but it would be a good start.

No, I don’t think the end is near.  But I do think we’re nearing the point of no return.