Friday, March 30, 2012

Cardinal Dolan on Holy Week

Self-Driving Car a Reality

According to Sci-Fi, we were supposed to have this 20 years ago...Google makes it a reality.

From the video description:
We announced our self-driving car project in 2010 to make driving safer, more enjoyable, and more efficient. Having safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, we wanted to share one of our favorite moments. Here's Steve, who joined us for a special drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way. We organized this test as a technical experiment, but we think it's also a promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What is Courage?

A great illustration of what true courage is:

Cardinal Dolan on Catholic Church vs the Government

Cardinal Dolan is the first Bishop in a long while who has the personality and knowlege on how you should handle the media. He proves it again with Bill O'Reilly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fun Times 2

The first video is apparently the Alaskan home of Dr. Dolittle's and Snow White's child:

Then there is this fabulous cover of one of the best bands of the 80s - Hall and Oates. I loved it:

What You Need To Know About Indulgences

Q - Today after mass a priest gave me a blessing, and since he is a newly-ordained priest, he said I could receive a plenary indulgence (with Eucharist, confession, pray for the pope). I was interested in learning more about indulgences and wanted a reliable source.

A - Thanks for the questions.

Thanks for thinking that we are a reliable source for Catholic teaching. But, remember not to give us 100% trust. That is for God and His Church alone. Thus, I always try to use primary documents of the Church in answering questions, when possible.

As for indulgences, here is what you need to know. I start with the Catechism's answer to the question, "What is an indulgence?"
1471 "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
The next logical question is what is temporal punishment?
Lucky us, the Catechism also answers this question (bold emphasis added).
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man."
In other words, we still must be purified before we enter into heaven. If we are not made ready to enter into Heaven before we die, then the purification process will take place in Purgatory. This is why the Apostle John writes in Revelation 21:27 "nothing unclean will enter it (heaven)." We must be made clean to enter into Heaven.

The good thing is that we are all connected to The Body and Bride of Christ - the Church. Thus, every Christian is tied to every other Christian by all of us being united to Christ and His Church. We are blessed to lift others up by our deeds and prayers. This means we are able to help the souls in Purgatory or lessen our own temporal punishment, by tapping into the holiness of The Church and the storehouse of grace that is given access to us by the merits of Christ and the Saints. The Catechism says:
1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.
What a blessing! We can help those souls in Purgatory or obtain an indulgence for ourselves and lessen our purification needed. There are two kinds of indulgences - Plenary (all temporal punishment is remitted) and Partial.

Here is some additional reading:
*How To Get an Indulgence
*Handbook on Indulgences (aka - Enchiridion of Indulgences).
*Myths about Indulgences

I hope this helps.

Big Families = Opportunities to Spread God's Love (and some wit)

A growing phenomenon in our culture is the way in which children are now despised by many. The examples run from the extreme to the tame, but all continue to grow.

One of the examples of this phenomenon is the way in which others respond to big families. As a father of five (and from a family with 5 kids) I have heard comments about large families throughout my life, but they get more frequent every year. What a shame, but what an opportunity!

I thought I would help others who have to deal with this by offering some responses to the most common comments and questions others have, many of them quite rude. But, since not everyone likes to be witty, I will have several kinds of responses:

  1. The gentle soccer-mom response (GSM)
  2. The straight to the point dad response (STTP)
  3. The quick-tongue / snarky response response (QTS)

Regardless of whatever kind of response we have, we should never respond in anger to someone else's ignorance or hate. Even snarky remarks should be done given in charity and with a smile. Not all of the responses are mine, but all have been used by someone.

"How can you afford them all?"
(GSM) With God's help
(STTP) Children are worth more than money OR Money doesn't bring joy like a child does
(QTS) We can't, which is why we had to sell a couple of them. OR Who do you think is paying for Social Security?

"You do know HOW that happens, don't you?"
(GSM) Yes we do.
(STTP) The union of man, wife, and God which creates a unique and unrepeatable human person that will live forever.
(QTS) Yes, and we obviously make sure it happens frequently. OR No, could you tell me all about it? OR Duh! The stork brings them. OR I do, but I don't have time to explain it to you in detail right now. OR Yes, I am fully certified practitioner of it too.

"Why don’t you get a hobby?"
(GSM) I do have several hobbies... OR There is never a boring moment in our house.
(STTP) Hobbies aren't nearly as fulfilling as my children are. When I am old I hope to look back and see my grandkids, not just things.
(QTS) We already have one, isn't it obvious? OR I collect kids. OR

"Are all of them yours"
(GSM) They sure are! OR Yes, we are very blessed.
(STTP) Actually, they are all God's and I am just in charge of them for a while.
(QTS) Nope. I found a couple near a dumpster. OR The rest are in the bus. OR According to my wife they are. OR My wife can't keep her hands off of me.

"What about the environment" or "Ever heard of overpopulation?"
(GSM) We are teaching our kids to be good stewards of all of God's gifts, including the environment.
(STTP) The world was made for humans, not humans for the world. We can have children and be responsible at the same time. OR Overpopulation is a myth. In fact, many Western European countries are facing the crisis of not having enough babies. You should visit
(QTS) Which one should we get rid of first? OR My car is overpopulated, but not the world.

"Were they all planned"
(GSM) By God.
(STTP) The plan is that God is in charge and we are not. Our fertility is a blessing which we are not afraid of.
(QTS) We certainly planned good times. OR Honestly, who has time to plan anything? OR (Please don't really say this in front of kids) That one over there sure wasn't. We didn't want him.

"You sure have your hands full"
(GSM) And our hearts as well. OR Full of love
(STTP) Certainly kids can make life hectic, but I wouldn't want it any other way. Children are a true blessing to us, not a burden.
(QTS) If you think my hands are full, you should see my minivan. OR Oh, you must not have met the 6 we left behind!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vanderbilt Catholic Campus Ministry Has to Withdraw Organization From University Due to Discriminatory Policy

We stand with our Catholic friends in opposing this measure:
March 26, 2012

Vanderbilt Catholic Will Not Comply with Vanderbilt University’s Mandate

Vanderbilt Catholic announced to its members on Sunday that they will not re-register as a student organization at Vanderbilt University for the Fall Semester 2012.

According to Fr. John Sims Baker, Chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic, “The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand.”

Student organizations must re-register in April and affirm that they will abide by the controversial non-discrimination policy, explained Fr. Baker. “The Administration is forcing religious groups to open leadership positions to all students, regardless of whether or not they practice the religion or even know anything about it,” he said.

“How could we sign such an agreement?” Fr. Baker asks. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to proclaim our Catholic faith. What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt? How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”

Student members of Vanderbilt Catholic received a letter on Saturday, signed by five leaders of the Vanderbilt Catholic Student Board, stating
After much reflection, discussion, and prayer, we have decided that Vanderbilt+Catholic cannot in good conscience affirm that we comply with this policy. While organizational skills and leadership abilities are important qualifications for leaders of Vanderbilt+Catholic, the primary qualification for leadership is Catholic faith and practice. We are a faith-based organization. A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization. We cannot sign the affirmation form because to do so would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are as an organization.

While this policy may change our status as a registered student organization, it will not change our mission. We will continue to serve the Vanderbilt community as a welcoming and faithful Catholic campus ministry, proposing Jesus Christ in all that we do.
Fr. Baker says that Vanderbilt Catholic will re-organize. “With Bishop Choby’s complete support, we will continue to serve the students of Vanderbilt as an independent ministry. We are going to open our doors wider in order to make a greater effort to reach out to all Vanderbilt students and all college students in Nashville.

In a recent email to Fr. Baker, Belmont’s Vice President of Spiritual Development, Dr. Todd Lake, said: “Know that you always have a home here,”

“It has become quite clear to the Vanderbilt Catholic students that we either stand for something or fall for anything,” said Fr. Baker. “We choose to stand for Jesus Christ, and we expect that our leadership do the same.”

British Government Argues that Christians Have No Right to Wear Crosses at Work

If you think the battles over religious liberty don't matter, think again. First it is forcing us to pay for contraception, then it is saying we can't publicly display our faith, finally all rights are up for debate...
This is really sad:
In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.

The Government’s position received an angry response last night from prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.
Continue Reading.
When any government tells a believer what is and what isn't required of them to practice their faith we have a problem. Pray.

Is Getting Drunk a Mortal Sin?

Q - Is getting drunk a mortal sin?

A - First of all, I will leave the judgment of any particular person's culpability (guilt) to their confessor, because whether one has committed all that is needed for a mortal sin or not is for them to judge, not me. In other words, it isn't my place to judge your particular circumstances. I will try and answer the question on an objective level as best as I can.

The Bible says the following about becoming drunk:
  • Proverbs 23:19-35 tells us that becoming drunk is unwise and that we are not to do it.
  • Proverbs 31:1-7 tells us that when we drink to excess we forget God's laws.
  • Ephesians 5:15-18 - "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit."
  • Paul also tells us in Galatians 5 that drunkenness is one of the acts that lead us away from the Kingdom of God and it is compared as an opposite to the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
  • Lastly, 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us that if we get drunk we are not prepared for the coming of Christ's Kingdom at that time and we are then not acting as Sons of the Light, who are self-controlled.
Now, alcohol is not evil in and of itself, but the abuse of alcohol makes it serious (grave) matter, just as if we were to abuse something else that is good (e.g., eating too much). But, alcohol also has a second effect on us. It can cause us to lose control of our free will and reason when we drink to excess. Thus, it is possible to freely give away the gift of our freedom by abusing alcohol. If we ever choose to do this, it can be gravely immoral and a mortal sin. Thus, temperance (not too much or too little) is the virtue and goal we are aiming for.

Furthermore, the Catechism says this:
“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air” (2290)
So, to abuse alcohol is to sin against the virtue of temperance and to then endanger a life afterward would make the sin, objectively speaking, grave matter.

Does this mean that getting drunk is grave matter for anyone who drinks? It depends...(don't you hate those answers.) Remember, to be a mortal sin, grave matter is one of three parts and all three must be met. The other two are full knowledge and full consent. Thus, if you know it is wrong to get drunk, you do it intentionally anyway - the chances are that you have sinned mortally. Why? Because you just gave the one thing that is truly your own away - your free will.

The other problem with getting drunk is that (apart from being unhealthy, which if done frequently could be sinful) it can lead you to the occasion of other sins. St. Thomas Aquinas talks about it in the Summa Theologica. He says that if a man knowingly gets drunk, it is grave matter. If you want to read his full take on it you can here.

My advice would be to discuss it during confession (mention if you have lost the use of reason or not). Also, my second bit of advice would be to have a personal cut-off point which can be different for everyone, although there is a point where everyone would have "too much". So, don't push the limits, but rather err on the safe side.

To give up the gift of free will is to sin gravely. If you do so intentionally, knowing that it is wrong, then it would be a mortal sin.
"The drunken man is a living corpse."
-St. John Chrysostom
Related Posts:
**Underage Drinking.
**Dunking Your Aggie Ring.

Fr. Barron on the Hunger Games

There are SPOILERS in the video. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have read the three books. I thought the books engaged in several issues that are very important for us to consider, including:

  • tyranny of unfettered governmental control
  • inherent dignity of every life
  • food is a right, not a commodity
  • our priorities, as a culture, are messed up
  • a culture of death is a corrupt culture

Yet, some issues bothered me:

  • ease at which the "good" guys start killing others in later books.
  • no ultimate meaning to life is given - which ends in a kind of nihilism
  • moral decision-making is poor to non-existent in some situations = relativism and utilitarianism

So, they aren't perfect books, but valuable ones. I think the future that is envisioned isn't out of the realm of possibility.


A great video sent to me by Patrick at The audio is from a talk he gave to some youth at a retreat earlier this year.

A great reflection for all of us as we enter into Holy Week next week.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Too Loud in Mass?

Q - A few weeks ago at Mass I sat in front of a woman who was very loud. It wasn't that she was talking to others, but she was almost yelling the responses of the congregation during Mass. I almost turned around and said something to her, because it was so distracting, but thought better of it. What do you think I should have done, if anything?

A - Thanks for the question. I think all of us have experienced such distractions from others in Mass. There can be a number of reasons that someone is too loud during the congregation's parts in the Mass:
  • they don't know how loud they are
  • they want others to notice them
  • they are very zealous about the faith
  • they are naturally very loud
No matter the reason, they can be a distraction for others. For your part, I think it is best not to do anything, but rather, I would offer it up as a sacrifice. We need to set a good example and shushing people or giving them angry looks will not draw them closer to God.

Furthermore, we need to learn that we cannot control other people's actions, but we can control how we react to them. I believe it is best to offer up prayers for those people who distract and annoy us.

Not to those who are very loud in Mass - please realize that you can cause a distraction for others and that it is better to keep your volume on an average level rather than loud. I promise God can still hear you.

I hope this helps.

***20 Tips for Proper Etiquette In Mass
***How To Get More Out of Mass? 
***Talking in Church. What Should I Do About It?

Why Waiting Until Marriage Is Worth It

Footage of a groom 30 minutes before he got married:

Living life without regrets = a great life.

Scott Hahn Explains Papal Infallibility

Environmental Fail

I have received this notice the last two months. Both times a single piece of paper states the following, with nothing else on it:
Important Messages
*Announced in 2010 an ambitious new goal to reduce our absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions by 15 percent over the 2010 baseline by 2015. This goal spans all of the company's global operations in more than 40 countries.
Here is the image:
How about you start by not wasting so much paper telling me you won't be wasteful?

Intolerance is Intolerable.

Words have meaning.
Thoughts have consequences.

The word "tolerance" has a unique meaning to some and a completely different meaning to others. The ideas behind the definitions of the word, mean that by subscribing to one definition above-and-over another will lead to different consequences.

True tolerance = need not accept an idea which is false or an action which is wrong, but it should accept the full dignity of other human persons and their basic human rights. Thus we should always uphold another's dignity and human rights (true rights, not made-up ones), because this is how we are bound together. We do all of this, because it conforms to what is true and good. We accept the freedom of others to believe as they wish, believe as they wish, and act (within the bounds of natural and civil law) as they wish. We should strive to live in peace and we should try to understand one another as much as possible.

Many who have a radical social agenda have used this understanding of tolerance to push their agenda on our society and we have bought it - hook, line, and sinker. How? It has been done in five steps:
  1. Separate tolerance from truth.
  2. Expand the definition of "tolerance".
  3. Placing tolerance among the highest of the "virtues" of a Western democratic society.
  4. Ignore the logical inconsistencies.
  5. Malign those who hold-out against this idea of tolerance as prejudiced and bigoted.
Step #1 - Separate tolerance from truth.
Our culture, as is the case in many other things, has bought the lies about what tolerance should be and it goes well beyond the definition of true tolerance given above.

If we do not know the truth, then we can accept almost anything. But, if we know the truth and act in accord with the truth, then we are limited to what we can accept, because the truth is, by definition, not tolerant of that which is not true. It creates boundaries and is exclusive.

G.K. Chesterton said
"Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."
As I said at the beginning. Thoughts have consequences. If we have true thoughts, then the consequence is we ought to live according to that truth. When we don't live according to the truth, we face natural consequences to those actions. For instance, if a woman chooses to ignore the truth that an affair could ruin a marriage, then she must live with the consequences if her husband leaves her.

EXAMPLE FROM CULTURE - All proponents of the radical idea of tolerance will reject some traditional understanding of morality. It might be on issues of abortion, same-sex relationships, etc. but they all have a relativistic understanding of truth.

Thus, the truth is a cafeteria of choices and we get this dissenting Catholic who protested the Pope's visit to England. He says:
Mr Wynne...said he backed the church's ''wonderful'' social teaching in areas such as the rights of workers and global poverty.

But he said: ''Although the issue of ordination is very much related to the Pope, what we have in the church is an appalling misogyny where many, many people, priests, bishops, and I guess still some lay people would be appalled at women being involved.

''The church, I think, is deeply misogynist and we have to change that.''

He added: ''There is a whole series of issues ... about the equality of women, but also there is also an issue of sexual orientation and how in fairness to what the church suggests, one could only say that it is intolerant of people of a different sexual orientation.''
Thus, by his radical divorce of truth and tolerance - he creates his own truth and tolerance changes.

Step #2 - Expanding the definition of "tolerance".
The modern idea of tolerance = you must not "judge" another person's actions as wrong. You should accept (plus approval of and permission to) whatever lifestyle they live and choice they make. Even if the choice is sinful or harmful to their mental or physical health, we still must tolerate (e.g. accept) it.

If you don't agree to this kind of tolerance, then you are intolerant. we should "live and let live". Of course, this kind of idea false apart quickly when we oppose someone's views.

Other say that tolerance is "open-mindedness". The problem is that most who say they are "open-minded" have very set beliefs about a lot of things and when you disagree with them, their minds seem to close very quickly. Once again, GK Chesterton said it best:
Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
EXAMPLE FROM CULTURE - No Catholic I know would think that harming a person with same-sex orientation was good. In fact, it is wrong to do so and this is what the Church clearly teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph #2358). But, it only takes one act of violence (which no Catholic should ever think is ok) against a "gay" student in a public school to give license to teach that we all have to accept the gay lifestyle by implementing tolerance programming into the schools.

This modern idea of tolerance is being taught in public schools today.

Step #3 - Placing tolerance among the highest of the "virtues" of a Western democratic society.
A generally accepted definition of the word "virtue" = the habitual and firm disposition to do the good. This means that I do what is good easily and frequently.

The modern idea of tolerance is said to be a virtue. The problem with this idea is that it then leads to the conclusion that if it is a virtue, then it is morally "required" of all sane people in society and we are "obliged to cultivate the virtue of tolerance".

Tolerance by intolerant demands has become a false virtue. If tolerance is a virtue, then it is the traditional understanding of tolerance not the modern one.

EXAMPLE FROM CULTURE - Studies within Academia prove that there is a conscious effort to change the view of modern tolerance into a virtue, and thus an obligation. Here is a quote from the abstract of one such study (emphasis added):
Some political theorists argue for a view of political tolerance that requires more from people. These theorists define positive tolerance as peoples’ beliefs that they have a duty or obligation to take action to protect people’s freedom to be different. Such an obligation should lead people to take action to help people who belong to disliked groups so they can “lead the good life” and share in society’s benefits. Employing undergraduates in a study at a metropolitan Midwestern university, we develop the first such scale to measure positive tolerance. We demonstrate it is reliable with exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. We also find that among those prejudiced against gays and lesbians, positive tolerance leads to some support for the rights of gays and lesbians to both marry and adopt children. We conclude with a discussion of how some of the positively tolerant overlook their negative group affect to support gays and lesbians in “living the good life.”
Step #4 - Ignore the logical inconsistencies.
This radical understanding of tolerance is only useful if we ignore the logical inconsistencies inherent in it.

We must be tolerant. Except when we are intolerant of intolerance.
We must be open-minded. Except when we are close-minded about close-mindedness.

If you say that tolerance is accepting others, then you should not ever have a problem with another disagreeing with you. If one thinks tolerance means acceptance of all actions (even actions another considers wrong), then the "tolerant" one must accept that others do not accept certain actions or those who are "tolerant" are being intolerant.

EXAMPLE FROM CULTURE - Catholics who say that marriage should only be between one man and one woman are charged with bigotry and intolerance. The fact is that Catholics are limiting themselves as well with this idea, not just others. No person can marry another person of the same sex. So, it isn't about picking on one group, because the rule applies to all.

Some say it is about the "right to marry someone you love". But, as we have discussed in other posts, it is never loving to have ANY sexual act which might cause harm to the other, and a same-sex sexual act is, by nature, harmful to the both persons. Thus, it can't be about love.

It also isn't about "equality" either. The purpose of the state recognizing marriage and giving certain rights to married couples is because the state depends on the family to raise the children that naturally come from the family, so the state can survive and thrive. Same-sex couples, by nature, cannot have kids. Thus, they should not get legal recognition of their relationships or preferential treatment. I won't even get into the other reasons why gay marriage is a bad idea, but you can read about it here.

The logical inconsistency is that those who support same-sex marriages are intolerant of the Catholic Church's intolerance of same-sex marriage.

Step #5 - Malign those who hold-out against this idea of tolerance as prejudiced and bigoted.
The examples for this step are too numerous to give, though I have posted a few above.

It is obvious that this step is very important, because most people do not like to be told they are being mean, exclusive, or rejecting others. But, the problem is that the Church isn't doing this. They reject certain actions, because we believe they are harmful to others. This isn't mean - it is a LOVING ACT. If I think you are doing something bad and don't tell you - then I am acting cruel.

But, if I am looking out for your best interests, then I am acting out of love.

The Catholic Church IS INTOLERANT of :
  • sin
  • immorality
  • scandal
  • injury to another persons dignity
  • etc.
But, the Catholic Church is not intolerant of people.

We must fight against this false understanding of modern tolerance as a virtue and obligation. We must fight against sin. But, we must also tolerate other human beings and their human rights.

Words have meaning.
Thoughts have consequences.
"Are tolerance and belief in revealed truth opposites? Putting it another way: Are Christian faith and modernity compatible? If tolerance is one of the foundations of the modern age, then is not the claim to have recognized the essential truth an obsolete piece of presumption that has to be rejected if the spiral of violence that runs through the history of religions is to be broken? Today, in the encounter of Christianity with the world, this question arises ever more dramatically, and ever more widespread becomes the persuasion that renouncing the claim to truth in the Christian faith is the fundamental condition for a new universal peace, the fundamental condition for any reconciliation of Christianity with modernity."
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Moral Minefield of Technology

Whenever someone knowingly walks through a minefield, they usually do so with care and concern for their well-being. Yet, someone who walks through a minefield, without knowing it is a threat, might have no concern at all.

This is a good analogy for how many people use technology today. The threats are numerous when we use technology, yet so many people are not even aware there is any threat present. As Catholics we need to be wary of using any technology and understand that while most tech is morally neutral it can be used for good or bad.
For instance:

The Good of the Internet - the internet is a valuable tool, which has brought unprecedented access to our fingertips at the press of a button. It is easy to find information, communicate with others rapidly, and has transformed the world in bringing many different peoples closer together. It also gives the Church new opportunities to evangelize the world.

The Bad of the Internet - Too many to name, but here are a few examples of the mines in the internet field:
Other moral issues that have risen because of Technology include public safety issues (e.g., texting while driving) and social interaction / communication issues (e.g. nearly 50% of women say they are "Facebook addicts".)

These many issues clearly show that we are not only strolling through the minefield of technology, but as a culture, we are happily skipping through it, setting off mines continually - smiling as we do so.

We need to have a better understanding of the dangers, educate ourselves, and act with more prudence and care.

Technology is made for us - we are not made for technology. So, we must ask some questions:
  • How can I use this particular technological advance for the good of others and myself?
  • In what ways can this technology be abused?
  • Am I respecting the dignity of the people behind the technology?
  • Am I acting in a moral manner in all things?
  • How are others abusing and misusing this technology and how can I avoid doing the same?
These kinds of questions, and others, have already been asked by some leaders in the Catholic Church.
The US Bishops have issued Guidelines for Social Media use and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is trying to keep up (and in some ways failing to do so) with the cultural changes happening so rapidly due to technology.

Pope Benedict XVI said this in Caritas in Veritate (emphasis in original):
Technology is highly attractive because it draws us out of our physical limitations and broadens our horizon. But human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility. Hence the pressing need for formation in an ethically responsible use of technology. Moving beyond the fascination that technology exerts, we must reappropriate the true meaning of freedom, which is not an intoxication with total autonomy, but a response to the call of being, beginning with our own personal being.
As Catholics we must lead the charge in helping the world assess the morality of how technology is to be used for good. In doing so, we can help others know about the mines which are present in the field of technology, and then disarm them.

Dear Abby (and Annie), Your Advice Stinks!

Modern syndicated advice columns offer terrible recommendations. The relativistic morality that runs thick through them is being dished out to millions of readers every day. A few examples below.
Though these are printed in papers read daily, I warn you - these are not easy to read letters or responses.

Two from Annie's Mailbox:
Example 1 - (first letter - starts with "I am a 22-year-old".
  • Notice that the advice to the girlfriend who got an STD from her boyfriend is not that sex outside of marriage is dangerous, but that she needs to be treated. Notice that there is an assumption that sex is great, no matter what you "choose" to do or with whom.
Example 2 - (first letter - starts with "I just learned").

  • The morality of the choice of the abortion isn't even brought up. It is assumed to be left up to the woman and "being judgmental" is the vice to avoid. While being compassionate to a woman who suffered an abortion is a good thing, to avoid the truth is not.

The crux of the advice in many of these responses is the ultimate goal of sex is to be satisfying and acceptable for both partners.

Two from Dear Abby:
Example 1
  • She advises a pregnant teen to talk to mom or another adult (not a bad thing), but then says to go to Planned Parenthood if she can't find someone to talk to. She then goes on to defend her advice as well as Margaret Sanger, etc., etc.
Example 2
  • In this column we find out that abstinence-only sex ed is crazy and that parents must teach their kids about contraception. Oh, you should also buy her booklet for teens on this subject...

I don't even know where to start. The advice is coming from a moral vacuum and the reality of relativism is on full display.

Stay away from these columns. If you are stuck in a bad situation and need advice, please don't write an advice column. Find a wise and good Catholic priest or other mentor who can help guide you. If you don't know any, then it might be time to start to make some new acquaintances.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cohabitation May Be An Impediment To A Valid Marriage

This is long, but well worth it. An article from our Pastor, Fr. David, on cohabitation and the Church's problem with it and response.
The following article originally appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review – Nov, 1999

Marriage Preparation With Co-Habiting Couples
By: Rev. David Konderla

I was ordained in 1995 and assigned to a parish of about 3500 families. The parish saw over seventy weddings a year which meant that I spent a lot of my time doing marriage preparation with young couples. Marriage preparation is one of the most important functions of any parish. The strength of families, parishes, the Church and society depends on the strength of the marriage.

I quickly became troubled because many couples were already living together. I felt caught between the rock of wanting to help them form a firm foundation for their marriage and the hard place of fearing that if I confronted them, they might leave the Church altogether.

What most confused me was how it came to be that I was the bad guy. Here I was working hard and doing what I was ordained to do and all a couple had to do was call me on the phone and ask me to witness their marriage and if I questioned them about their living together, I was the bad guy. The question in my mind was this: “Why are couples free to follow whatever truth they want and make whatever decisions they want, even when they contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church, but priests are not free to follow the faith and teaching of the Church and are cast in the role of pastorally insensitive bad guys if we question their decisions?”

What I finally realized was that I was unduly taking responsibility for the mature faith that these couples should have had, but did not have. I re-evaluated the dynamic in these relationships and saw that it was not up to me to take responsibility for the maturity of their faith and decisions. If they were coming to the Church for marriage, they had to be able to take responsibility for the maturity of their own faith and decisions.

This allowed me to extricate myself as the apparent source of their problem and to place responsibility for the problem, and its resolution, squarely on their shoulders where it belonged.

But what precisely was the problem? I had seen various articles that dealt with the issue of couples living together. They seemed to focus on the scandal that is caused by co-habitation and suggested a punitive approach to resolving the problem. The suggested solution was to tell the couples that co-habiting was scandalous and that if they insisted on staying together, they would only be able to have a simple ceremony in the day chapel or the rectory.

I think that this approach is well meaning but it is incomplete because it does not address the main question. The main question is not what kind of a wedding ceremony to have in order to avoid scandal, but whether or not there is reason to believe that the couple is mature enough and free enough to consent to the sacrament of marriage.

At the heart of their relationship, there is an irreconcilable contradiction between their objective lifestyle and the faith they are trying to express in their sacramental marriage. I think this contradiction demonstrates that the couple does not yet have the minimal maturity and due discretion to commit marriage.

How have I arrived at this judgement? Canon 1066 says,
“Before marriage is celebrated, it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration.”
Co-habitation is a sign that something probably does stand in the way of the valid and licit celebration of the marriage. That something is the “grave lack of discretion of judgement …” that we are warned about in Canon 1095.2. Let me quote from A Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary of the Canon Law Society of America and then make some comments of my own.
The ability to form an adequate will act at the time of marriage is not sufficient in itself for a valid marriage. It must be preceded by sufficient deliberation or critical judgment about the implications of the act of consent for the person at that particular time. The person does not only consent to a wedding but makes a decision about his or her life and the life of the marriage partner. If there is a serious inability to evaluate critically the decision to marry in light of the consequent obligations and responsibilities, then consent may well be invalid. A person must be able to evaluate his or her motivation for the wedding, personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the other party, and his or her ability to live up to the demands of the marriage.

This evaluation is governed by the person’s critical faculty, an ability that differs from mere intellectual apprehension of the situation. For the psychiatrist and the jurist this means “…the ability to form judgments, that is, the capacity to draw correct conclusions from the material acquired by experience.”

The critical faculty depends first on the mature ability to grasp what the marital relationship entails. The person must then be able to relate marriage as an abstract reality, i.e., what it theoretically involves, to his or her concrete situation. This requires insight and the application of one’s actual situation and abilities to the theoretical demands of marriage…. It also presupposes freedom from mental confusion, undue pressure, or fear in contemplating marriage…. A person may be capable of right judgment in areas of life such as business, personal health, etc., but generally incapable of good judgment in regard to interpersonal relationships and specifically in regard to the special relationship demanded for Christian marriage (p. 776).
Even if the decision to live together before marriage is made innocently or sincerely, I suggest it demonstrates a lack of this “critical faculty” that is necessary for valid and licit celebration of the sacrament.

That the decision to live together before marriage is a bad choice is demonstrated again by a 1999 study from the National Marriage Project based at Rutgers University. This study finds that living together increases the risk of breaking up after marriage. It increases the risk of domestic violence for women and the risk of physical and sexual abuse of children. Also, unmarried couples have a lower level of happiness and well being than married couples (Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know About Co-habitation Before Marriage).

So, why do couples decide to co-habit when it is such a bad choice and is contrary to their faith? It usually is not a conscience choice. There is a disconnect between the principles, duties and teachings of their Christian faith and their day to day decisions. Without the anchor of faith and a belief in the divine authority of the Word of God, they are driven before the winds of daily life and circumstances and may end up wrecked on the shoals of divorce and never understand how they got there.

But the Church in her wisdom and her experience can see clearly that the way they got there was through the disconnect between faith and life that was evident in their decision to live together before marriage. The actual decision to live together is a symptom of this larger problem. The couple, as well as all the faithful in the Church, have a right to the treasury of the Church’s wisdom and experience. It is unconscionable for the Church’s minister to gloss over this wisdom or not challenge the couple to apply it to their situation in order to help them grow and avoid the pain of divorce. This is all the more true at this time and in this society when there are already so many elements working against marriage and family.

The pastoral response is, with all patience, to work with the couple to help them to see the disconnect between their faith and their life and how this may threaten any future marriage.

The Church and her priests and other ministers are free to teach and believe what the Church teaches and believes, indeed they have a formal obligation to do so. Likewise, the couple is free to ignore this faith, or to remain ignorant of it. But if they come to the Church asking for the sacrament of marriage, then they must be ready to learn about and conform themselves to what the Church understands about the Christian life in general and about this sacrament. It is not enough for them to want a marriage ceremony with all the ecclesiastical sights and sounds. When weak marriages end in divorce, the Church is harmed and the institution of marriage weakened. Thus, the Church has a vested interest in making sure they are fully prepared, fully mature and capable of judging themselves ready for the obligations of a marital commitment.

Some will object that this approach is not “pastoral.” They will ask does not this approach force the couple to seek an invalid marriage? I would respond no, we do not force the couple to seek an invalid marriage and it is the wrong question. I think that there are several other points to consider.

First, the fact of annulment makes clear that the ceremony does not make a marriage if it is based on invalid consent. If, as I think, the fact of co-habitation is a sign that this couple does not yet have the requisite maturity required for proper consent, then we certainly should wait and try to help the couple grow in their maturity rather than risk a failed marriage. In other words, if I can already see the grounds for an annulment prior to the wedding, should I not first work to remove such grounds before proceeding?

Notice I am not suggesting that we tell them that they cannot get married at all. I am suggesting that we take the marriage preparation process seriously as a means and opportunity for growth and conversion and not simply treat it as a set of hoops and paperwork to get through in six months. If we take marriage preparation seriously, we will be looking for signs of growth and maturity. We already do this in our formation programs for priesthood and religious life. Do we somehow believe that marriage is a lesser or easier vocation that does not require as high a level of maturity and formation in the faith?

Secondly, the solution of having the couple return to a chaste and truly free living arrangement is not asking something heroic of the couple. It is not asking any more of the co-habiting couple than the Church asks of all couples. It is just that this couple has chosen for a number of perhaps well intended, but wrong, reasons to live in a public manner that is inconsistent with their faith. In a society that is providing an absolutely disastrous formation in human sexuality to our people, it is more essential than ever that the Church teach clearly the beautiful truth of human sexuality. Seminaries should make sure that seminarians are able to teach this truth in love before they are ordained.

Thirdly, the question forgets that the faithful have rights too. They have a right to hear the truth that the Church has been commissioned to teach. They have a right to live without the confusion that is caused by theological opinions and pastoral practices that are contrary to the authoritative teaching of the magisterium. This is especially clear in paragraph 2037 of the Catechism and in canons 208-231. What is the effect on the families and invited guests, especially the young adults, who attend a wedding of a couple whom everyone knows has been living together. Lex orandi, lex credendi: if couples who have been living together can get married with all the rites of the Church, then how are parents supposed to teach their children that such behavior is wrong? Do not parents have a right to have the Church help them teach the truths of the faith and particularly through her liturgy?

Finally, I think there may be an implicit and unjust presumption that the couple cannot handle the growth in maturity required for them to live chastely and freely before their marriage. This would be an unfortunate attitude on the part of the Church’s minister since it is certainly the attitude of society. If the minister does not demonstrate enough true pastoral concern to help the couple grow in maturity and holiness, then the minister is abandoning the faithful to the errors and painful consequences of those errors of the larger society.

The point of entry for this process of growth is the couple’s faith that brings them to the Church to request marriage. It is an evangelical moment. The minister can explain that marriage preparation is an effective and dynamic process that seeks to resolve questions and problems, not merely talk about them. This is the first one and a major one. Thus, as long as it exists, the marriage preparation cannot go forward to other issues. With this question in the way, it is impossible to tell how long the marriage preparation may take and so they cannot set a date. So, the sooner they deal with their problem, the sooner they will be able to set a date.

Now it is not the minister who is holding them back, but they are holding themselves back. Also, the solution is very simple. The minister can help them study the gospel and the Church’s teaching about marriage and human sexuality, embrace the gift and freedom of chastity and modesty, confess any sin and go back to their single living arrangements just as if they had never made the wrong decision in the first place. Granted, if they are already civilly married or already have children, other arrangements may have to be pursued. But I think that most couples who are living together are not in this category.

Of course, the more bishops and priests preach about and publicize the danger of co-habitation, the more it will help single Catholics avoid making the wrong decision to co-habit in the first place.

On the cover of most bulletins is a sentence about marriage preparation that could be edited to say for example: “Living together before marriage is harmful to future marriage and sinful. Couples who are living together will be asked to live separately during the marriage preparation time.”

If they know that they will not be considered ready for marriage while still co-habiting, it will give them courage to find other solutions, based on their mature faith, to whatever perceived needs they have that make them want to co-habit in the first place. This is not an additional burden or something heroic. It is basic Christian faith and morality.

So, what does all this look like in the face to face meeting with the couples? What follows is an attempt to show by way of a dialogue the kinds of conversations that I have when I meet with couples who are living together. As appropriate I will supply commentary in parenthesis to help illustrate the theory behind the conversation. I believe the approach I am describing avoids placing the couple in an adversarial relationship with the Church or me while at the same time helping them to grow in their faith and achieve a strong foundation for their marriage.

I have found five principles helpful and useful. The individual minister should rely on their own talents, skills and personality in applying these principles in their work with the couples.

  1. The process by which the couple decided to live together before marriage may have been completely innocent. Nonetheless, the fact that they are living together before marriage is objectively wrong, creates an unworkable atmosphere for marriage preparation and poses a real danger to their future marriage. The ideal solution is for the couple to separate during the marriage preparation process.
  2. I do not set a date with the couple until I know if they are already living together or if there will be any other major conflicts such as annulments etc… to resolve in the marriage preparation process. In this way outside pressure and timetables from hall or church reservations do not get in the way of the marriage formation.
  3. I do not preach at the couple or criticize them telling them that the Church or I do not approve of their living together. 
  4. I take the marriage preparation and my role in it seriously. When a young man wants to be a priest, the Church provides a whole group of people to help him discern if he is called and ready for priesthood. The same thing happens when a young man or woman desires religious life. There should also be someone willing to help a young couple discern if they are ready for marriage. 
  5. If it is discovered that they are not ready yet, I do not judge them. I make myself available to them to help them to get ready. If the relationship becomes conflicted, I always leave the door open, ready to work with them in their growth towards marriage. I will never say to them that I will not witness their marriage. But I will tell them if I think that they are not yet ready for marriage.
 The scenario of the first meeting is that the couple have called and said that they want to get married and so we have set up a first meeting. When they arrive, they are sometimes a bit nervous, all the more so if they are living together, another good reason to deal with this issue honestly and up front.

Priest: Hello Jack and Jane, come in and have a seat.
(We shake hands, I offer hospitality and get them comfortable. At this point I do not know whether they are living together or not. I feel comfortable in meeting them because even if they are living together, I do not believe that it is my problem, and so I do not have to take responsibility for it if it causes a delay in their marriage plans. )

Couple: Hello, how are you?

Priest: So, tell me something about yourselves, where are you from, who are your parents, how many siblings, what is your work, how did you meet etc…?
(We engage in a conversation that helps to break the ice and helps us get to know one another. I share with them where I am from and a little about my family etc….)

Priest: So, what can I do for you?
(This question may surprise them because they have already told me over the phone that they want to get married and that is why they are here. They may be assuming that I and or the Church have already organized a whole series of hoops for them to jump through. Consciously or unconsciously they may think that marriage preparation will be like other religious programs that they have been through where you go from step one to step two with some authority telling you what to do and what to believe. With this question, I am trying to take myself out of the loop and get them to take responsibility for their marriage preparation. I want all the couples I work with, not just the co-habiting couples, to understand that marriage and marriage preparation are paths to holiness and personal growth.)

Couple: We want to get married.

Priest: That’s great. Why did you come to me?
(They think that I am putting them on and just grin at each other and at me so I continue.)
I mean you could just as easily go to a Justice of the Peace. It would be quicker and cheaper, but you came to me, a Catholic priest, why?
(I am asking this question pleasantly, but sincerely. I may even explain to them that it is not a trick question and I am not looking for a certain answer. I just want to hear them talk about the motivation behind their wanting a “religious” wedding. It allows us to explore what it means to them to want a “religious” wedding. It is easy for us to take the practice of our faith and the sacraments for granted without having a conscious understanding of why we do what we do, why we believe what we believe. I want them to think about what they believe and why they want a “religious” wedding so they can articulate their faith to each other, be consciously aware of it and take responsibility for it.)

Couple: We don’t want a civil marriage because we are both Christians. We believe marriage is a sacrament. All our families are Christians. We believe in the Church.
(The answers here are usually some variation of these with the basic theme being that we are Christians, we are members of the parish, Jesus is our Lord and we want to honor that in our marriage. My goal here is to use questions to help them clarify and express in their own words and thoughts their Christian faith and values. Once this faith has been established, I can help them see the connections and or disconnections between their Christian faith and their life choices.)

Priest: So, it sounds like you are telling me that you do not want a secular wedding because you believe Jesus is your Lord and you want to get married in your Church to honor your Christian faith. Well good, with your faith meaning so much to you I can see why you would want to go to all the trouble of a formal preparation process and a sacramental wedding.
(At this point we can move into the prenuptial questionnaire which is the point wherein I usually discover that they are living together.)

Priest: I see by your addresses that you are already living together? As Christians, doesn’t that go against your faith?
(The fruit of the earlier conversation begins to ripen here. Now as we begin to deal with this issue it is their own expressed faith that questions them about this apparent contradiction in their relationship. This is very different than telling them that neither the Church nor I approve of their living together. Since they claim that they are here because of their Christian faith, they must take responsibility for the objective content of that faith and the consequences that it has for how they live their life.

They must also take responsibility for how their living together contrary to their Christian faith and values demonstrates an immaturity in how they think and apply faith and values to their life. If they are not yet able to make concrete life decisions based on the values and beliefs of their faith, then why do they think they will be able to make such decisions based on the values and beliefs of their marriage? For example, fidelity, forgiveness, commitment, generosity, patience are all values and beliefs that are easier to live when things are going well and harder to live when things are going poorly.

If they cannot apply the values of faith or marriage to daily decisions, they may one day find themselves looking at divorce. They will not have intended for these things to happen. No couple ever does and yet the divorce rate is at or above 50 percent. This is the danger of going forward with the marriage of a couple who, by their decision to live together, have amply demonstrated that they do not yet have the “critical faculty” of being able to relate Christian faith or marriage as an abstract reality to the day to day concrete decisions and actions of their life.

Moreover, given the high rate of divorce and the consequent scandal caused by the high number of annulments, it seems evident that allowing the co-habiting couple to get married in a simpler ceremony is still a dangerous practice. We may have avoided the scandal on the day of the marriage. But, if by allowing a co-habiting couple to get married in a simplified ceremony we set up a future divorce and petition for nullity, we will not have avoided scandal and greater pain at the end of the marriage.)

Couple: We honestly did not think of it in this way, but yes, you do have a point.
(The conversation may go in many directions at this point from denial and making excuses to relief at getting it out in the open because they have known it was wrong, wanted to deal with it, but have not known how to proceed. Below we will examine several common responses. The goal is to get them to separate for a significant amount of time before the marriage. This separation is not punitive, but formational. It can accomplish several things. It can restore the virtue and gift of chastity. It can help them to see that there is a connection between faith and life and thus grow deeper in their relationship with God and their ability to allow God and their faith to guide their decisions. And, it can give them the freedom and independence they need in order to evaluate the motives for getting married in general, to this person in particular and at this time in their lives.)

Priest: So, how can I help you grow in integrating your faith with the choices in your life?
Note that the Church and I continue to be outside the problem, and it is a real problem. Because the Church did not cause their problem, it can properly offer them a way of salvation, a solution to their problem.

The first kind of response may be an outright denial that there is any problem. In this situation the minister must be prepared to explain objectively why co-habiting is a problem. Studies such as the one mentioned above, scriptural passages dealing with sexual immorality and the dignity and beauty of marriage and the Church’s teachings on the dignity and beauty of human sexuality and marriage are all helpful here. The guiding principle in the conversation is to leave the door open to further work and discussion. I may arrange another appointment with them so they can go home and think about and pray about our discussion. I will never tell them they cannot ever get married, but that I do not think they are ready to get married yet.

A second response may be a recognition that their decision to live together was the wrong decision followed by an attempt at a compromise without growth. This usually takes the form of the argument that now they are dependant on one another and cannot afford to separate. I do not accept this at face value because usually it is not true and if it is, it presents another problem. Usually it means that they are trying to save money for some goal, such as the wedding, a car, a home or something else. In their decision to live together before marriage and contrary to their faith, they have taken a moral shortcut in order to arrive at their goal. This is not mature decision making and may indicate the way they will handle other problems in the marriage.

In my conversation with them I will first ask them individually if they mean to say that they cannot make a living on their own. This helps them to see that in fact they are not really dependent on one another, but rather they are living together because they want something. Then I will point out that other couples want the things they want, but do not take shortcuts to get them and that they should not either. If they separate now and pursue their goal in a mature fashion, it will take longer to reach it, but it will allow them to grow in their faith and relationship.

If in fact they cannot make a living on their own, then we must deal with how this dependency affects their ability to give free consent to the wedding. In this situation I will want to work with them to verify their freedom to marry, their intention to observe chastity before marriage and how to deal with the potential scandal at the wedding. Here is where the simplified wedding ceremony makes sense so as to avoid giving scandal to the friends and family who attend.

A third kind of response is one of relief at getting it out in the open. On a couple of occasions I have dealt with one person has been feeling very guilty about their living together but has been afraid to bring it up. Now we can talk openly about how they got into this situation and how we can make their separation a path to holiness and growth. Of course this is the easiest situation to deal with, but they may never have had this opportunity if the minister did not have the courage and pastoral concern to challenge them about their living together before marriage.

I have found this to be a useful approach that helps co-habiting couples grow in their faith and priests and others in marriage preparation feel more confident in working with them.

Things Jesus Didn't Say...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Illegal Immigration and the Catholic Church

Q - What is the Catholic Church's stance on hiring of illegal immigrants?

Wow, you just opened up a big can o' worms, didn't you? Thanks for the question. I will have to do a lot of background before I get to directly answering your question, so bear with me. Just to let you know, I talked to several people (all with at least a Master of Theology and one with a Ph.D. who is a moral theologian and head of a Theology dept. at a Catholic University) to make sure that this answer was kosher with them as well. They agree with my sentiments. With that, we will proceed.

There are several principles about immigration that the Catholic Church teaches, sometimes having a tension that we must balance when examining the issue.

As a nation we are obligated to welcome those who wish to enter the USA, in search of a better life (that is, within limits that are imposed by the state). Those immigrating also have the duty of following the law.

CCC 2241 "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."

Notice, that this isn't an "open border" policy that the Church is advocating. Also, there are duties that those who immigrate have as well - notably to obey the laws of the country they are entering (including how they enter, paying taxes, etc.). Illegal immigrants, by definition, are not cooperating in fulfilling this principle.

Principle #1 - The state has the right to set the boundaries around what they consider to be the ordinary ways of entering the country and how they secure their borders. Thus, the policies of the USA are not inherently unjust because they define these parameters. But, this can't be a closed-door policy either. In fact, the manner in which all immigrants (both legal and illegal) are processed in the USA is shameful. But, the USA doesn't have to accept everyone who wants to come either.

Principle #2 - The homeland of every person should seek justice for it's people. Notice that corruption continues the cycle of poverty in most poor countries. If we truly want to seek justice for the immigrant, then we need to seek it in the homelands of our immigrants. The USA is still just in the vast majority of it's laws and public policies.

Principle #3 - If need be, then persons have the right to migrate for the good of their families of for their own sake. But, the Church doesn't make this an absolute. Rather, it is to be for the protection of those who cannot survive otherwise.

Principle #4 - Refugees and those seeking asylum should be protected. We should be the country where people can feel safe from totalitarianism and we should be a haven for refugees who cannot live in their homelands.

Principle #5 - Illegal immigrants are still human beings with inherent dignity and rights and should be treated as such. Of course, this doesn't mean that the USA can't enforce it's laws, but rather, it's laws should treat people justly. For instance, deporting only parents and not children is unjust. They also have the right to be treated fairly by the justice system during legal proceedings and/or deportation.

Marcel's Principle - Immigration is not an easy issue to solve, nor are any of the "easy solution" advocates balancing all of the above principles. This principle is my own. The best summation of a good solution to all of these issues, that I have seen, is from Mary Ann Glendon - the US Ambassador to the Vatican who wrote an article entitled, Principled Immigration, which I highly recommend.

What we should not do is pass off the issue as an easy one of either completely opening / closing the borders or of enforcement/non-enforcement of current laws. Rather, true immigration reform will have to take up the competing rights and interests of the many facets of the issue.

Now, to directly answer the question we can say this, with a caveat. As stated above, the state has the right to make just laws that govern immigration. This means that we, as Catholics and citizens, are obligated to follow such laws governing who can and can't be hired. The caveat is that like the speed limit, if the culture interprets the law loosely, then the application of the law in particular circumstances may also be loosely applied. So, in other words, you must do the following -

  1. Properly form your conscience on the subject, including intellectual and spiritual formation. So, you should continue to study the issue and pray about it. I would also recommend discussing it with a spiritual director. 
  2. You must then follow your conscience on the matter.

I know this was by no means an easy answer, which we are generally looking for, but this is the best I could do with the information you gave me. Thanks for the challenging question.

On a personal note, immigration policy is one of the more difficult issues for me as a political issue. I haven't seen any proposed (or current) policies that reflect the myriad of conflicting interests, but rather they seem to me to all serve a political purpose, not the common good.

We Hold These Truths...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ben & Jerry's Once Again Supports Gay Marriage

In 2009 Ben & Jerry's renamed "Chubby Hubby" as "Hubby Hubby" to mark the legalization of gay marriage in Vermont. Now, they do it for UK's legislation:
This March as the UK government debates whether to legalise same sex marriage, we've partnered with gay rights organisation, Stonewall, to raise awareness about the importance of marriage equality by renaming our Apple Pie flavour, Apple-y Ever After!

If you think that Civil Partnership is the same as marriage, think again! Show your support and help convince members of parliament that it's time to say 'I do' to same sex marriage!

You can help support this campaign by "marrying" someone of the same sex through our Facebook App or by writing to your MP using this template. (Because everyone is equal and deserves to live Apple-y Ever After!)

Huge Growth of Catholicism in Texas

While many parts of the country struggle to keep churches and schools open, Texas has a different problem - staggering growth. Rocco Palmo wrote about it recently and he gives St. Mary's a nice plug. Here is a snip:
Grouped as Region X along with the three bishops of the Oklahoma City province (OKC, Tulsa and Little Rock), the Lone Star bench -- 15 dioceses in all, now split between two provinces of their own -- begins its week of meetings with the Roman Curia on Wednesday. Yet even as the thread of vitality and ongoing emergence is found through practically the entire final third of the pilgrimage -- the booming dioceses of California and Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas are all still on tap before the visit wraps in mid-May -- more than any other visitors this time around, odds are the Texans will be welcomed at the Vatican as the darlings of the American church.

A quick look at the stats lays out the backdrop: since the last ad limina, Catholics -- their presence increased nearly 60 percent since 1990 -- have eclipsed Evangelicals to become the state's largest religious group. In a matter of years, three of its dioceses have erupted to comprise more than a million members, each reflecting five-or-sixfold expansions over the last three decades. On a 25 percent growth in general population since 2000, the Dallas-Fort Worth "metroplex" is now home to nearly 2 million of the faithful in what's just become the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area. Along the border, a majority of Brownsville's 1.1 million Catholics are younger than 25; out East, rural Tyler's taken to ordaining more priests than New York, and in the capital, Austin's church of half a million -- projected to double within a decade -- is perhaps the Stateside church's most energetic outpost, boasting the nation's most celebrated Catholic campus ministry, to boot.
Continue Reading.

My Guest Editorial On The HHS Contraception Mandate

Here is my guest editorial in the Texas A&M Student Newspaper - The Battalion:
The Obama administration has mandated that insurance companies in the U.S. provide free contraception to all. The media has portrayed the debate as Catholics fighting against "women's rights." This is false and is an issue that should upset all Americans — believers and non-believers, women and men.

The real issue is about constitutional rights and the government's role. The government does not grant freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Rather, the job of the government is to protect our natural rights. If a right is granted by the state, it can be taken away by the state. Rights are above the government. This is why the power of our government was purposefully limited by the Constitution: to prevent oppression — ESPECIALLY religious oppression.

The U.S. was established in part because of the failure of other nations to grant the freedom of religion. This freedom is so foundational that it is addressed in the First Amendment listed in the Bill of Rights, and is why many non-Catholic leaders (Christian, Jewish, atheist, etc.) fear this intrusion into our constitutional rights and have voiced opposition to the mandate.

The debate is about basic human and constitutional rights. All have the right to believe as they wish, the right to follow their consciences and the right to religious freedom without coercion from the government. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Obama administration is attempting to limit these rights by redefining the free exercise of religion as a "right to worship." Just recently, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of religious freedom. The Court upheld 9-0 the right of a Lutheran Church to decide who its ministers are. The administration argued the church had no more right to religious liberty than a secular group, overstepping its bounds and making the invented "right" to free contraception one that even trumps constitutional rights.

The mandate forces everyone to pay for chemical abortions, contraception and sterilizations, which many morally oppose, without a way to opt out. Churches should decide what "ministry" is, not a bureaucrat. We are told to "feed the poor" and to "aid the sick." Yet, the administration says that feeding the poor means we also have to pay for drugs that can cause abortions, even if we object. Exemptions are given for Quakers who do not want to serve in the military and Amish who do not pay Social Security — because of faith.

In this case, Catholics don't get an exemption. It seems getting $9 birth control from Wal-Mart is too much of a burden. If it really is about health issues or "women's rights," then why not provide free heart screenings, workout equipment, cholesterol medicine? Pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a disability. No "right" is violated by paying for your own contraception.

It pains me to ask, but if the right to religious freedom is disposable, what right is next? Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Take away the first right listed and anything seems fair game. This is an American issue.
I wanted to say more, but hit the word limit.
Here is a response from a student, if you want to see what the argument in support the HHS Mandate comes down to - babies are more expensive than contraception. Sad.