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How to Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood?

“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.” Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei p. 54

Liberty, equality, brotherhood. That was the formula of the French Revolution. And though these words never appear explicitly in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, they are an implicit part of American Heritage. On July 4th, the United States celebrated the belief that equality and freedom undergird the fraternity of our
great Republic. On July 5th, Pope Francis published the above text. It is something of a buzz kill to say the least.

I don’t know if the timing was intentional, coincidental or just providential. Perhaps it was a strange amalgam of all three. Nonetheless, it has worked a revolution in my own thought. Is it true to say that equality and liberty, while good, are not good enough? Is it good politics, much less good theology, to suggest that a free and democratic society can still fall short of brotherhood? Forget all those criticisms about atheists looking for God and girls having their feet washed: this is the kind of statement that should launch Pope Francis into the heart of controversy! It is fortunate thing that he hid it away in an encyclical, since, to my knowledge, no member of the media has every actually read one in it’s entirety. Had Francis tweeted the statement “Freedom ≠ brotherhood. #faith,” I’m certain that the press would have had a field day with it.

Yet, I will leave off speculating about the press here. The American press has not enough gall to start a revolution these days, and starting a revolution is precisely what I am interested in doing. Allow me to explain: our country is supposed to derive its greatness from freedom and equality. The Pope says that these principles are not enough. He invokes faith as the fundamental principle. I do not think that he is suggesting that freedom is useless and that we need to return to an theocracy. I do not even think that what he is saying runs counter to the Constitution (though it does possibly overstate what that document merely hinted at). After all, the brotherhood-by-equality ideal is no where mentioned in the explicit legislation of our founding fathers. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are mentioned, and they are mentioned on the first lines of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech ensures faith in others. Freedom of religion ensures faith in God. What Pope Francis is saying, far from raining on our parades and fireworks, is that brotherhood must be founded on something greater than freedom. He was looking to set our sights on things higher than even equality. I believe that the revolution he was attempting to inspire looks more like 32AD than 1776.

The faith of the founding fathers went unspoken in much (though not all) of their explicit legislation. Perhaps it is time to amend that. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the vague social scruples of enlightenment era politicians and codify what they merely hinted at.

Or perhaps not.

I am no lawyer or politician. I admit that I do not know the best way to translate this theology into social change. All I can say is that it must be translated into social change soon or any semeblence of “brotherhood” that exists in this nation will begin to be torn at the seams. For too long, our country has justified acts of violence, racism and injustice by reserving too much power to the “local and individual liberty.” Freedom is good, but an absolute freedom that aborts children and lynches minorities in the name of “personal freedoms” has been the stigma of our nation’s history.

I, for one, believe that it is time to move away from an interpretation of the Constitution focused purely on freedom and equality. There must be explicit acknowledgement of the Creator on which are founded these unalienable rights. Until there is, we will remain under the thumb of a very civilized and bureaucratic mob rule.

Getting Priorities Straight

This Easter morning, I awoke after the intensity and beauty of the Easter Vigil to a strange set of headlines. On the top of the paper, in 72 point bold all-caps, was the phrase “Governor’s Tax Plan Offends Both Sides of the Aisle.” Next to it, in 56 point bold, was an article entitled “Escaped Convict found in California.” Finally, under all of these, in 56 point plain, was a picture of a stained glass window captioned “Resurrection.” It made me want to spill my coffee, fall on the ground laughing & otherwise upset the breakfast table.

Did they not realize that Christ’s Resurrection offended both sides of the Temple, the Jewish and the Roman!? Does a convict escaping from death play second fiddle to a convict who escaped from a Louisiana penitentiary!? I understand that the Resurrection of the Christ is old news, but by God, it is greater news than that!

This one front page headline, without meaning to of course, typified precisely what is wrong with Christianity in this country. In the very least, it revealed particularly what is wrong with religious commentators in the media: it is not that they misunderstand our Faith. It is that they misunderstand their humanity. Ask an ancient Pagan what is more sensational, a new tax law or a person rising from the dead, and I can guarantee they will pick the latter. Yet our sensationalized media picks the tax plan. Oh certainly, they talk about the resurrection. They’ll even include a pretty, un-offensive picture, perhaps claiming that it says a thousand words. But the 10,000 words left unsaid is what is so terribly amusing about the whole thing.

Yes, it is amusing. There are some Christian bloggers that would argue-with or editorialize-about this strange juxtaposition of death, Resurrection & taxes, but I would rather laugh at it! What great fun! Here are their priorities: “GOVERNOR CUTS TAXES”, “Escaped Convict Found”, “Human Rises from the Dead.” Again, its not just that contemporary journalist remains uncatechized. Of course they are uncatechized! But what is more appalling is that the are desensitized  To the plight of starving children in Haiti they respond, “Oh, that’s sad,” and get back to sipping their lattes. To the Resurrection of Christ they respond, “Oh, how nice,” and turn the page to peruse the celebrity gossip. My goodness! I can’t make up comedy this good.

Don’t you see: there would be no joke if they were simply Pagans or atheists. If they opened the paper and scoffed at the Resurrection, then they might not be saved but at least they would be sensible. As it stands, many of our contemporaries have access to neither grace nor sense. At least, such seems the case with the editors of the newspaper.

Now, it is a sin to end a story on a critical note. Worse still, it is an offense to end a joke with mere criticism. There is something deeper I would have you see, like the Resurrected Christ telling the Apostles to put down their nets one last time. If we are to dialogue with this secularized Christian culture, then we must be the ones to set the tone of the conversation. In the old days (you know, thousands of years ago), the ancients were sensible enough to argue about Resurrection. Now we argue about fiscal policy. They contested about whether or not a real man could really rise from the dead. We argue about economic systems and paper money, credit and debt which is really unreal. They might have been overly superstitious  we most certainly are. They might have worshiped silver and gold idols: we worship paper that the government tells us is worth silver and gold! Let us, for the sake of Christianity and Pagan sensibility alike, reframe the conversation. Christ is Risen! Believe it, talk about it, celebrate it! Spend this Octave in a leisurely detachment from politics, economics and business! Rid your pockets of that paper money in a spirit of celebration and generosity  Buy candy for poor children! Buy some red wine for your family! But, by the Resurrected God above, don’t waste my time with the Governor’s tax plan!

On Fear of Losing Our Voice.

There has hung over US Catholics a sense of dread and despair for the last decade or so. At least, as long as I have been conscious of the Catholic-blog-o-sphere, it has seemed to be conscious of looming trials and coming sufferings. Now, whether this be true or not I cannot say (though, for the sake of transparency, I admit that our situation does appear a drastic one). On issues of human identity and sexuality, we are hemmed in on every side. Many people in our culture argue with us. Most just ignore us, even as they admit that the cultural definition of life and sex is inadequate. Almost all disagree with us. And when it comes to one of the most interesting Papal Elections in centuries, the AP and Reuters seems more concerned with the ‘scandals’ in the Vatican than with the Pope in the Vatican. In short, in a society where dialogue is supposed to be a supreme virtue, our voice is overlooked, undermined and out-right ignored.

I do not think the important thing now, though, is to pay attention to our own sufferings. The Church in the United States of America is suffering. It is suffering from political, social and cultural attacks the likes of which our grandparents (or, for that matter, even our parents) could never have foreseen  I feel inadequate to comment on politics or society, but I can say something of our culture. Culturally, Catholicism is already being given a tragic halo, as if it were one of the long-dead pagan cultures. Living Catholics are seen as the last remnant of some out-moded lifestyle. We are thought to be walking museum pieces, quaint like the Quakers and as amusing as the Amish. Those more sympathetic to our well-being like to give us advice. They kindly tell us that the world is moving on without our old-fashioned way of looking at things. Wouldn’t it be best, they suggest, to simply abandon some of our more stringent beliefs in favor of fitting in.

I will mention only in passing that their argument is not a new one. A century ago, the Romantics were telling us the same thing, as they gave lip service to our penances and criticized our virtue. The Jacobins said the same sorts of things 100 years prior to them, exulting in the Church’s devotion but forgetting that we are founded on Faith. And the Reformers some 200 years prior to that made the same sorts of errors, thinking that devotion to Mary was a distraction from Evangelization. As GKC was fond of pointing out, the Church seems always to be dying in the eyes of the world, and it is! That is, because it is always resurrecting.

The main point of this short essay is not an observation but a rebuke. I do not wish to join the chorus of those other noble voices in our Church, warning us of impending doom. The doom is not impending. It has fallen and it continues to fall everyday. The world has ever been hostile to the Church. Therefore, on the grounds of charity and hope I rebuke any pessimism or fatalism that infects our cultural dialogue. In the name of the hope of the cross, I stand against anyone that would have us be dissuaded from carrying our own. Good heavens: we are the light of the world! When we are dimmed, it is not us that suffers but the world. When we grow slack in spirit, we still may be saved. It is those to whom we are called that suffer the violence.

Babies are dying, and we complain that our voice is not heard!? Who gives a fig for ‘our voice’ when a child is never given the opportunity to use her own? The poor are suffering, and we get upset at greedy politicians. Oh, so has Christ made us the critics of the rich!? Did he come with tirades against Herod or Pilate? What are we, Church? Are we mere activists? Is the gospel about raising awareness? No! If we protest abortion (which we absolutely must do), then we do it in the name of love. We aren’t out to overturn Roe V. Wade as much as we are out to overturn human hearts. We aren’t called to flip-off the rich, but to flip their tables, as Our Lord did in the Temple. We are a people of action, not of criticism. The world is covered in critics like leeches. What it needs is not more critics, but more Christians.

 

This Lent, consider well how you speak. These forty days are meant to be difficult for us, but only so that we may lighten the load of the world. We can expect injustice to be done against us: it is our lot. What we cannot be satisfied with, what we must not stand for, is when injustice is done against others! It is a time to pray for others that they may live, to fast that they may eat, to give alms that they may be nourished. If our faith lacks this positive generosity and charity, I feel that something dire is wrong with it. If our words lack it, then I feel it would be better for us to just shut up.

St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, pray for us.

Constitutional Communication

Over the next few weeks I will be reflecting on my trip to the March for Life as I began earlier.

We arrived in DC on the Wednesday evening before the March, with the March being on Friday. Thursday was a day of cultural and spiritual preparation. We started the day in the Smithsonian museums. With each trip I am slowly touring them. This year I went to The Archives. Being a man who loves books and old things in general, old things made of paper with writing on them even more, I was excited. Oh and the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, our founding documents were there as well. What most attracted about the documents was the handwriting. It was exquisite. Jefferson didn’t have fountain pens back then (I like fountain pens). All he had were quills, which at most lasted a week. It took a while to draft such a document to write in such orderliness, with such beauty, and with such precision. The words took on greater depth because they were written with care.

How often do we write or speak with care? We tap at a keyboard or on our phones with such speed and abandon sending messages with typos intended and unintended. We even created a language-brevis with which communicate (lol). Looking at our founding documents got me thinking about what care we take with our communication. Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (most notably John Hancock) took great pains in communicating exactly what they intended to the declare to England and constitute for our country. Although our communication may not be as grave as theirs, the concept still remains. Human communication need be intentional and although may be brief, loses much when intention is lacking. Typed (or if you’re like a few, written) communication, when intention is lacking, is often misunderstood. The better our human communication, the much easier our divine communication.

When we say, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” The Lord does not give is vague or misrepresented signals. He shows us His will, in varied ways indeed and possibly by indirect means but never does He not speak His will. He is the most intentional of all communicators. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

QOTD – Mere Economic Development is Slavery

Sorry for being away so long. Life has been super busy and then I got sick with a virus. I didn’t want to pass that on in my writing so I entered into semi-social media reclusion. I have recovered to working order, although I am not fully healthy yet.

With the upcoming election, there is much talk about the economy of the United States and what the candidates plan to do about it. However, we must remember: society is not primarily economic. To say that, would be a reduction of the human community to mere transaction. It is an offense of his dignity. Hence,

Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free, on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further. – Bl. John Paul II

There’s a shadow side to mere economic development.

QOTD – Common Good and the Character of Citizens

John Wanamaker Citizen
taken by Smallbones

 The common good must include concern for the character of citizens. – J. Brian Benestad

Relativism has so ingrained itself in our government that this seems contrary to the American government’s understanding of itself.

Of Hair and Health Care, by GKC

This is a Chesterton essay that acts as the conclusion of his book What’s Wrong with the World. Though written over a century ago, it asks just how far the government can go in matters of health and hygiene. It’s pertinence to our current situation cannot be overstated.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman’s daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl’s hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl’s hair. But he does not count.


Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter’s hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy (like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken) sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.


The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, “Let them eat grass,” might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.


Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

So, The Health Care Thing

I promised those who know me (the lucky and unlucky few) that I would make no statement on the Health Care Issue until the Supreme Court had made its statement, both its assenting and dissenting statements. My idea in doing this was both practical and penetiential. Too often I speak too quickly, taking on the tone of authority prior to the authority getting its fair chance (for if authority ever carried with it a particular privilege, it is it’s right to speak before all others, so that when the others criticise, they can at least know what statement it is they are criticising). It has been over four days since the highest court in the land has made that comment, with five justices saying one thing and four justices saying something completely different. Anyone who knows me knows that I agree with the four that disagreed with the five whose opinion now carries the force of law. But because we live in a country where the fine seperation between force of conscience and force of law is so gladly understood as running parallel to the seperation between Church and state, it is up to us, as citizens, to determine which side to take in the debate (and not up to the Court).

In that spirit, there is only one thing that our President has said that has made me want to stand up in objection. He has said many things that I object to (and many things that I agree with), but this statement alone unleashed the ticklish desire to denounce him. He said that now that the highest court in the land had spoken, that all arguments should cease and that the inevitability of progress should be embraced. The history of this country has taught me otherwise. Should we have let Plessey v. Furguson have the last say simply because it was said by the Supreme Court? If anything, it is when the ‘high court’ falters that the people, a higher court still, are called upon to argue at the top of their lungs. The beautiful thing about our Republic is that strange and stirring fact that if 5 people sitting on the high bench are wrong, than it is up to the 300 million of us who were not on their bench to refuse to take it sitting down.

Many other writers have expressed more clearly, more concisely and more conscientously the objections to the Health Care Bill. Most of these objections are selfish and unessential to the arguement. But the arguement should still happen. Which brings me to the point of this essay (if calling it a ‘point’ is truly appropriate). The reason that the now-debated 1st Amendment exists is because the Founding Fathers truly believed that there were areas of the citizen’s life over which the government should have no control. Those areas included (but are not limited to) religion, speech and assembly. The current ruling seems to infer that my bodily health is excluded from such protection, that there is no amendment in our Constitution that can prevent the law from investigating the health status of my lungs. Some extremists say that this could lead the government to tax our breathing. The fact that supporters of the bill can only rejoin, “No, but we can tax the person who monitors your breathing” is far from comforting. But whatever they say, they still cannot tax the sounds that come out of my lungs, and that is a comfort.

What is less comforting is the odd truth that the President and his supporters agree with free speech and free love, but have little concern with free health and free religion. They would rather cheap health care and ambivalent religion. They wish to tax both the biological body and bodies of faith, and that which is taxable is neither legally nor finacially free. As a US Citizen, your body and soul now come with a price tag in the eyes of the government, and there is nothing comforting about that fact.

Please do me a favor before I wrap up this short reflection (editorial, manifesto, soliloquy?). Do NOT assume that I side with the GOP or Tea Party on this thing. The only elephant in the room is my large and perhaps naive hope that freedom of speech still stands in this country. When I spoke of us all speaking at the ‘top of our lungs,’ it is because I believe that that ‘top’ is of a higher authority than the top court. We might lose our voices, and the government might tax our laryngitis, but they have yet to pass a bill that can tax our words. And as philosophy affirms that the pen is mighiter than the sword, theology affirms that the Word is mightier than the Court.

Graceful Freedom


The topic of freedom and grace remains one of the most difficult discussions in Christian theology. When John Paul II writes about it, at the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart: what is the heart made for, how can it love, what model does it take? In the post Christian west, we are told that salvation is liberation, and liberation is at the service of the individual. But if freedom and grace are only ordered to the self, then it becomes clear that human dignity means nothing more than autonomy, and salvation is reduced to selfishness. If, however, human freedom exists to be at the service of others, then human beings ‘become like God’ when they empty themselves for the sake of everybody else. In light of this truth, JP II knew that it was counter-productive to present a God of triumph when, in fact, the mystery of the Christian God is that He Himself is a God of surrender. “In his intimate life, God ‘is love,’ the essential love shared by the three divine Persons: personal love is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Therefore he ‘searches even the depths of God,’ as uncreated Love-Gift. It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift.” (Dominum et Vivificatem, 10.)


In the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift! While all the power and progress of this world promises to move mankind toward some infinite pleasure or individual indulgences, Christianity, alone of all the world’s religions and philosophies, presents a man’s end as the God Who IS Gift. Who IS selflessness. And when choosing to make this fundamental reality of His existence known to men, He became a man and died, thus fully inaugurating a new law of Gift (or, in Latin, gratia, grace). JP II phrases it this way: “Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants…Jesus himself is the living “fulfillment” of the Law.” (Veritatis Splendor, 16.) This new law of gift is the great revolution of our religion. Its not just about helping people or ‘making the world a better place’: it’s about making heaven a better place, or rather, making both heaven and earth a place where the King of Gift can actually be given something Himself. For grace (gift) is, after all, how Christians have access to the God who exists in the mode of Gift (grace).

Anyone familiar with Pauline theology or the evangelical applications thereof will know that this is no new theme in Christianity. In her most recent century, fundamentalists and street preachers commonly talked about it within the context of conversion. JP II’s himself approaches the topic of grace from the same angle; “The Apostle Paul invites us to consider in the perspective of the history of salvation, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ, the relationship between the (Old) Law and grace (the New Law). He recognizes the pedagogic function of the Law, which, by enabling sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and by stripping him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, leads him to ask for and to receive ‘life in the Spirit.'” (Veritatis Splendor, 23) Once we ‘take stock’ of our own powerlessness, however, we are invited into a new freedom where we extend ourselves beyond the limits of our own person by giving of ourselves for the sake of the Other (‘the Other’=Christ and other humans). Therefore, JP II points out that “Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called….Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom.” (Veritatis Splendor, 17.) No longer are we slaves to the things of this world, to sex, to food, to cloths, to the news, to politics, to even culture itself. All of these things are created good, culture included, but JP II knows that it is important that “man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.” And the truth of man’s being is the truth of gift (grace).
Man’s graceful freedom can only come through the gospel of Christianity. This gospel is itself Christ’s gift: it is not an imposition or a burden. As JP II puts it; “On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” (Redemptoris Missio, 39) To accept Christ’s word in freedom is to become free to live for others and the Other, for a destiny far greater than the autonomous self could ever provide. “Hence, human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject’s intention is good. Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason.” (Veritatis Splendor, 72.)

GKC was fond of saying that you cannot argue with a man unless you can sympathize with his perspective. It’s not simply a matter of understanding his view, but truly feeling the pain he feels. In our day and time, there are many who feel that ‘the Church’ (it matters little whether they mean Roman Catholicism or merely the body of Christians) stands as an institution in contrast with individual freedom. The fact of the matter is that Christianity does, in a very real way, stand in contrast with (if not opposition to) our contemporary conception of freedom. If by ‘freedom’ we mean ‘privacy,’ than Christianity accepts it as only a condition of worldly existence, and a rather negative one at that. In heaven, there will be no privacy for there will be no ability to hold back a part of yourself from anyone else. It would be foolishness to stand before the pearly gates and say to God and the angelic court, the Saints and the Martyrs: “I will share anything with you except this small part. I need it for myself and would feel insecure were I forced to give it away.” Heaven knows nothing of such privacy. The Church admits of the right to privacy as she admits to the right to property: as a temporal affair. That is to say, she concedes to it as temporary, something that will disappear with the coming of the Kingdom. And she prays earnestly, each day, that the Kingdom come sooner rather than later.

In his writing, John Paul II certainly sympathizes with this situation in which Christianity and the world’s opposing ideas of freedom war for men’s hearts. However, he never let this sympathy (which is an emotion) interfere with his love (which is an action). He was willing to admit that complex modern realities, tied into the perennial scandals of humanity-this-side-of-heaven, leave Christianity an easy target of ridicule and suspicion. The question is whether or not we can separate the teachings of Christ from the communion of love he personally established, a communion called the Church. As he says in Veritatis Splendor, “At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practice. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church.” (119) In this self-abandonment, the human person breaths again, living not just for herself, but gracefully for the Other.

Friday Thoughts – The Ankler Experiences the Tragedy of the Healthcare System

Praise God. I have very little pain from the injury that is now a month old. I still have pins sticking out of my heel and shin, but unless, they are kicked, I’m doing okay on the infamous pain scale.

However, complications have now arisen with regard to my care. I have now experienced firsthand the problems with our current healthcare system. I got a call on Monday from the hospital where I was planning on having surgery next week to take these pins out. The lady on the other side of the line let me know, “Mr. Sanders, ________ Hospital is not covered by your insurance (which will remain nameless). If you have had surgery here, you would be out of network.” Despite all the headaches this phone call has caused in my life over the past week I praise God that it happened because I would have had to pain for a full surgery out of pocket with no money.

God’s providence seems to always come with some sort of suffering though. I’ve had to make countless phone calls to ______ Hospital and the new hospital and doctor with whom I am now going to be relating. I’ve had to call the insurance and talk with them.

Then, the frustration builds. I receive a bill from the insurance company (a very reputable one) letting me know they will not cover the emergency room visit, surgery, and care in the hospital the day after the surgery, which amounts to much more than I’ve ever earned in my lifetime of part-time high school jobs and seminarian stipends. What injustice! I was in a state of emergency. My foot needed to be nearly put back on! Hello! Then, I understood. Then, I realized, and now I’m empathetic. What is it?

Man has turned away from himself. His desire for happiness ends in money and in turn dehumanizes man into a means by which money can be extracted. I have  a serious injury, a poor woman has cancer; we can’t pay for our care but care we need. Care is denied or insurmountable debt is incurred. Either way they deny the necessities for good human living.

Honestly, in my ignorance I turned a blind eye. No more can I do that. I am deeply saddened that healthcare bureaucrats are dictating to doctors and nurses how to be of service to mankind.

How many people are swindled into this? I have the drive, the will and the social backing (by that I mean knowing people in the right places) to fight this and right this injustice for myself. I barely have a clue how to navigate this labyrinthine insurance system. Thank God I have family and contacts that do. Many people don’t and give up and pay for the rest of their lives care the should be normal.

I don’t say I have answer or have fully contemplated the different solutions to this healthcare system problem. I only know, now, that it cannot justly remain. Obamacare certainly is not the answer, but what is?

the Ankler