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This site will be going dormant while I concentrate on my other blog, The Moron Quotient.



The NHL and Natural Law

I have a problem with the NHL. It is now June, and the Stanley Cup Final has just begun. (In case you care, and you probably don’t, the L.A. Kings lead the series 1-0 over the New Jersey Devils.)

My problem with the NHL is religious in nature. The Catholic Church teaches that

The “divine and natural” law shows man the way to follow so as to practice the good and attain his end. The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1955)

Natural law is present in the heart of each human being and established through the application of correct reasoning. As Cicero wrote,

For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon duty, its prohibitions turn away from offense….To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

Here, then, is the source of my problem with the NHL: ice melts in June.

By extending the Stanley Cup Playoffs into the late spring and early summer, the NHL does not conform with nature. For if they did, the players would drown (or they would be playing a perverse form of water polo).

No wonder why nobody really cares about the NHL playoffs.

Five Avoidable Lies

Father Richard Rohr once described five essential truths:

  • Life is hard.
  • Your life is not about you.
  • You are not in control.
  • You are not that important.
  • You are going to die.

If those are the essential truths that set us free, then these must be the avoidable lies that trap us:

  • Life should be easy.
  • My life is only about me.
  • I am in control.
  • I am all important.
  • I am not going to die.

I recently read an article about the psychology of evil. The author defined evil as something that disintegrates or tears apart:

We are the primary progenitors of evil: we not only define it…we wittingly or unwittingly create and perpetuate it.

How often do the we tell ourselves one of these avoidable lies? How do these lies wittingly (or unwittingly) create and perpetuate evil–that is, how do they destroy and tear apart rather than create and unify?

Religious Liberty and the Freedom of Conscience

Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced new rules and regulations aimed to improve women’s health. On January 20, the DHHS announced a revision to its religious exemption clause that exempts health plans provided by religious employers that primarily employ and serve people who share the employer’s religion.

It is this exemption clause that concerns many people, since it would force organizations (such as Catholic hospitals and universities) to spend their money on something that violates their conscience.

Am I concerned about religious liberty and freedom of conscience? We all should worry about attacks on people because of their faith:

  • A menorah on the lawn of a private residence in the town of Plainview, NY was vandalized during this past Hanukkah
  • A church’s Nativity scene that included depictions of gay and lesbian couples was vandalized in Calrmont, CA.
  • In New Jersey, three adults and two juveniles were charged with bias intimidation and harassment after they allegedly pelted two Orthodox Jewish teens with eggs and told them, `You better move on you Jew boys.`
  • In Los Angeles, a Korean church was set on fire and racist graffiti was scrawled nearby.
  • The increasing number of anti-Muslim hate groups, such as Stop the Islamization of America.

Do I think the Obama administration is waging a war on religion in pursuit of a secular socialist agenda? Not so much.

More likely, the administration is trying to do the most good for the most people. In a nation as large and as diverse as the United States, this is a difficult task. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail (of course, “success” and “failure” is relative–if you  are a Republican, anything this administration does will be a failure, almost by definition.)

At worst, the administration made a bad policy decision that is pissing off a lot of people, myself included.

But I accept Secretary Sebelius’ reasoning for what it is. I may disagree with her, but I believe that she is a good person who is simply trying to do the best job she can. But I also agree with my bishop,  R. Daniel Conlon, of the Diocese of Joliet:

Now, it is no secret that many Catholics dissent from the Church’s longstanding teaching on artificial contraception, elective sterilization and abortion. However, pursuing old arguments on these issues will sidetrack us from the real one at hand. The Health and Human Services directive is a violent breach of the wall of separation between church and state. For the government to force a religious body to pursue a course of action that contradicts its beliefs, particularly where no public interest is at stake, is completely unacceptable.

But I don’t think the half-time entertainment at next year’s Super Bowl will include Christians being fed to lions. We must be careful to distinguish between public policy decisions with which we disagree (however strongly) with serious attacks on people because of their faith. Failure to do so subjects the victims of such crimes to a double indemnity: the crime itself, followed by the crime neglect.

Here is a copy of a letter I sent to President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and Secretary Sebelius. Not that I think it will have much of an effect. But at least I am trying to do something constructive.

I am writing to express my concerns about the new HHS rule regarding religious exemptions. Religious liberty is necessary to achieve the common good. However, religious liberty is more than just the freedom to worship in safety and security. Religious liberty also includes the freedom to teach the faith and live the faith.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” and “[teach] them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Mt 28: 19, 20). Jesus instructed his disciples not only to preach the Gospel to all creatures but to also serve the world: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” (Mk 6: 7).

This ministry of mission is a key element of our faith. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? [Faith] of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2: 14, 17).

The Department of Health and Human Services will require religious institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities to spend their money in ways that contradict their faith, thereby limiting the Church’s ability to do good works. It is an attack on the faith itself. “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (Jas 2: 26). In no way does this protect religious liberty. In no way does this promote the common good.

In his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington explained the importance of the freedom of conscience: “All possess a like liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. . . . For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

To the extent that the Catholic Church supports the interests of the Government of the United States in promoting the common good of all its citizens, the Department of Health and Human Services must respect its liberty of conscience. The new religious exemption clause fails in this endeavor. The religious exemption clause must be expanded so that religious institutions may exercise their faith in freedom and liberty.

Thank you for your service, and may you and your family be blessed with peace and all goodness!

Envy, Justice, and Mitt Romney

This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by the resentment of success.
Mitt Romney, after winning the New Hampshire Primary

Mitt Romney has a simple explanation for the frustration of those who complain about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in this country: they complain because they resent the success of the wealthy and are envious of their wealth. This very convenient narrative allows him to dismiss and ignore the chasm that separates the 0.1% from the 99.9%.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with doubt.

Such a blessing may be inconvenient; it is surely uncomfortable. But by testing everything–especially simple explanations for complex issues–and praying for wisdom and understanding, I may hope to retain that which is good: the truth.

What if the “the bitter politics of envy” or the “resentment of success” is really a question about economic justice?

Now, whenever I think of justice, I think of my dog.

Whenever I come home, my dog is there to greet me with the excitable joy of an anxious husky. No matter how bad my day has been, her wagging tail brushes my cares away. I spend a few minutes playing with her. I get down on my hands and knees and we chase each other around the couch; she shove me with her but, and I push her gently away. She drops down into a play-bow, and I run away. She chases me, and I wrestle her to the ground, roll her to her side, and rub her belly. For those few minutes, we are no longer “owner” and “pet.” Rather, we are two young pups at play. Of course, she is not always a good dog. Sometimes, our play gets a little rough, and she nips at my hand, biting a little too hard.

“No!” I say, in a stern voice. Play time comes to an abrupt end.

“Sit!” I command. She sits.

“Down!” She lies down. I command her to stay, and she remains in a down-stay for a few minutes while I ignore her. She is being punished.

At the end of her sentence, I call her to me. She walks slowly to me with her head hung low and her tail between her legs. I pet her and give her a hug and tell her she is a good dog. Her tail wags, and I give her a treat. We resume playing, and she never nips at me again.

My relationship with my dog helps me think about the three different aspects of justice. As I played with my dog, we played as equals. This is commutative justice–a reciprocal relationship among equals. But when she misbehaved, she was punished and corrected. This is retributive justice. But then, after the punishment, I re-established the bond between us. This is restorative justice. The bond between us has grown stronger because of respect, communication, and understanding. We have a right relationship between us. This is justice.

Perhaps this is why Mitt Romney’s statement makes me sad: He does not see the issue of income or wealth inequality as an issue of justice, and by doing so, he fails to enter into a right relationship (or any relationship) with the poor or their advocates. The cries for economic justice are dismissed as the bitter complaints of people not his equals: they are envious, they are resentful. Lacking the desire to succeed, they are flawed. It is a very binary world view: “I am successful, and they are envious.”

I must continually challenge myself to see things not in terms of right or wrong, or whether I agree or disagree. I must try to see the world–in all its beauty and ugliness, in all its joys and sorrows, in all its awesome wonders and mundane familiarity–in terms of relationship. And I must continuously ask myself, “Do I live in a right relationship with it?”

This is hard. It is hard because if I want to answer that question in the affirmative, then I cannot simply dismiss anything I disagree with or anything I find objectionable. It is also hard because I realize know what the answer is: “I don’t.” My relationship with the world should be one based on love, and it frustrates me that I do not love as I should.

As Pope Benedict XVI explained in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof . . . . Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.” (Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 15)

When we hear people cry out out against the injustice and suffering inflicted upon those living in poverty, may we hear their cries with a loving heart, and not dismiss them as mere grousing. Rather, let us listen to them with a loving heart. And when we are confronted with ignorance and intolerance of our brothers and sisters, let us not turn our backs on them, but restore our relationship with them.

Let us all seek right relationships based on kindness, patience, endurance, and hope. And as we seek this, let us avoid jealousy and arrogance.

An Exciting Breakthrough (maybe, maybe not) in Survival

I left my desk to take a brief stroll, stretching my legs and resting my mind, when I habitually held the door open for someone walking behind me.

“Thank you,” she said. “That was very courteous of you.”

I paused. “Courtesy had nothing to do with it. I’m just trying to stay awake from my desk for as long as possible.”

Thus, a new rule to surviving the corporate world emerged: “Rule #23: Be courteous.”

Does Jesus Have a Quarterback Rating?

Full disclosure: I am a Chicago Bears fan, and I am still hurting from the Bears 13-10 loss in overtime to the Denver Broncos. So I am not too happy with Tim Tebow right now. (Although, I did like him when he played for the Florida Gators, but that’s probably because I was a fan of Urban Meyer and the Gators.)

Yesterday, I read a wall post on Glenn Beck’s Facebook page:

I don’t know anything about sports. And I don’t presume to know everything God’s currently working on. But here’s what I do know: more people are thinking about God today because of Tim Tebow. Not because he’s winning games – but because he’s a man of unusually exceptional character & a Godly man. We need more like him!

 At first glance, I have to agree with what Mr. Beck had to say (which, again in the interest of full disclosure, never sits well with me). We do need more people like Tim Tebow who love God with all their heart, with all their soul, and all their mind. (Mt 22: 37) Indeed, as the psalmist says, “Let all the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.” (Psalm 67)

But we also need more people who love their neighbor as themselves (Mt 22: 39), and recognize the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized as their neighbors: “Amen, I say to to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25: 40)

What I find interesting about the attention given to Tim Tebow’s public expression of his faith, is this: Why does it take the public display of a celebrity’s faith to encourage us in ours?

Why do we not pay attention God’s presence in the love between husband and wife, between mother and child? Why do we not pay attention to God’s presence in the sympathy expressed between brothers? Why do we not pay attention to God’s presence in the compassion of a nurse when she comforts someone who was just diagnosed with cancer? Why do we not see God’s presence in the pure joy of a dog’s wagging tail?

We ignore the simple and the mundane. We seem to prefer to celebrate those with high status, fame, and wealth. We prefer celebrity over humility. We prefer ostentatious displays of faith to remind of us God’s presence, while ignoring the ubiquitous signs of God’s love in life’s banality.

In one of St. Francis’ prayers, he says, “Pure and holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the body.” (A Salutation of the Virtues) If we keep our eyes looking up to those of high station, we will be disappointed, for they have other concerns:

One day the trees went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby gods and human beings are honored, and go off to hold sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my sweetness and my sweet fruit, and go off to hold sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, reign over us.’ But the vine answered them, ‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods* and human beings, and go off to hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ The buckthorn answered the trees, ‘If you are anointing me in good faith, to make me king over you, come, and take refuge in my shadow. (Judges 9: 8-15)

So let us not focus too much on Tim Tebow. Let us not crown another celebrity king. Rather, let us turn our hearts to the least among us, showing solidarity with the least of our brothers and sisters.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” (Mt 5: 5) Let us then imitate the meek and not Tim Tebow.

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