Monday, October 15, 2012

A Homily About Voting

Msgr. Woster and I chose yesterday as the day to address the upcoming election.  I preached the following homily.  It was well received by many, and a source of deep anger to others.  Some have asked for a copy of my words.  Here they are:


I have never liked math.  From the time I first began to learn long division, I knew that math and I would never be close friends, and though for a time we reached something of a fragile truce, it became immediately apparent to me that math and I were to be lifelong enemies when letters were introduced into the picture.  With all of the “x” and “y” and trains leaving stations, I could simply no longer make sense of it.  I suppose it was the fact that there were just too many variables, too many unknowns.

We live in a world today that is filled with variables, filled with unknowns.  It is an election year with Election Day less than one month away.  The economy is still awful, and many Americans are still without work.  Yet another war in the Middle East seems nearly inevitable.  At the same time, we live in a nation where, since the Roe v. Wade decision, fifty million children have died at the abortionist’s hand.  The culture in which we live is rapidly arriving at the conclusion that marriage is founded upon nothing more than a feeling of affection toward another person, and that its privileges should be extended to any combination of persons who experience such affection.  All of us look at these issues and wonder, “How are we to proceed?”

To my mind, the Scriptures today provide us with a way forward.  The first reading was about Wisdom.  The author comments that he prefers wisdom to riches or gold, and tells us that to be poor and wise is better than to be rich and unwise.  When we hear this word, “wisdom” I think we most often assume that the author is talking about some high degree of intelligence, or that to be wise is to be somehow brighter or cleverer than other people.  This, however, is not at all the way that the Scriptures portray wisdom.  Throughout the Old and the New Testaments, wisdom is described as the capacity to think with the mind of God.  Thus, for instance, it is wisdom that informs us that the most hardened criminal, the most vicious murderer, the perpetrator of the most violent terrorist attack is good.  He is good because God has made him that way.

When it comes to finding a way forward in our own time, wisdom has a great deal to say.  First, wisdom tells us that our actions in this life echo in eternity.  In other words, this means that someday, when we stand before God Almighty seated on His throne of judgment, we will have to defend the vote we cast this November.  Likewise, wisdom informs us that our vote is not simply about ourselves.  Because I live in a society, the results of my vote affect other people.  As a result, I cannot simply make my choice on the ballot because I am making less money than I made four or eight years ago.  I cannot simply vote based upon the fact that I am still looking for work.  My vote will affect the poor and the marginal.  Wisdom informs us that as Catholics, we cannot be single issue voters.  We must take into consideration all of the variables before casting a ballot.  Nevertheless, wisdom also tells us that there are certain things that can disqualify a candidate from our consideration.  An example of this is abortion.  Abortion is an intrinsic evil.  This means that there is no time, no place, and no set of circumstances under which it would be legitimate to procure an abortion.  It is always wrong.  If I vote for a candidate who supports an unfettered right to abortion, I become complicit in that evil.  I cooperate with it.  Likewise, embryonic stem cell research which similarly destroys a human being is an intrinsic evil.  It is never ok to suction cells out of a living child in order to put bit of them in other people.  To vote in support of such a thing is to cooperate with that evil.  

Wisdom teaches that there are other examples too, which, though perhaps not intrinsically evil, are nevertheless, profoundly important to Catholics.  In January, President Obama through his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, mandated that Catholic institutions would be required to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and procedures.  There was to be no exception.  This means that Catholic Hospitals, schools, universities, adoption agencies, and social service agencies would be required to provide these services.  If this mandate stands, many of these institutions will likely close their doors.  Even in our own diocese, Catholic Social Services, who serves thousands and thousands of people each year, may have to close their doors.  I know there are people sitting in this congregation who have turned to this agency in their need.  On Thursday night, Joe Biden stood before America and told us that none of what I just said is true, that no institution would be required to provide anything to which they morally objected.  So egregious was this lie that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement the following day correcting Biden’s error.

By this point I know that many of you are livid.  I know that many of you are wondering why priests cannot keep their politics out of their preaching.  Some of you wonder just who you need to contact at the IRS to have my tax exempt status revoked.  It is not my job to stand before you and tell you for whom to vote.  I cannot tell you the political party to which you ought belong.  Here’s the thing, though.  Someday, I too will stand before almighty God on his throne of judgment and I will have to explain why I did or did not help inform people’s consciences.  I will have to explain why I did or did not help people to sort through the issues of the day with the mind of God.  I will have to explain why I did or did not help us all become just a little wiser. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Rise of the "Nones" vs. The Rise of the Nuns

With what seemed to be an air of knowing condescension, a friend of mine sent a USA Today article via email announcing that thirty percent of Americans now classify themselves as adhering to no particular religious denomination, and that fifty percent of adults under the age of thirty classify themselves in this manner.  My friend, as best as I can tell, would likely also place himself in that category.  

I suppose that the article was meant to cause alarm.  In just a few decades, I will have become obsolete, going the way of the blacksmith.  America will have advanced beyond need for a priest.  There is clearly a trend away from organized religion in American (Western?) Culture, and to an extent, this statistical reality is much in keeping with recent history in this nation.  The United States is founded on the notion of individual liberty, and especially from the 1960's onward Americans have resented any force outside of themselves that would presume to make universal truth claims binding upon the consciences of every human being.  Likewise, Catholics, until very recently, have only tepidly responded to the call to arms issued by John Paul the Great, when he announced the need for a new evangelization of formerly Christian peoples.  To my mind, however, the issue of the "nones" presents no new challenge to the Catholic Church.

From Constantine until now, the Church has had to deal with nominal adherence to the faith.  What is different now is that people are simply freer to approach the question of faith with integrity.  It suits me just fine that people who were never really Catholic in the first place should find themselves now able to freely admit that they adhere to no religion.  To my mind, the days of the "baptized pagan" are nearly over.  Early in his pontificate, Benedict XVI commented that the Church would get smaller before she got bigger.  In saying this, he was suggesting that in the name of integrity and of self-preservation, Catholics would have to abandon what, since the Second Vatican Council, has become a terrible habit of trying to somehow accommodate all opinions, all lifestyles, all practices, and all beliefs under the single roof of the Catholic Church.  

The word "catholic," of course, means "universal."  It is universal in the sense, however, that what she believes applies to all people of all times.  It most definitely does not and cannot mean that everything goes.  Interestingly, many young Catholics are attracted to this reality.  Parishes rife with touchy-feely, "I'm OK. You're OK." save the whales homilies, are populated by aging baby boomers who, though large in number, are closer to their graves than they are to their baptisms.  For several decades, the American Church has operated in panic mode, doing nearly anything to keep this crowd from leaving.  By contrast, for several decades, religious orders such as the Nashville Dominicans, the Missionaries of Charity, and other conservative religious orders struggled to maintain sufficient vocations, but the world has changed.  Today, our youngest parishes are also our most conservative.  Our growing religious orders are those most faithful to the Church.  Seminaries are full of zealous men.  Bishops are increasingly more conservative in theological temperament. 

In the meanwhile, mainline Protestantism has attempted to keep up with culture, acquiescing to every whim of the masses.  And they are dying.  Why should I give myself to an institution that simply reaffirms what I already believe, challenges me to nothing beyond myself, and places me and my opinion as its central focus.  I want a religion that calls me to be better, not one that simply allows me to be recalcitrant.

So,while fifty percent of my generation may have no particular affiliation, there are still fifty percent of us who are faithful, and we have grown weary of the gruel religion has presented to us for the past fifty years.  We want truth.  We want transcendence.  We want what is real.  We want authenticity.  We want a faith that asks our willingness to sacrifice and die for it.  The Church will get smaller, but as she shrinks, her zeal will become concentrated.  Her missionary efforts will intensify.  Her ability to preach what she has always believed without constant interior turmoil will grow.  The number of her active members who actually know what Catholics believe will multiply.  And then the Church will grow.  

What USA Today and my friend both fail to recognize is that 2000 years ago, after the death of Christ, there were only twelve Catholics.  There are more than one billion today because those first twelve, though small in number, were zealous and committed.  And they preached a message that made sense in a world of suffering, violence, tragedy, and evil.  The Church is not dying, she is being pruned.  That strikes me as a good thing.