How long, O Lord?

I had no intent to post today; it promises to be a busy week ahead.  Focused as I am on the upcoming election, and as numb as I have apparently become to the endless stream of unfeeling actions perpetrated by Mr. Trump and his cohort, the instance of Trump Administration callousness revealed this week almost failed to embed with me:  that in 2017, in a brutal attempt to discourage Latinos from seeking to immigrate to our country, our government forcibly separated over 500 children from their parents at our southern border – and failed to keep records which would enable it to reunite the families.  The Administration is now unable to locate the parents.  The children remain in cages that during last week’s debate, President Trump grotesquely defended – really – as “so clean.”

Many that follow these pages are parents.  I suspect that all that read these posts cherish the love they received from their parents.  These people, who came seeking refuge from us, were and are being treated like animals.

What brought me back was the first reading in today’s Mass, a familiar one:

“Thus says the Lord:

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourself in the land of Egypt.  You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.  If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.  My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.’”

Exodus 22: 20 – 23

Not long ago, Rev. James Altman, a pastor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, released a viral video in which he declared, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat,” and has reportedly called liberals “fascist bullies” acting “just like Hitler’s Nazis did.” He believes that Catholics must support Republicans and Mr. Trump because of their opposition to abortion.

I’m confident that Fr. Altman has reconciled today’s Exodus passage with his vehement support of Mr. Trump.  I cannot.  That said, I cannot presume to judge; he is responsible to the Almighty for his soul, as I am for mine.

Today’s Exodus passage brought other Scripture verses to mind for me:

“How long, O Lord?  Will you utterly forget me?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look, answer me, O Lord, my God!”

Psalms 13: 1-2      

May we receive the means to aid those now suffering at our hands.

On Mr. Trump … and the Prophet Ezekiel

A couple of weeks ago at a Cleveland campaign stop, President Trump indicated that Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, was “against God,” and that if elected president, Mr. Biden will “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible.”  I found the President’s rant both absurd and shocking, but it was, like so many before it, shortly driven down my stream of consciousness by Mr. Trump’s continuing torrent of malign inanities. 

I am also a Catholic, albeit deeply flawed.  What caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s Cleveland rant – faith-based attacks uttered by one who for all practical purposes espouses racism, has bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, has belittled the handicapped, has approved the intentional separation of children from their parents at our borders, has sought to downplay the scope and effect of a deadly virus upon our people in order to enhance his own political fortunes, and has most recently referred sympathetically to Qanon, an alt-right fringe group embracing the notion that some Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles — was the following, read during one of this week’s daily Masses:

Thus says the Lord GOD:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. ….

As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep ….

I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ….”  

Ezekiel, 34: 1-5; 8; 10

Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech last night seemed to me most fundamentally that … of a caring shepherd.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s references to God and the Bible, I think it’s fair to assume that the President has little familiarity with the Book of Ezekiel.  From his perspective, perhaps just as well.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part IV

In mid-March, even before WI Gov. Tony Evers issued his first Coronavirus-related Executive “Safe at Home” Order for Wisconsinites, Bishop Donald J. Hying dispensed with Madison Diocese Catholics’ obligation to attend Mass on Sundays for a specified period due to the Coronavirus. Sunday Mass attendance is a fundamental obligation of Roman Catholicism. For Bishop Hying and other U.S. Bishops to dispense with this obligation (including and past Easter) was undoubtedly a torturously difficult decision undertaken after the deepest prayer and reflection. While this lay Catholic would submit that Bishop Hying’s action was unquestionably the correct one, practically and theologically (Luke 14:5: “[W]ho among you, if your son … falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”), I suspect that Church hierarchy is nonetheless concerned as to how many of the clearly dwindling number of practicing Catholics, having been separated from their customary Sunday ritual for weeks, will return to the pews when the crisis passes.

There is endless commentary as to how the Administration’s handling of the pandemic will affect President Trump’s prospects for re-election.   Here is mine: it’s too early to tell. Immediately below this is a link to The Week site, setting forth the 10 things that The Week felt we needed to know on September 15, 2019 – now about as far in the past as we are from Election Day 2020. There is not a word in The Week report regarding Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president or resulting impeachment proceedings, the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, the impending Coronavirus (which didn’t surface for another 10 weeks), the death of Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant, etc. There are too many unknowns that will occur between now and Election Day.

https://theweek.com/10things/861287/10-things-need-know-today-september-15-2019

If a Democrat was in the White House, how likely is it that prominent members of the U.S. Evangelical movement would be proclaiming that the Coronavirus is a plague unleashed upon us by the Almighty due to our Godless ways? As IBM used to challenge NFL fans: You make the call.

Although it is frequently difficult during this contentious time in our nation’s journey – and assuredly not always easy for one of Irish temperament — may we maintain respect and regard for each other.  Today is Good Friday, within the most sacred season of the Christian year.  April 8 marked the beginning of Passover; we have a Jewish member of our family, and so are Jewish as well as Christian.  Ramadan commences April 23; while we have no Muslim members, frequently lost in the world’s discord is a point Huston Smith made in The World’s Religions: “Like the Jews, the Arabs consider themselves a Semitic people.” For these three and all Faiths – and for those who do not embrace faith — this is a good time to reflect on what must hold us together.  As the Lord – revered as a holy man by the majority of the world’s religious — taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you … For if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? … You therefore are to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-44, 46, 48.

[Note: I take solace from the fact that although He loved the Scribes and the Pharisees, He clearly wasn’t shy about calling them out for their behavior   ;).  See Matthew 23: 1-39].

Stay safe.

The Wisdom and Power of God …

Yesterday, Father’s Day in the United States and many other countries around the world, the Catholic Church celebrated (I assume by coincidence) Holy Trinity Sunday. The first reading at yesterday’s Sunday Masses was from the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs, and set forth expositions from a personified Wisdom, seemingly separate from God:

Thus says the [W]isdom of God: …

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there,

when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;

when he made firm the skies above,

when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;

when he set for the sea its limit,

so that the waters should not transgress his command;

then was I beside him as his craftsman …

and I found delight in the human race.” [Emphasis added]. Proverbs 8:22 – 31

The juxtaposition of this Proverbs passage with Father’s Day – the image of the Loving Father — brought again to mind the Church’s seemingly visceral obliviousness both to the horror of the systemic human violations it let occur and covered up for generations and to the effect that the revelations of these atrocities have had upon its credibility. 35 years ago, our parish had five English Masses each weekend. Now, it has three.  (All credit for the fourth Mass, in Spanish, meeting a need that I don’t believe our parish had decades ago.)  Gray is a prevalent hair color among worshippers. This observation is in no way intended to impugn some very fine pastors we’ve had; good priests have also become victims of the Church’s conspiracy. It speaks to the now-obvious endemic failings within the Church.

At least in Madison (very possibly a legacy of our now-deceased Bishop, Robert Morlino), we are seeing more pomp and ceremony than I can recall since my youth [pre-Vatican II 😉 ] – incense, an occasional Latin chant, ornate tabernacles prominently on display. Perhaps some in Church leadership believe that gilt can be substituted for guilt. The hierarchy (as someone very close to me regularly points out, a bunch of old men) seems completely at a loss to either see or address the fact that most of the young people in developed nations are no longer listening. These young aren’t impressed by the Church’s grand physical manifestations; on a purely material level, its grandeur pales in comparison to the most mundane of the last decade’s video games.

As horrific as the specific instances of abuse are – and I admit that it’s easier for me to say this, since our children had positive experiences with our religious, all loving people dedicated to God – I would submit that Church leadership’s intentional disregard and concerted cover up of religious’ illicit activities over decades if not centuries was the even-more monstrous wrong. This went beyond individual aberration.

If Wisdom was indeed there as the Lord established the heavens, marked out the face of the deep, made the skies firm, fixed the earth’s foundations, and set the sea’s limit … it seems unclear where Wisdom was as the Body of Christ became infected by a chronic pernicious disease. The Doctrine of Free Will seems a less and less adequate explanation. It is gut wrenching. A cure seems out of reach … save for the Power of God.

On the Passing of Bishop Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison Diocese passed away on the evening of November 24.

To his supporters, Bishop Morlino was a righteous proclaimer of truth to those falling away from the Catholic Faith; to his detractors, he was a self-righteous sower of division who drove away many yearning for a relationship with a welcoming God.

The care and nurturing of souls is literally a sacred trust.  While I was firmly among the Bishop’s detractors, I hope for his sake that his view of his mission was the correct one, and if it wasn’t, that a merciful God credits good intentions, even those that yield unfortunate results.

On Bishop Morlino’s Letter, re: Recent Abuse Revelations

Madison Bishop Robert Morlino recently sent a Letter to the faithful of the Madison Diocese, addressing the recent disclosure of the abuse of children and other vulnerable victims throughout Pennsylvania going back decades.  In reading the Letter, I was initially heartened by the vehement tone the Bishop first struck in condemning abuse of children and other victims by the clergy … but then frankly appalled by the manner in which the Bishop pivoted to tie these acts to homosexuality.  I am beyond discouraged that the Bishop — as he has throughout his stay in Madison — has chosen to sow unnecessary and ill-informed divisiveness at a time when those that care about the Church need to come together as a community to address what are poisonous, systemic ills.  For a much more eloquent response to the Bishop’s letter, see the link below, called to my attention by a good friend.

https://callenharty.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/open-letter-to-bishop-morlino/

 

 

Humanae Vitae … and Child Abuse: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.  🙂

I would suggest that to this day, many Cardinals, Bishops, and others in the Church hierarchy seem glaringly detached from the harm caused to the many thousands of children by abusive clergy over the last decades (perhaps centuries) and stunningly oblivious to the visceral reaction that parents have had across the world to the revelations.  It has seemed to me that from the first revelations decades ago, the Church’s condemnation of these atrocities has been largely pro forma … curiously antiseptic.  Many in the Leadership clearly appear to believe that if the Church issues suitable expressions of regret when necessary, and keeps its head down, things will return to normal.  They haven’t yet realized:  things are not going to return to normal – at least in their lifetimes.  They literally don’t “get” the visceral effect that these continuing scandals have had on the faithful, and the crippling impact they have had on the Church’s credibility.

Pope Paul wrote in Humanae Vitae:  “No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law.”  Only members of the Magisterium apparently fail to recognize that due to these child abuse atrocities and the ensuing cover-ups, many of the faithful do now deeply question the Church’s competence to interpret natural moral law and its claim to moral leadership.

Despite the Church’s professions of love for the children, why did Church leaders all the way to the Vatican (that it reached the Vatican is no longer disputed) go to such lengths to cover up what has happened?

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul addressed priests as follows:  “[B]eloved sons … you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders ….”  He addressed Bishops, “… We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate ….” [My italics].

Our mothers all taught us:  actions speak louder than words.  It’s hard not to suppose that they covered up because their visceral reaction was to protect the Church and the brotherhood of priests – these were their family.  Who turns in his son? Brother?  Organization for which he has labored a lifetime?  They seem not to have heeded Matthew 18:6:  “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea …”

Ironically, August 15 – the day after the latest abuse revelations — is the Holy Day celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, during which the Church waxes rhapsodically about the Blessed Mother’s devotion to the Lord.  I’m confident … she gets it.

A few closing thoughts to these long notes:

I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of priests do their best to serve God and the faithful.  There is no man on earth I respect more than Pope Francis.  I feel deeply for the burden that these devout clergy carry as a result of the actions of their fellow priests.  I hope – notwithstanding the fact that the abuse appears to have been rampant throughout the Church – that many had no inkling of what was going on.  For those that did know, had no authority to act, and didn’t speak:    John 8:7:  “… Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone ….”  I wasn’t in their place; assessment here seems to me best left beyond the earthly realm.

Something even the most steadfast members of the Church hierarchy would probably agree with me about:  that those that conspired to cover up these instances of abuse in order to protect the Church suffered – ironically – from insufficient faith.  The Church didn’t need their “protection.”  Matthew 16:18:  “And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

After reading this, one might ask why I remain a practicing Catholic.  Because as imperfect as its leadership can sometimes be, it remains for me … the gateway to the Almighty (I believe that there are many gateways, in and outside the bounds of Christianity; it is just that this is mine).  My feelings are best described by a character in The Vicar of Christ, one of the three best novels I have ever read:  “The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the symbol of the universal Church.  To whom could I now turn in my old age?”

Part I: Humanae Vitae … and Child Abuse

The original genesis – so to speak – of the concept for this note was the Catholic Church’s celebration of “Natural Family Planning Awareness Week” in late July, a national educational campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that “promotes awareness of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods” [i.e., the rhythm method].  At least this year (and perhaps every year), it’s timed to coincide with the anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 issuance of “Humanae Vitae” (Latin for “Of Human Life”), in which His Holiness declared generally “unlawful” the use of artificial contraceptive methods, going against the 1966 conclusions of a significant majority of the members of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control established by Pope John XXIII and that Paul later expanded.

Retirees have time to pursue long-delayed interests; although I understood the gist of Humanae Vitae, I recently actually read it.  A couple of general impressions emerge.  First, the Church, given passages such as the “Value of Discipline” and “Promotion of Chastity” (these in the context of marital relationships), considers sex inherently wrong, and can intellectually justify the act only as the unavoidable means to procreation; that the conjugal act can have value in and of itself as a manner in which a committed couple can manifest their love and support for each other is entirely foreign to its thinking.  Second, Pope Paul – clearly a good man torn between satisfying his own bureaucracy wedded to longstanding doctrine and addressing a technologically and scientifically evolving world unimaginable during the centuries when the Church formulated its body of rules – was attempting to counsel married couples in the conduct of their relationship and family responsibilities while having no better grasp of their struggles than I have of the challenges faced by a Somali farmer or a Cambodian woman.

While reading the Encyclical was intellectually instructive, studies indicate that most Catholics are making their own decisions about their conjugal lives and the formation of their families; the main point of the note as I originally considered it was a lament that the Church remains in such stubborn opposition to a practice in which the majority of the married faithful reportedly engage and, unlike abortion, results in no sacrifice of generated life.  However, the release this week of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report indicating that hundreds of priests had sexually abused over 1,000 children over a period of 70 years – and that Bishops and other leaders of the Pennsylvania Catholic Church had covered it up – caused me to think about several of the Encyclical’s passages from a different perspective.

Twice in Humanae Vitae, Paul mentions how the world’s (in 1968, mind you) increasing economic and educational demands made it difficult to provide for a large family.  He even states, “We have no wish at all to pass in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples,” … but in fact, he did pass over them.

In the parable of the Sower found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Christ describes how seed spread by the wayside dies, how seed spread on rocky ground sprouts quickly and then dies out, how seed spread among thorns grows and is choked, and how seed on good soil flourishes.  The seed in the parable represents the Word, not children, but I would submit that the message applies every bit as well to child rearing.  Very few children mature into well-adjusted adults without nurturing.  To get strong offspring, a loving parent does his/her best to get a child in danger of being lost by the wayside into better circumstances; does his/her best to alleviate physical, emotional, or other obstacles impeding the child’s growth; tries to block bad influences that might strangle the child.  Just as plants need tending to grow, children do as well.  The Church views children as a “Good” in the abstract, but His Holiness’ advice that unmarried couples rely on the rhythm method to manage their family size was a copout; he had to know that it was far from foolproof, and that unintended children would result.  He didn’t – nor does the Church today, by clinging to Humanae Vitae – demonstrate an understanding that parents need to be able to lovingly nourish each other when and as best while having only so much time, energy, and resources with which to raise children well.  I would submit that taking your chances with how many bushes you plant and then watching a number wither for lack of care is more than reckless; it’s immoral.

I fear that too many in the Church hierarchy view children as objects to be celebrated at a distance rather than as people requiring nourishment close at hand.  Part II of this lengthy note will look a bit more at Pope Paul’s comments in Humanae Vitae in relation to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report issued 50 years later.