Monday, July 16, 2012

4th of July Redux or Fortnight for Freedom for ALL...

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776

These simple phrases, penned over 235 years ago created our nation. The people of the United States of America, (before it was the United States of America, of course) were pushed to revolution because they were being denied freedoms which, they stated, were endowed upon us by God. Now I will readily admit that the Americans of that day were a little off track when it came to protecting God-given freedoms. We were a nation that still supported slavery, even by some of the men who wrote those words. A wrong that would not be addressed for almost another hundred years, and the residue of which, still affects us to this day.

I thought of those words a while ago, while I was listening to a radio show about the Transportation Safety Administration's pat-down of an 18 month old child (that story was replaced the next week by the pat down of a 95 year old leukemia patient) and a gentleman called in and pointed out that we were in trouble as a nation when we move away from the concept that these rights are 'endowed by our Creator', because we no longer think that people are entitled to those rights objectively. To be honest, at first blush, I thought the guy sounded a little crazy. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that although his tone was a little wacky, his idea was a pretty sound one. He ended the call by saying that in the end, we would only keep the rights we fought for, because if we didn't fight for them, then why do we deserve them?

Interestingly, the two 'victims' of the TSA are a perfect example of the flaw in this system. You see, when we only support the rights of those who can fight for them, we limit the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to those who are strong enough, or powerful enough to defend their own rights. And those who are fighting, better have a good reason why their freedoms benefit everyone else, because you cannot fight without any ammunition (figuratively speaking, of course). In short, we descend into a utilitarian society. "Why should the state allow you to do what you want to do? What can you offer?" The judgment is then up to the subjective will of, well....... who? I guess that is the question. When we lose sight of the fact that these rights are given to us by our Creator, we leave the decision up to somebody else, don't we?

But that is not where we came from. We are a nation founded on the premise that we are all entitled to these rights, not because we earned them, not because we can contribute 'enough' to be worthy of them, but because our Creator, our God, made us all free. The concept is very old. God could easily have created Adam and Eve to obey Him and only do what he wanted. But He didn't. He made them free. They made a mess of things, and His chosen people continued not listening to Him, but he freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. He was just, and He reprimanded them, but he didn't leave His people. Later, even though we were all sinners, He sent Jesus, his only begotten son, to die for our sins. Did we deserve it? Had we earned it? Do we serve God 'enough' to be worthy of such a sacrifice? I know I don't.

So back to our two TSA 'Terror suspects'. What about those not strong enough or powerful enough to fight for themselves? Those at the very beginning of their lives, and those at the end, are not strong enough, or powerful enough to fight for themselves. And, quite frankly, in the eyes of those 'deciding' and those who don't think we need a 'crutch' like religion and God, these two groups do not contribute enough to truly value them in society. So we have a nation where the unborns' right to life is dependent upon a choice made by someone else. And to suggest that their rights are important is to be attacked outright. Imagine, we live in a world where you are considered intolerant by asserting someone's right to life. The old and the sick are being pushed to assert their 'right to die'. But isn't it naive to think that conceding some 'man' has the authority to bestow these rights upon us won't lead to someone having the authority someday, to make that choice for us as well?

We need to realize that the first amendment was not written to keep God out of government, but to keep the government out of God. As we push the faithful out of the public square, and move toward a totally secular society, we must consider what a danger it is to be judged only on what your usefulness is, how scary it will be when somebody else gets to decide what your life is worth, and where we are headed when the government becomes our god.

These two specifics are one important issues on their own, but what is frightening me is the attitude I see in comments everywhere. In the comments on news stories, on Facebook, on other blogs, people seem all too happy to take the decisions once left to God, toss Him aside (because that's how we've been conditioned when it comes to public policy) and allow the government to make that decision for all of us.

This is why we have such a fight going over the HHS contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Catholic church and Catholic institutions have extremely valid reasons for not supporting contraception, abortion or abortifacients,, but those reasons aren't even what the argument should really be about. The argument is a government mandate that requires a religious organization to go against its principles. Can you force a religious entity to purchase a product knowing that the fees will go toward something that is diametrically opposed to its teaching?

Those in the 'comment' sections point toward the compromise that was put forth by the administration whereby the insurance companies would be forced to pay for these products and services. Considering that there is no way on earth that insurance companies would give anything away for free, this compromise is basically saying, “We know they're charging you for it, you know you're paying for it, but if we just pretend they're covering it for free, then you should be okay with that, right?”

The other common argument is that the church should just 'get over it' because 98% of Catholic families have used artificial birth control. These people apparently do not understand that the church is not a democracy. In a way, the fact that the church has held to this teaching despite its lack of popularity, misrepresentation and over-simplification in the way it's been reported, should be a testament to the strength of the church to teach the truth no matter the pressures to do otherwise.

Still, these are more arguments that have nothing to do with this issue. The argument isn't whether anyone agrees with the church teaching or not. The argument is whether the government can force the church to do something that is against its teaching. It is answered quite simply in another of our founding documents:

The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

Now I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I can read. And to me, that says it all. Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Forcing Catholic institutions to provide for services that go directly against their teaching is prohibiting the free exercise of their faith. 

I recently got into a Facebook back-and-forth (I do not recommend these) with someone who said that religion was only responsible for violence, war and hatred and the faster we can get it out of our government, the better. I literally felt like we were talking about two different groups of people as I know a lot of religious people, none of whom are the monsters she described. While I agree that religion should not be a prerequisite for holding a government post and the last thing I would ever want is the government casting judgment on, or creating any religion, (these are the things that the first amendment guards against), it seems to me that people of faith in government, have the perspective of the Creator's unalienable rights and of being blessed with gifts that we do not 'deserve' or do not contribute enough to be 'worthy' of receiving. We are a nation with a lot of hope, with a lot of promise and with a lot of sin. We need to be grateful, we need to try to live up to His expectations and we need humility.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our nation, my wife and I are saying a Rosary every night during the 'Fortnight for Freedom', and hoping that our nation does not forget the words of our Declaration of Independence, the document responsible for the beginning of a bold experiment in freedom. It is an experiment that God inspired and has nurtured. And it is an experiment that could end sadly if those of us with faith in the Creator allow our voices to be shut out of the discussion.

Happy Independence Day!

Psalm 23 or Curse you Michael Landon!

For many years, I thought that the twenty-third Psalm was only for the dead. This was probably due to a tremendous over-exposure to television funerals where the Psalm would be read or recited for the dead. One particularly poignant incident was on a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ episode when Charles Ingalls recites it to himself after they lose an infant son (it’s a two-parter, but well worth the time invested if you can catch the re-run). So I had this perception due to television and well, honestly, I guess a lack of really listening to the words of the twenty-third Psalm.

Recently, Matthew Kelly spoke at our parish. First, let me say, it was awesome! I just started my Mass journal this week and for anyone who hasn’t heard of this idea, you should check it out. More importantly, however, he told a story in which he recited the twenty-third Psalm. For the first time I really listened to the words and I thought, “Hey! This isn’t just for dead people! This is a reminder to us all about how much the living God dwells with us and wants us to dwell with Him. Curse you Michael Landon!” (I’m kidding about the cursing Michael Landon part, by the way)

 So I reflected on it for a while, took some notes, and this is what I came up with. Forgive me because I am not a theologian, but I was reminded at Mass today that as Catholic Christians, we are all baptized as Prophets, Priests and Kings and that God does not call the qualified, He qualifies those that He calls. So here goes...

“1:The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.”

If we put our trust in the Lord, He will guide us and provide for us. It is sometimes difficult to see how He is doing this for us, but that is because it is so often through such ordinary means. The job that you hate still provides for your family. Or maybe in difficult times someone you least expect to do so, steps up and gives you the push you need in the right direction. These are all the mechanisms of God’s love for us working through others. And when we let Him live in our hearts as well, we become that mechanism to others because by listening for God’s direction we allow Him to put us right where he needs us. Remember when you feel you are struggling with the ‘needs’ of this world, that God has plans for us; "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope." (Jer. 29:11)

“2:In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
3:he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.”

By leading us to a bounty that satisfies all of our needs, God leads us to true peace. A place where we can rest and ‘recharge’ in comfort. It was only God who could provide the bread that would satisfy all of our hunger and the drink that would mean we never thirst again. Only the ‘Good Shepherd’ could lead us to the green pastures and the safe waters. Pursuing or following anything else is temporary and fleeting. And when we do wander, it is He who leads us along the right paths. For following His ways leads us to righteousness. In short, the path leads back to Him, because He wants us in His love. Think of the prodigal son who spent his inheritance from his father on the debauchery of this world, but by thinking of his father’s ways and humbling himself, he returned to a bountiful feast and overwhelming joy. His father had desired his return ever since the day he left. And when he returned, his father was ecstatic! This is God’s joy when we put aside the  ways that lead away from His love and seek our way back through His paths.

”4:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.”

It is a difficult world to live in as people of faith. And I don’t mean the real or perceived ‘assault on Christianity’. I refer to the shinier distractions of our world. This is not a world that wants to keep us on the path to righteousness. From the acceptance and availability of pornography to the pressures and expectations that have driven us from a real understanding of chastity and modesty.... and that’s just how attractive this world makes sexual sin appear. We have rampant greed and a total lack of humility or charity. We have become a society centered on the ‘self’ to a point where we have diminished the miracle of new life to a ‘choice’.
But we must remember that if we hear the Shepherd, if we recognize His voice, then He will guide us. Sometimes it will be a gentle nudge with the staff, but sometimes it is a loving reprimand from the rod. Remember the unexpected ‘push’ I mentioned? Well sometimes those pushes are not so subtle and are applied by a foot to our backside. They may sting a bit at the time, but when we look back, sometimes we see that a kick in the butt was just there to keep us on track.

“5:You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.”

If we follow God’s ways, we will have joy. It is that simple. God will shower us with His love and it will be apparent to everyone who sees us. He does not set this banquet before us to inspire envy in our enemies. He does it to show His love for us. And sometimes when others see the joy that love brings us, they too will return to His love.
He anoints us all as a sign that He has chosen us as beloved and special in His eyes. From the moment we exist, God has a plan for us. His cup for us is overflowing with love and blessings for us. We only need to trust Him, reach out, and take the cup.

”6:Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.”

When we live seeking God’s will, we increase the good and love that surrounds us. So it follows that goodness and mercy would pursue us, but negativity will get out of the race. I, for one, need to work on this as I have been playing the role of Eeyore in our family’s Winnie the Pooh production for a while now. But if I can trust in the Lord and hear His plan for me, I know He will lead me to true peace in this world. And when my time comes, He will lead me to His house, and I will dwell there in the place He has prepared for me, for endless days.

Our Savior called some of the apostles by saying simply, “Follow me.”

Sure, it sounds a lot easier than it really is, but I have a feeling that it is so worth it! Come on, let’s pursue it together. Let’s get to know the Shepherd and not just memorize the words.