Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Are Joyful. We Are Unafraid. We Are Catholic.

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable joy and glorious joy.  - 1 Peter 1:8

Every now and then, I come across a few ideas, no matter how small, that meet my feeble mind in a sequence that can't be described as anything but intended and arranged by Someone.  That's exactly what happened tonight, as I've been praying for relief from a spiritual dry spell and period of wondering, why do we believe what we believe?  Why am I Catholic?

The question was not so much a mental expression of serious doubt as it was a prayer for a spiritual gulp for a thirsty soul. It was precisely then that I came across the passage from 1 Peter above in the Magnificat's August 30 Preface to the Evening Prayer Psalm, Psalm 27:
There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord,all the days of my life,to savor the sweetness of the Lord,to behold his temple.
For there he keeps me safe in his tent in the day of evil.  He hides me in the shelter of his tent, on a rock he sets me safe.
O Lord, hear my voice when I call; have mercy and answer.  Of you my heart has spoken:"Seek his face."
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face.
I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness in the land of the living.  Hope in him, hold firm, and take heart. Hope in the Lord!
That short preface and psalm snapped the entirety of the faith back into crystal-clear perspective.  We believe because we have been told.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we know that we will be satisfied (cf Mt 5:6).  We know the Truth because he has given himself to us completely, without reserve, and continues to the end of time, in a love greater than the world could ever imagine.  Although we do not yet see him as he is, we live in hope because we know that he lives and longs for our love in return.  We have found our way by getting lost in him.  He desires to dwell with us, and us with him, forever.  He will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Because of his promises, sealed in the victory of his Resurrection, we live with the joy of the Disciples who were his witnesses, the fearlessness of the Apostles after Pentecost, and the tradition of the saints who have gone before us.  We know the Way, and so we walk in him, unafraid.

Shortly after coming across the psalm, as if to put an exclamation point at this end of his reply to my prayer, I felt a nudging to check out Joseph K's blog, Defend Us In Battle, which I hadn't visited for a while.  So I clicked, and came across this beautiful video that he posted yesterday. We Are Catholic is downright powerful, and ends with a timeless quote from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:
"Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of your future, nor of your weakness.  The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment in history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world."



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Values in A Time of Upheaval Part Three: Who Needs Guilt?

In Chapter Five of Values in a Time of Upheaval, entitled "If You Want Peace..." the Holy Father begins by introducing two opposing concepts of morality, and the journey that brought him to the Christian understanding of how our conscience must function to create peace within our souls and peace within the world.

Morality of Conscience

The first view of morality holds that conscience is the highest rule, that the fundamental system of accountability in safeguarding human freedom lies in following our own conscience, even when it leads us to oppose authority.  According to this view, conscience ultimately has the last word.  Some even take this so far as to believe that a person cannot go wrong by following their conscience, that conscience is infallible.

Obviously there is some truth to this--we are accountable first and foremost to ourselves--but to argue that the ultimate accountability is to our conscience is just plain wrong.  Our whole person, including our conscience, is subject to the distorting effects of sin.  This is dangerous because it ultimately only leads us back to into our fallen, broken selves, and closes any window that allows us to see the "Other," the Truth that unifies all things.  In that system, the truth about anything becomes subjective and individual instead of objective and universal.
"One must always follow a clear verdict of conscience....But it is quite a different matter to assume that the verdict of conscience...is always correct, i.e. infallible--for if that were so, it would mean that there is no truth, at least in matters of morality and religion, which are the foundations of our very existence...there would exist only the truth of the subject."
Isn't this view, what Pope Benedict refers to as" the idea of conscience found in liberalism," precisely what we see prevailing in our world today? This is exactly what leads to the phenomenon the Holy Father has referred to as the "dictatorship of relativism."  On the surface, its initial promise, that it would "enable human beings to live together" in peace, without our conflicting views rubbing up against each other, seems tantalizing.  But this quickly comes to an end where it meets the reality of the darkness that remains in the human soul.  We have seen examples of this time after time in history, and what seems to be almost weekly in the news headlines, of the terrible consequences when this darkness festers and erupts into the world in violent, often murderous, action.  If this darkness is not exposed (often painfully) to the outside light, it remains with nothing to quell it, twisting conscience more and more until the conscience itself becomes unrecognizable. Under this idea, even the worst mass murderer would be justified in his actions if, in the deepest part of himself, he believed that what he was doing was right.

So what is the antidote?  In one word: guilt. In a few more words, a properly formed conscience that guilt leads us to recognize we need.

Morality of Authority

This opposing view of morality of conscience argues that, basically, our conscience is fallible and needs help from outside (or, above).  The conscience can be led into error and distorted, and so it is not reliable as a final source of moral authority.  It forces us to look outside ourselves for another, authoritative source.  When we allow the darkness and sin within us to be exposed to that outside source of light, it creates a feeling that is painful, often deeply so.  It's like a cancer being exposed to radiation treatment, but in this case the "radiation" is Divine.  The pain that comes each time the cancer festers and is exposed to light is guilt.  Guilt comes when we recognize the difference between who we are and who we ought to be, and destroys any false notion of the conscience as absolute.  The Holy Father reflects upon this idea of guilt as he first came upon it in an essay by German psychologist Albert Gorres:
"The guilt feeling that shatters a conscience's false claim and the criticism made by my conscience of my self-satisfied existence are signals that we need just as much as we need the physical pain that lets us know our normal vital functions have been disturbed.  One who is no longer capable of seeing his own guilt is psychologically ill..."
Guilt is what sounds the alarm bells that something within us has violated our conscience, but more importantly has violated the objective Truth that conscience is designed to remind us of.  Guilt gives us the ability to look inwardly and realize that, for whatever reason, we have closed the window on that cleansing light, even if momentarily, and allowed the cancerous growth of sin to start accumulating again.  The Pope continues, "Jesus can work effectively among sinners because they have not become inaccessible behind the screen of an erring conscience, which would put them out of reach of the changes that God awaits from them--and from us." This is why, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), "the tax collector with all his undisputed sins is more righteous in the eyes of God than the Pharisee with all his genuinely good deeds."

The world today, which in so very many places subscribes to the morality of conscience, would have us believe that guilt is a bad thing, something to be done away with. "We have lost sight of truth as such, the absolute, the basic point of reference of our thought," the Holy Father says,  "and this is why...there is no longer any 'up' or 'down.'" There are no directions in a world that lacks fixed points for measuring."  In reality, guilt is absolutely necessary for our proper spiritual and psychological functioning.   We need it to let us know when the compass of our conscience is not working as it should, or that, if it is properly formed, we have disregarded it and allowed ourselves to be deceived that East, West, or South are North.

This all leads to the question of where we can turn to make sure that our conscience works the way it should.  To what--or, to who--can we can look to find the source of cleansing and healing that the Psalmist begs for in Psalm 19:12: "But who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults"?  That, and the "working examples" of the saints, whose lives are lived and whose example lives on for us as benchmarks of properly formed conscience, will have to wait for another post.

In the meantime, please pray for the Holy Father, that he will continue to be blessed with grace and strength as he leads the Church to remain a beacon of light in a world of darkness.


Monday, August 15, 2011

"If You Want Peace..." A Primer

This past week in Britain, and in several less-reported instances in locations across the United States, we have seen the outbreak of violence from a generation of teens and twenty-somethings who, whatever their motivation, had no excuse for wreaking the violence and destruction that they did.  As I sat, browsing news article after news article, each offering a different slant on the unfolding situation and playing the "blame game," I couldn't help but try to probe each perspective looking for a common thread.  Surely, there must be something to explain why all of this pent-up (fill in the motivation) was coming to a head and finding its expression in such senseless violence against fellow citizens, their property, and their livelihoods.

It did not take much longer to figure out what drove them, or better, what did not restrain them from lashing out: a sheer, unadulterated lack of conscience.  Max Hastings put it perfectly in his August 10 U.K. Daily Mail article, "Years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of amoral, uneducated, welfare dependent, brutalised youngsters," when he said:

"They are essentially wild beasts. I use that phrase advisedly, because it seems appropriate to young people bereft of the discipline that might make them employable; of the conscience that distinguishes between right and wrong.
They respond only to instinctive animal impulses — to eat and drink, have sex, seize or destroy the accessible property of others."
Where are these rioters' consciences?  Did it not cross one of their minds that acting this way--invoking chaos and destruction--is evil no matter what the supposed justification?  Had they no shame?

Sadly, for many of them, the short answer is no. Growing up in an entitlement, me-me-me, I-I-I, now-now-now culture, many--even those who did not want for anything and had promising futures--either never had theirs properly formed to begin with or, worse, checked them at the door when they decided to step foot into the street.

This topic of conscience and the questions that follow from it are exactly what the Holy Father tackles in Chaper 5 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, an essay entitled If You Want Peace...: Conscience and Truth.

What is our conscience?

How does it function?

What is its purpose, both within our individual self and in the whole of human society?

What is our responsibility to obey and to form our conscience?

Look later this week for an unfolding of the Pope's discussion as he explores and probes the answers to these questions and more in If You Want Peace.

Until then...


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Quick Thought: Tyrants and Saints

I didn't get a quick thought out yesterday, but last night an old quote from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity came into my mind:
"How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints."
As we look around us and back through history, we see so many examples of those who seek their own power over the glory of God.  But then I had to question myself, how often am I doing that in my life?  How often do I seek to control my own affairs, however small they may be, instead of working and offering them to God for his glory, but ultimately leaving the outcome up to him?  It is so easy to fall back into that trap and become a tyrant of the small and mundane, but a tyrant nonetheless.

I realized that I need to make a renewed commitment today, and every day, to invite God into even the seemingly small affairs, and to offer them up as his saints did.  It is only in that offering that we become fully his own, and his grace and radical creativity fully active in us.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Open Letter to the Catholic Community on Behalf of Ron Paul by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

To say that Ron Paul was an underdog in the 2008 Presidential election would be an understatement.  Now, with our nation drowning in debt and overburdensome regulations, and many of our freedoms--including religious freedom--threatened by continued encroachment of the "culture of death," his unchanging message of liberty and strict Constitutionalism is beginning to get more attention.

This letter was written by Catholic historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr. in the lead-up to the 2008 election, to try to garner more attention to the fact that Ron Paul's unchanging stances, particularly on abortion and marriage, ought to be particularly attractive to Catholics who are trying to "think outside the box" of ways to steer us back toward a culture of life and freedom where the political shell game has failed to do so.  As Woods points out, there is only one candidate who has stood, unmoved and "unowned" against the establishment during his 10 terms in Congress, who has lived out his pro-life and pro-marriage values as a career obstetrician, husband to the same woman for 50 years, father of 5 children and grandfather of 18.  He has been willing to put his unwavering stance on the record time and time again, most recently in Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues that Affect Our Freedom.

The original text can be found at http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods83.html.

An Open Letter to the Catholic Community on Behalf of Ron Paul
In the tradition of Walter Block's Open Letter to the Jewish Community in Behalf of Ron Paul and Laurence Vance'sOpen Letter to the Protestant Community in Behalf of Ron Paul, I'd like to say a few words to my fellow Catholics.
Never in my life have I felt as strongly about a presidential candidate — or about any politician, for that matter — as I do about Dr. Ron Paul, Republican congressman from Texas. I've gone from being someone so disgusted with politics that I can't bear to read about it to being a political junkie, avidly following the activities and successes of this great man.
As an American historian, I am not aware of any congressman in American history whose voting record is so stellar, and so consistently in accord with the Constitution.
Beyond that, Ron Paul is not a panderer. He'll speak to an interest group and tell them to their faces that he has opposed and will continue to oppose funding their pet projects. Lobbyists know they're wasting their money if they try to wine and dine him. He recently spoke before the national convention of an organization aimed at protecting the interests of a particular ethnic group, and began by saying: "Somebody asked me whether I had a special speech for your group, and I said, no, it's the same speech I give everywhere."
Already by 1981, Ron Paul had earned the highest rating ever given by the National Taxpayers Union, received the highest rating from the Council for a Competitive Economy, and won the Liberty Award from the American Economic Council for being "America's outstanding defender of economic and personal freedom." 
Dr. Paul, who entered Congress in 1976 and returned to his medical practice in 1984, picked up where he left off when he returned to Congress in the 1996 election. I do not expect to see his like again.
He is also a good and decent man, who really is what he appears to be when you hear him speak. As a physician at an inner-city hospital, Ron Paul provided medical care to anyone who needed it, regardless of ability to pay. He never accepted money from Medicare or Medicaid, preferring to provide free care instead. That's what people in a free society are supposed to do: be responsible for themselves, and then lend their assistance to those who are vulnerable and alone.
Ron Paul is a candidate who doesn't insult his listeners' intelligence, who answers the questions he is asked, and who doesn't simply say whatever his audience wants to hear. And unlike other major names in the race, Ron Paul doesn't have to run away from his record, which reveals an unswerving commitment to peace, freedom, and prosperity that is second to none in all of American history.
Although I would have supported Ron Paul back before I converted to Catholicism, I think Catholics will like what they see when they examine his record. Over at Defend Life, Ron Paul comes out decisively on top in a study of the candidates' positions on the issues according to the guidelines recently established by the United States bishops. (If anything, I think this study understates Paul's compatibility with Catholic teaching.)
On education and home schooling, Ron Paul is the clear winner. Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Duncan Hunter all voted for the execrable No Child Left Behind Act, and Governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have both come out in favor of it. Ron Paul — as did the Republican Party itself not so long ago — opposes any federal role in education, which is the responsibility of parents and local communities.
In other words, Ron Paul believes in a little something called subsidiarity, which happens to be a central principle of Catholic social thought. Subsidiarity holds that all social functions should be carried out by the most local unit possible, as opposed to the dehumanizing alternative whereby distant bureaucratic structures are routinely and unthinkingly entrusted with more and more responsibilities for human well-being.
On home schooling, Ron Paul has proposed legislation giving tax credits worth thousands of dollars to reimburse the educational expenses of home-schooling parents, as well as those of parents who send their children to other kinds of schools. What presidential candidate speaks like this?
Parental control of child rearing, especially education, is one of the bulwarks of liberty. No nation can remain free when the state has greater influence over the knowledge and values transmitted to children than the family. By moving to restore the primacy of parents to education, the Family Education Freedom Act will not only improve America's education, it will restore a parent's right to choose how best to educate one's own child, a fundamental freedom that has been eroded by the increase in federal education expenditures and the corresponding decrease in the ability of parents to provide for their children's education out of their own pockets.
When it comes to abortion, Ron Paul — an obstetrician/gynecologist who has delivered over 4,000 babies — has been a consistent opponent of Roe v. Wade, which he rightly considers unconstitutional. But he has no interest in the failed strategy of the past 35 years whereby we sit and wait for a remedy in the form of good Supreme Court justices. His HR 300 would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over abortion, as per Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution. That would overturn Roe by a simple congressional majority. Then we could see who is sincere on the issue, and who is just exploiting it for votes. Few in either party really want to see the abortion status quo overturned, since it means they can't scare their supporters into sending them as much money anymore.
Upon the Pope's death in 2005, Ron Paul paid tribute to John Paul's consistent defense of life. On another occasion, he offered an additional tribute, of the sort few politicians would utter:To the secularists, this was John Paul II's unforgivable sin — he placed service to God above service to the state. Most politicians view the state, not God, as the supreme ruler on earth. They simply cannot abide a theology that does not comport with their vision of unlimited state power. This is precisely why both conservatives and liberals savaged John Paul II when his theological pronouncements did not fit their goals. But perhaps their goals simply were not godly. 
Speaking of John Paul II, it is important to remember that that pope was a strong opponent of the U.S. government's attack on Iraq, sending his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to Washington shortly before the commencement of hostilities in order to insist to the president that such a war would be unjust. The Pope's first comments after the war broke out were these: "When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society."
Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked if a U.S. government attack on Iraq would be just. "Certainly not," came the reply. He predicted that "the damage would be greater than the values one wishes to save."
After the war ended, Ratzinger said: "It was right to resist the war and its threats of destruction…. It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world." "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq," he elsewhere observed. "To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.'"
Hundreds of thousands lost their lives in this obviously avoidable war, a war that was based on falsehoods that we would have laughed at if they'd been uttered by Leonid Brezhnev. But since they came from the White House we cheer as for a football team, and duck the appalling material and moral consequences. A country that (by regional standards) once had an excellent health care system, opportunities for women, liberal gun and alcohol laws, and — yes — lots of immigrants, was turned into a disease-ridden basket case, filled with dead, wounded, and malnourished children, for no good reason.
That's just wrong, and it isn't "liberal" to say so.
Likewise, Ratzinger/Benedict is not a "liberal" for opposing the war. He is a moral conservative, but a man whose conservatism is more mature than the sloganeering jingoism of so much of what passes for conservatism in today's America. Ron Paul is an equally sober and serious statesman, and for that reason was one of very few Republicans with the courage and the foresight to oppose this economic and moral fiasco from the very start.
It is especially satisfying to learn that in the second quarter of 2007, Ron Paul received more donations from active duty and retired military personnel than any other Republican candidate. By the third quarter, he was receiving more than any other presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican. Want to support the troops? Then support Ron Paul.
My main argument to you, though, is not a specifically Catholic one. It's one that should resonate with anybody who values honesty, integrity, and decency. Ron Paul is a good man who believes in justice and the Constitution, and who cannot be bought. His ten terms in Congress have proven that again and again.
And that is why the media fears him. Unlike the rest of them, Ron Paul is unowned.
Now every establishment hack out there wants you to vote for one of the business-as-usual candidates. Are you really so happy with the establishment that its endorsement or cajoling means anything to you? If anything, it should make us all the more interested in Ron Paul — the one candidate the establishment fears, since they know their game is up if he should win.
Far from being in the unhappy position of a candidate whose children won't even speak to him, Ron Paul is fortunate to have family members all over the campaign trail on his behalf. He has been married to the same woman for 50 years, and has been blessed with five children and eighteen grandchildren. There are some family values.
Just think: for once, you don't have to choose the lesser among evils. You can finally vote for someone. You can not only be happy, but actually honored, to cast your vote for Ron Paul.
But don't just vote for him. Find out about him, and get out there and spread the word.November 21, 2007
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [view his websitesend him mailis the author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. He won first prize in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards for The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, and his book The Church Confronts Modernity was published in paperback this year by Columbia University Press. An editor of The Latin Mass magazine for eleven years, Woods has appeared in Inside the Vatican, Catholic World Report, Catholic Historical Review, Catholic Social Science Review, New Oxford Review, Crisis, This Rock, and the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com

My wife and I were not convinced of the necessity of electing Ron Paul to office in the 2008 election.  That has changed now, in particularly because we see the dire straits that our nation is in, morally and economically, and the lack of conviction from any lawmakers to do anything about it.  After reading his books, and his definitive stance on the issues as laid out in Liberty Defined, we know now that he is the right man for the job at this crossroads of history.  Any Catholic who is serious about their faith ought to give an equally serious look at this man who has spent his entire political career trying to Restore America.