Category Archives: Faith

DeMarco: Bishops move to sever the tie that binds

The Op-Ed Page

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By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

You would think that American Christians, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, would be rejoicing that there was a faithful occupant of the White House.

Although white evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Biden’s predecessor and cheered many of his policies, Trump rarely attended church and seemed unfamiliar with the Bible (once referring, during a campaign speech at Liberty University, to the book Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” a mistake that any child with a year of Sunday school would avoid).

Most Christians believe that corporate worship is essential to a complete and thriving relationship with their Creator. Biden’s desire to join weekly with other Catholics and remember who they are and to whom they owe their most important allegiance should be reassuring to those of every faith and no faith. However, some of the bishops are disquieted by the highly publicized gap between Biden’s abortion stance and Catholic teaching (he personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights policy). At an assembly of the bishops last week, there was enough concern that three-quarters of them approved drafting a document examining the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.” Some of the bishops clearly have Biden in mind with their vote, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, who has said unequivocally that Biden “should not receive Holy Communion” for his abortion stance.

Catholics are obligated to attend Mass weekly and expected to take Communion. Although I married into the Methodist church, I was raised as a Catholic and understand the centrality of Communion to Catholics, who believe that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.

Refusing Communion to any Christian who comes to a house of worship is an affront. The bishops’ desire to deny Biden the Eucharist put me in mind of an experience I had over two decades ago while I was visiting with a Catholic family member. During the visit, our families went to Mass together. Although I am no longer Catholic and technically should not partake, I always accept Communion when it is offered. Methodists have an open table. The invitation is to “all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.” So, no matter who is offering Communion, I feel invited.

When I rose from the pew, my children, who were still in elementary school, naturally followed. I knew this might be a problem since this was a large church in which one stood before the Eucharistic minister, received the wafer in cupped hands, and the took a sip of wine from a common chalice. In our home church, we kneel at the altar rail and take juice in tiny individual cups. I didn’t have time to give them any instructions except, “Watch me.” I chose one of the side aisles thinking that a modestly dressed nun might be less imposing to them than a tall, portly priest arrayed king-like in his vestments. They were both nervous and the nun deduced by their hesitation that they had not received the strict instruction Catholic children get when they prepare for their first Communion. Thankfully, she did not withhold the elements from them, but she gave me a look of displeasure I will never forget.

I understand the bind that faith leaders are in. If there is no dogma, then they worry “What do we stand for?” and “How do we distinguish ourselves from the secular world?” And I also understand the moral urgency that the bishops feel toward abortion. Lives hang in the balance. I think their denunciation of abortion is defensible, as is Biden’s position.

Unfortunately, and Brad can disagree with me here, the Catholic Church is expert at inducing guilt. The majority of bishops feel so strongly about Biden’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage that they feel a public shaming is in order. I saw both the positives and the negatives of the church’s robust adherence to dogma in my parents, whose educations through high school were entirely in Catholic schools. They both are highly motivated, disciplined, honest and smart. The nuns who taught them expected, even demanded, that they excel. But there was a downside. Eventually the weight of those rigid expectations and a perceived dearth of compassion drove them, as adults, to the Episcopal church (the Catholic teachings barring women from the priesthood or from using birth control also played a major role).

I can see nothing to be gained by the bishops denying Biden Communion. It will satisfy no one but a group of authoritarian Catholics. Biden is the kind of faithful man that any church should want. There are very few Catholics (or adherents of any faith, for that matter) who accept every one of their church’s precepts. For example, more than half of Catholics surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2019 agree with Joe and support abortion in all or most cases.

And what disastrous evangelism. At a time when U.S. Catholic affiliation is dropping (along with most other denominations) the bishops’ desire to rebuke Biden will only serve to repel potential converts and may push some teetering Catholics out of the flock.

The Catholic faith needs some good news. It will take decades for the reverberations of the sex abuse scandal to dampen. Still, as Brad reminds us, Catholicism is the oldest and largest (by far) of the Christian denominations. It offers its followers a connection through time and space that is rivalled only by Islam. Even though I’m no longer Catholic, I experienced that connection one morning in February 2020 in Africa. I travelled there for a two-week mission in a hospital in Mbeya, Tanzania, with the USC School of Medicine. The leader of the trip was a Catholic physician who took me to an early morning Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua Cathedral. It was one of the most moving worship services I have ever experienced. A group of nuns chanted and sang accompanied by shakers and drums giving the service a unique energy and rhythm. Even though I understood almost nothing except “Yesu Kristo” and “Mungu” (“Jesus Christ” and “God” in Swahili) I felt the connection that Brad has described.

The bishops would do better focusing on our commonalties as human beings and what binds us rather than trying to humiliate the President.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

Bishop Barron talks about the Rabbit Hole problem

barron video

As I went walking today, I checked my phone but didn’t see any really good NYT podcasts — as you know, there are several of those I generally enjoy — and just wasn’t in the mood to catch up on the latest news via NPR One. Then I had an idea.

Having not gone physically to Mass in more than a year, we’ve experimented around with different approaches via the web. We’ve joined our own church’s Masses via Facebook, and lately we’ve been checking out the ones from the National Shrine in Washington. Since the ones we’ve watched — from the “Crypt Church” at the basilica — are shorter than what we’re used to (under 30 minutes), we’ve added on the practice of listening to that week’s sermon from Bishop Robert Barron. And I’ve really been impressed by them. Here’s a recent one.

So today I thought, “Doesn’t HE have a podcast?” Yes, he does, I found it. And I listened to this recent one, headlined “Catholics, Media Mobs, and the Culture of Contempt.” It’s also available in video form.

It was good. Basically, it tied together my two most persistent recent obsessions: The political/cultural divide between Catholics, and the Rabbit Hole.

As for the Catholic part… the bishop talked about how back in the double-naughts, when the New Atheism was so active online, he got some pretty fierce comments from the followers of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al. He found some of it pretty rough going.

But that was nothing compared to the flak he’s received lately from both sides of the Catholic culture war. He said he’d take the atheists any time over these fellow Catholics. The atheists were way nicer.

Then he got into what was causing this, the Rabbit Hole problem, although he didn’t call it that. He mentioned The Social Dilemma, which I’ve mentioned recently in that context. And he explained how the algorithms — in the interest of keeping you on the sites and in reach of their advertising — are written to pull you into the hole, deeper and deeper.

Anyway, whether you’re Catholic or not, I recommend the podcast. (Actually, it’s really a recent recorded virtual speech he gave.) That’s because he goes beyond wringing his hands over the Rabbit Hole the way I do. He offers advice on what to do about it, how to free yourself from it, and stop being such an a__hole (my bleeped word, not his). Of course, his solutions are grounded in the faith. If you don’t like that because you’re an unbeliever, go yell at the bishop about it. He likes that better than hearing from us crazy Catholics.

OK, I was going to mention some of my favorite parts of the speech, but I’m too tired right now. I’ll just give you this quote that comes right at five minutes in: “I’m talking about this toxic, poisonous, fetid quality, to much of the social media dialogue — and I’m sorry to say it, but to a lot of Catholic social media in particular.”

He had me at “fetid.” Other really good bits are at 28 minutes, 35 minutes, 37 minutes and 40 minutes.

The day the Pope came to visit us

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter's on Sept. 11, 1987.

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s on Sept. 11, 1987. Sadly, I missed this part.

In a comment on a previous post, Doug T. asked me to address the death of Jim Holderman. I did, but it’s one of those things that I know so much about that it’s hard to tell whether what I said would make sense to someone who didn’t live through the same things. So I emailed Doug to ask whether I had adequately addressed his question.

Doug wrote back and mused further on the subject, at one point saying, “Remember when Holderman brought the Pope to Columbia?  A really big deal…” He also mentioned something about all the hype about how Columbia would be immobilized, and how that scared people away (Doug included), so that there was just a pitiful few lining his motorcade route…

And I replied as follows…

Oh yeah, I definitely remember the Pope’s visit.

I learned about it the day I came to Columbia to interview for the job of governmental affairs editor at The State. It was like the beginning of July 1987. I’m thinking Tom McLean told me about it over breakfast, which was how I started the long day of interviews.

I also learned that in the next few months Billy Graham would be having a Crusade here. I thought, “Seems like God’s trying to tell me something. Maybe I ought to come here, too.”

Sorry about scaring everybody away like that. I kind of thought my fellow editors were overblowing that, but I was the new guy, and widely regarded as the “Knight Ridder spy,” so who was going to listen to me?

We planned for it like the Normandy invasion. It was the first time I ever used a mobile phone. It was a huge bag phone. I was asked to take it home with me, sometime before the day the Pope came, and try it out. While stopped at the traffic light at Huger and Blossom, I called home and said, “Guess what I’m doing! I’m calling you from the car!”

We got the phones because we assumed our reporters at the Horseshoe and even at the stadium — which was right next to the newspaper building — would be immobilized by the crowds, and this would be the only way we could communicate.

So, you know, we kind of overprepared.

We editors thought we couldn’t leave the building, so I wasn’t able to be there when the Pope visited my church, St. Peters.

Some of us did go up on the roof — only time I was ever up there — and watch the Popemobile approaching the stadium. Couldn’t see much, but that was exciting…

I guess, now that I’ve typed all that, I should post it on the blog…

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter's -- a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter’s — a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

Happy Easter! And wow, did you see that ballgame?

You see what following sports does to you? Makes you into a heathen, talking about last night’s game in the same breath as greeting people on the holiest day of the year.

Jimmy

“I’ll make it,” said Jimmy. And he meant it…

But that was quite a game. It had to be, for me, of all people, to be excited enough to want to keep talking about it. On Easter.

And I do.

If you missed it, let me set up the video above. As it starts, they’re in overtime, with a few seconds left. You see UCLA make a great play to tie it up. There are three seconds left. And then…

Watch it several times if you like. I have.

It reminded Coach Norman Dale of something. It reminded me of the same thing.

It will go down in history as Suggs’ Last Shot…

Spy Wednesday question: Who was Judas? Why did he do it?

Harvey Keitel as the Judas-haired betrayer in 'The Last Temptation of Christ'

Harvey Keitel as Judas in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’

Just thought I’d share this essay I ran across in America magazine. It was written in 2006, sort of pegged to the then-recent emergence of “The Gospel of Judas,” but the Jesuit publication posted it again on the day of Holy Week when Judas is said to have made the decision to betray Jesus.

I throw it out there so I can see what y’all think. For 2,000 years, people have been projecting all sorts of interpretations upon the man and his actions, from the mundane to a figure who was used as an excuse for Christian anti-semitism.

Judas gets pegged with being motivated by greed, which is problematic, since he’d abandoned whatever material comfort he had ever possessed to follow Jesus around for three years. Anyway, he refused to keep the money. Sometimes the theory is politics — such as saying his last name, Iscariot, is derived from sicarii, or dagger wielders, a band of religious terrorists of the time. But as the writer of this essay — Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the magazine — notes, that movement hadn’t taken off until years after Judas’ betrayal and suicide.

After reading such a serious examination as Fr. Martin’s, I’m a little embarrassed to say this — it seems both irreverent and anti-intellectual — but I’ve always found the “Jesus Christ Superstar” version persuasive. At least, it connects on an emotional level. The Judas of the rock opera sees himself as Jesus’ best friend, one who truly believes in the values his master espouses but is uncomfortable both with all “this talk of God,” and the likelihood that Jesus is getting them all into big trouble. Why not help the authorities take him off the street and let everything cool down? Then, of course, he’s devastated when his actions lead to the crucifixion. At the outset, Judas presents his case this way:

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died.
But every word you say today
Gets twisted ’round some other way.
And they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.
Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He’d have made good.
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
He’d have caused nobody harm; no one alarm.

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.

Of course, that’s not far off from what Fr. Martin presents as a serious, plausible set of assumptions:

Perhaps the most plausible explanation for Judas’s action was articulated several decades ago by the late William Barclay, author of the widely used multivolume Daily Study Bible. Barclay posited that the most compelling explanation is that in handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand, to get him to act in a decisive way. Perhaps, he suggested, Judas expected the arrest would prompt Jesus to reveal himself as the long-awaited messiah by overthrowing the Roman occupiers. Barclay noted that none of the other traditional interpretations explain why Judas would have been so shattered after the crucifixion that he committed suicide. In other words, only if Judas had expected a measure of good to come from his actions would suicide make any sense.

This is in fact the view which best suits all the facts, Barclay concluded.

Anyway, I’m curious what you think.

Yeah, I realize some of my unbelieving friends will think this is a silly question. Some of you may even be of the persuasion that sees Jesus, much less Judas, as a fictional character. Which strikes me as extremely unlikely. Even if I didn’t believe, my understanding of history and how it unfolds would cause me to acknowledge that something happened there in Jerusalem during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator and Caiaphas was high priest. Something that started small, but gradually led to a movement that ended up taking over the Western world. And the broad outlines of the Jesus story seem a reasonable way that movement would have started.

Of course, even if you acknowledge that, you could say that Judas and the role he played were inventions by the followers of this new sect. Fr. Martin deals with that this way:

But a wholesale invention is probably unlikely. By most accounts, Mark wrote his Gospel around 70 A.D., only 40 years after the death of Jesus. Luke and Matthew wrote some 10 to 20 years after Mark. The early Christian community, therefore, would have still counted among its members people who were friends of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses to the passion events, or who knew the sequence of events from the previous generation. All these would presumably have criticized any wild liberties taken with the story. Rather, as Father Harrington says, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus was a known and most embarrassing fact. In other words, the ignominy of having Jesus betrayed by one of the apostles is something that the Gospel writers would most likely have wanted to avoid, not invent.

And even if I were an atheist, if there were a modern-day-style biography of Judas available — something as painstakingly detailed as Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, or McCullough’s John Adams — I’d run out and get a copy and read it eagerly. So I could, you know, better understand the people and events that had pushed the world in the direction it took over the millennia.

But people didn’t process information that way 2,000 years ago. The things we don’t know even about Roman emperors would be embarrassing to any modern biographer, historian or journalist. And the people who set down the Gospels and other books of the New Testament were infinitely more interested in relating Jesus’ teachings than they were the backstory of the man who betrayed him. To them, writing at least 40 years after the events, Judas was just this bad guy who did this bad thing. Or good thing, as the “Gospel of Judas” would have it.

But what sort of man was he, and why did he do it?

Tomorrow I’ll think about something else. But this is Spy Wednesday.

Cancel Culture in Jeremiah’s day

Jeremiah, as Rembrandt saw him...

Jeremiah, as Rembrandt saw him…

It was late in the evening when I got around to today’s readings, which I’ve tried to make a point of studying each day during Lent.

From the book of Jeremiah:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”

Apparently, Jeremiah had trouble with Cancel Culture even without Twitter. Ah, but beware, all ye trolls:

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Just thought I’d share that with you, before the day ended…

I’m so glad Pope Francis is safely back in Rome. Thank God…

Mosul welcoming Pope Francis.

Mosul welcoming Pope Francis. Some wore masks, but not all…

Since last night, and through this morning, I kept checking social media and Google News to see if Pope Francis was back in Rome yet. I kept finding stories about his last day in Iraq, and even stories saying he was wheels-up leaving Iraq. But nothing showing him having safely landed.

Finally, I found this on the Vatican’s news service:

Pope Francis makes a brief visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to thank the Blessed Virgin Mary for her protection during his visit to Iraq.

Well, thank God. And his mother, too, although not being a cradle Catholic myself, I don’t habitually think in those terms. (Marian devotion is one of those things that I’ve mentioned before that cause me to think, I suppose these Catholics do these things…)

And now, I can be glad he went to Iraq, despite so many urging him not to. I still wish he hadn’t had those huge gatherings with the often maskless people (not for his sake — he’s had his shots — but for the sakes of the maskless people and all they will come in contact with). But I’m glad he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and talked tolerance. I’m glad he went to Mosul and talked about the terrible cost of religious fanaticism. I think he made a positive impression, and it will do good.

But boy, am I glad he’s back. Because we need Pope Francis. The Church needs him — especially the American Church. Joe Biden, our second Catholic president, needs him, because Francis has Joe’s back. I need him, for some of the same reasons Joe does. The Catholics who voted for Trump need him even more, even though they probably don’t realize it. Iraq needs him. The world needs this man to be at the head of the Church right now.

And I think it’s great he now wants to go to Lebanon. But I hope he waits, at least until COVID is behind us. People — especially Christians — in these countries are thrilled to have him visit. And while I prefer not to see him taking risks, I don’t want to see them be enticed into taking risks, either….

More on the problem afflicting many fellow Catholics

America screenshot

Here I am again posting about my other recent obsession (as opposed to the one about what the web is doing to our brains and society): Trying to pull back some fellow Catholics from their recent political (and theological) madness.

Reading frequently on this topic, I realized recently that I’d find a lot of good stuff (such as Jeannie Gaffigan’s great column I wrote about before) in America magazine, the Jesuit publication. So I subscribed. And yesterday they alerted me to this piece, which I thought was good.

It’s headlined, “The same Catholics who condemn ‘relativism’ and a ‘culture of death’ have built a deadly, post-truth world.

True, sadly.

An excerpt that sums up the point:

To speak of the “culture of death” and “dictatorship of relativism” is to invoke a recognizable formula that neatly sums up a particular sense of Catholic countercultural identity that has increasingly allied itself socially and politically with evangelical Protestants and the Republican Party. In this usage, this combined mantra has become a truism at best and a slogan at worst, even beyond its Catholic usage. Worse still, it has become a performative contradiction and scandal that makes a mockery of the Gospel.

In its final days, the Trump administration went on a killing spree, executing federal prisoners at an unprecedented rate; the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 broke 400,000; and five people died in a violent failed insurrection at the Capitol. Add to this the ongoing refugee crisis, the existential threats of climate change, the rise of populist authoritarianism around the world and the struggle against anti-Black racism in America, and it is not hard to see that the culture of death is alive and well.

But those who are most prone to support capital punishment and refuse Covid-19 safety protocols, who explain away and excuse violent insurrection, reject refugees and migrants, and deny the reality of climate change and racial injustice, are precisely the ones who have decried the “culture of death.” The tragedy and the farce of this situation is perhaps only rivaled—or sharpened—by the graphic and horrific images of Blue Lives Matter flags flying in the same place where a Trump-supporting police officer was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. A culture of death, indeed. Lord have mercy….

It’s worth reading, if you have access (and they allow a certain number of freebies to nonsubscribers).

Oh, by the way, I post these items in the hope that some of my fellow Catholics will see them and engage. The rest of you are certainly welcome to join in — even those of you who use all such posts as another opportunity to express your distaste for us nasty papists. Whatever, knock yourselves out.

But my fellow papists out there — this is mainly for you, so I hope to hear from you…

More friction between the Pope, and American bishops who don’t understand that the Pope is Catholic

Sorry. I couldn’t resist referring to the old joke in the headline. A more straightforward way to say it would be, “don’t understand that the Pope outranks them.”

At moments such as this, it seems they tend to think of him as “just the bishop of Rome,” rather than the Holy Father.

Or maybe they do get it, since it seems they pulled back their harsh statement when the Vatican stepped in.

Anyway, the conflict persists. Following up on my earlier posts on this subject, here are some excerpts from a piece in the Jesuit magazine America, rapidly becoming one of my favorite sources:

In a message of “cordial good wishes” to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. after his installation as the 46th president of the United States, Pope Francis assured him of his prayers “that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”Pope Francis

He told the president that he prayed that “under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

“At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses,” the pope wrote, “I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”

Furthermore, the pope said, “I ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.”…

Pope Francis’ warm message contrasted with the public statement that had been prepared by Archbishop José Gomez in the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. While the bishops’ statement included much the pope would agree with, it nevertheless adopted a confrontational tone over the issue of abortion especially, as well as contraception, marriage and gender. The Vatican only learned of the U.S.C.C.B. message hours before it was due to be released, and a senior Vatican official told America that “it was reasonable to say” that it had intervened but did not confirm or deny the details first reported by The Pillar.

There was a negative reaction from Vatican officials contacted by America in Rome to the statement issued by Archbishop Gomez in the name of the U.S.C.C.B. “It is most unfortunate and is likely to create even greater divisions within the church in the United States,” a senior official, who did not wish to be named because of the position he holds at the Vatican, told America….

Amen to that.

Anyway, as I said earlier, I feel blessed that Francis is my pope, and Joe is my president….

The pope needs to have a chat with some of his clergy

America

Rereading (as I do, obsessively) one of my Patrick O’Brian books the other day, I ran across a passage in which Diana Villiers expresses surprise at Stephen Maturin’s lack of enthusiasm over the fact that a certain French cardinal is to appear at an event. She says, “I thought you would be pleased. Surely a cardinal is next door to the pope; and you are a Catholic, my dear.”

Stephen responds, “There are cardinals and cardinals; and even some Popes have not always been exactly what one might wish…”

Indeed, if one has a sense of history. But that got me to thinking, as I too seldom do, about how blessed I am to be living at this particular moment: I’m very pleased with the current pope, as I am often reminded. And not only that, but Joe Biden is about to be my president. The rest of the world might be going mad, but at least these good men will be in charge of my church and my country. And Joe being a devout Catholic, the two things are tied together

But that hardly means everything is wonderful. After all, as my fellow (but fictional, alas) Papist Stephen would say, there are cardinals and cardinals.

This was documented with stark clarity by this piece a few days ago in the Jesuit magazine, America. The piece was headlined, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol.” It spelled out how, among other things, “an alarming number of Catholic clergy contributed to an environment that led to the fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol.”

Which these “leaders” unquestionably did. And have been doing for some time. I had seen plenty of things to worry about over the past year (which was why I wrote this), but I was startled by how extreme their rhetoric was — how anti-Christian it was, not to mention anti-intellectual. Because God had been merciful to me, and had not exposed me to these specific examples. As the piece leads off:

At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”

“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”…

There’s more — quite a lot more. Another example:

A few weeks later, the Rev. Ed Meeks, the pastor of Christ the King Church in Towson, Md., preached a homily, also uploaded to YouTube, under the title “Staring into the Abyss,” in which he declared the Democratic Party the “party of death.”

Father Meeks’s video, which has received over two million views, was warmly commended by Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Tex., who tweeted it out to his 40,000 followers with the message “Every Catholic should listen to this wise and faithful priest.” Earlier, Bishop Strickland had endorsed Father Altman’s video as well, tweeting, “As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases [sic] HEED THIS MESSAGE.” Father Altman later appeared as a guest on the premiere episode of “The Bishop Strickland Show” on LifeSite News….

The things they say, and the language they use, is amazingly startling — again, both on the grounds of being unChristian, and that of being amazingly stupid-sounding. You might imagine something like this coming from one of the very least educated of the “poorly educated” Trump so loves — assuming he’d had a few too many beers sitting on that stool at the end of the bar:

“Why is it that the supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God-hating Democrat party can’t say a goddamn thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump? What the hell do you have to say for yourselves losers?” the Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted….

But it’s impossible to imagine it coming from someone who has graduated from a seminary, even if you can somehow explain the irrational hatred.

Especially telling, as much as the profanity, is that “Democrat party” bit. That sort of disregard for the difference between adjectives and nouns is typical among the less-thoughtful staffers at your state Republican Party (somehow, they all forgot the name of the opposition party back in the ’70s, and haven’t had it come back to them yet), but it’s extremely jarring coming from a man of the cloth. It’s an unmistakable sign of someone who is incapable of thinking outside the framework of Republican jargon.

Anyway, all this extreme stuff was news to me. I had been responding to more subtle stuff when I wrote the “Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics” piece back in October. I was concerned about the voting pattern in 2016 — which showed almost half of Catholic voters voting for Trump — and the possibility of its repetition.

I was also motivated by nods and winks I was seeing from some Catholics — including some clergy — here in South Carolina. What I was hearing personally was of course far more subtle and polite than the fulminations Father James Martin writes about in America  — this is, after all, South Carolina. But I had been disturbed by it nonetheless. And I felt it was important for me to say, as a Catholic, that real Catholics would never vote for Trump, and should certainly vote for fellow Catholic Joe Biden. Maybe in writing her brilliant piece — which helped inspire my own, more pedestrian one — Jeannie Gaffigan was motivated by some of the horrible stuff in the America piece. But I think it was mostly milder stuff than that, as I recall.

Back to what I had been hearing here at home… First, I’m not going to share it with you. Why? Because it’s close to home and personal, and I’m going to speak personally to the people responsible before I share it with the world. And I haven’t seen those people in awhile — I haven’t been physically to my church since March; we’ve been streaming Mass every week.

Also, since a lot of it was indirect and polite, I’m not always entirely sure of what I’m hearing. I have reached out (via email) a couple of times to fellow parishioners (also Biden supporters) to see if they were hearing it the way I was. And they generally were, more or less. But before I put my objections in writing, I want the parties involved to have a chance to explain their views — in person, not via email.

But to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video of our bishop, posted on YouTube before the election:

As you can see, what the bishop says — to a less critical person than myself — is kindly, shepherdly, and very carefully non-partisan. And of course, you know me. I wholeheartedly applaud when he says:

What is important for all of us is to recognize we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats. We’re Catholics.

From that alone, you see that there’s a wide ocean of difference between him and the hateful people the piece in America deals with. They are ardent, committed (and sometimes profane) partisans, twisted by their fury at the “other side.”

I don’t know the bishop well. I’ve only met him a time or two, and my view of him is positive and respectful — which is the way you want to feel about a shepherd placed over you. And I think the video bears this out.

Which is not to say I didn’t have problems with it — rather obvious problems, if you know me.

But thank the Lord that here in South Carolina, I haven’t been directly exposed to the kind of overt, hostile stuff Fr. Martin writes about in America.

Back to that stuff…

Let’s look again at this part of the first passage I quote above, speaking of the Democratic Party: “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Of course, that is utterly absurd and utterly false, and the words “absolutely” and “everything” would render it laughable — if it weren’t so tragic.

Compare the Trump position on a host of issues to that embraced by Joe Biden. Trump is the guy who got elected telling us that people coming into this country illegally was a national emergency — nay, the national emergency — and he planned to build a “beautiful wall” to keep them out, and make Mexico pay for it. He’s the guy who failed to do that, but did succeed in separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. He’s the one who described countries other than white ones like Norway as “shithole countries.” He incited a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and has not once spoken a word of remorse for his own actions. (A Catholic like Joe Biden is accustomed to doing penance for his sins. You won’t ever see Donald Trump do that, because he’ll never get as far as the “heartily sorry” part.)

He is a man who considers his every action (and everything else) — in office and out of office — in terms of how it benefits or fails to benefit Donald J. Trump. If you think he is a person who puts others first, or even on the same level as himself, as a Christian should do, I’d love to hear your arguments on that point, and be persuaded.

I could go on all night, listing the ways in which Trump grossly violates Catholic teaching, and Biden would not. But let’s just cite one more issue, one that bears on the Church’s pro-life teachings: “Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution.

Before last year, the U.S. Justice Department hadn’t executed anyone in 17 years. Trump put three to death in the last week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Under Trump, there have been more federal executions in the past year than in the previous 56 years combined. More to consider:

Not since the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 1800s has the U.S. government executed federal inmates during a presidential transition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland’s was also the last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in one year, 1896….

Trump was in a hurry, you see, with Joe Biden about to take over. Joe, the story tells us, is “an opponent of the federal death penalty,” and may actual bring it to an end.

Joe Biden, you see, is a Catholic.

But some Catholics have gotten twisted around. They’re just talking about abortion, you see. When they say “pro-life,” they’re not talking about Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life. Nor are they including the rest of the many, many Catholic teachings beyond cherishing life when they refer to “everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Abortion is a profoundly important moral issue, but it is one important part of a range of important issues that fall under the description “pro-life.” And then of course, there are all the other things that would fall under Catholic social teaching. Take “solidarity,” for instance, which means “We are one  human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.” Can you picture Donald “America First” Trump agreeing with that? Maybe, but only if you add, “except those from shithole countries.”

Folks, I don’t think I know anyone who is more opposed to abortion than I am. And if you asked me to cite the one thing Joe Biden did during the campaign that most disappointed me, it would be his abandonment of support for the Hyde Amendment. I know why he did it. This was at a time when he was one of a crowd of 20 or so vying for the nomination, and the vast number of Democrats who wanted to find a way, any way, to dismiss him completely (thereby insuring the re-election of Donald Trump) saw Hyde as a great gift. I can’t tell myself with any certainty that he’d be the president-elect if he hadn’t done it. But I still believe it was wrong.

But talking about that reminds me of something remarkable: That is the only thing I can think of that he has done wrong over the last two years, in terms that might violate Catholic teaching or offend my own standards. Whereas Donald Trump can hardly get through a day without doing that. Joe is so dramatically more in keeping with advocating the moral, Catholic position on issue after issue that it’s absurd even to make a comparison.

Also, as fervently as I oppose abortion — which we’ve argued about many times here — I differ from these angry priests on a couple of points: First, I don’t believe jamming through justices who agree with me on the issue is the way to solve the abortion problem. (And I find it profoundly wrong for either side to do it — which both do.) I’d like to see Roe v. Wade disappear, but aside from the fact that I don’t think it will, there’s the problem that if it did, it would simply kick the issue to the place where it should be — state legislatures. Those legislatures would be at war over the issue for the rest of my life, and probably my grandchildren’s lives, and I believe legal abortion would still be widely available across much of the country. It’s not a prospect that fills me with optimism.

Secondly, to get to that point requires something that I believe to be immoral in another way, although a secular one: I believe it is critically important for the United States to have an independent judiciary. Therefore it is wrong for me to demand that judicial candidates agree with me on any issue, even one as morally compelling as abortion. Otherwise we can’t have the blessing of living in a country of laws and not of men. And that is crucial to our freedom of religion and everything else that matters. Start applying an issue litmus test on judges, and you will get a country in which law is whatever is embraced by the majority — 50 percent plus one — voting in the last election. We must somehow get past this business of trying to elect presidents who agree with us on abortion, and expecting those presidents to nominate justices who agree with both, and stacking the Senate to confirm them — until the majority shifts again.

I could go on and on on both those points (arguments on the last two points could fill books), but since I’m nearing 2,500 words (not counting the thousand or so I cut out), you’ve probably stopped reading already.

But to go back to where we started: There is something horrific going on among some priests, and even some bishops, in the Church. And I think the pope, who knows better, should have a chat with some of them. Because things have gotten out of hand, and these words (and sometimes actions) have been a great disservice to the country, and to the Church.

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That's Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That’s Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

I am no astronomer.

But for whatever reason — maybe it’s that I found myself taking more walks after dark — it became obvious to me that I could see three planets in the sky, and none of them was Venus. And I was impressed — both by the planets, and by myself for actually having a clue what was happening in the sky. Because most of my life, I hadn’t noticed.

Mars was easy, of course. It’s red. Or reddish, anyway. I would see it soon after its rising, in the east southeast (I think; my memory on this isn’t perfect) and watch it climb to the heights. It was in the process of being impressed by this that I wrote this on Oct. 7, the night of the vice presidential debate. For whatever reason, it seemed brighter, or redder, or something that night. Basically, it was really looking very Arean:

But that’s not all I had been noticing for, I think, some weeks before that. Far off to the right in the path the planets follow, I would see the brightest thing in the sky after the moon. The first night I noticed it, I told myself it was Jupiter, and when I looked it up in the little astronomical app I have on my phone, I was right! Therefore I started taking a proud, proprietorial interest in it, and looked for it each night. There it was, and next to it Saturn.

I became sort of obsessive about it. Each night when I’d start on a late walk, I’d look up and make sure they were still there. And it pleased me that they always were, although as time passed they moved farther and farther to the right each night. (On the rare nights my wife would walk with me so late, I’d point them all out: “There’s Mars! And Jupiter! And a little to the left of it, Saturn!” She was very patient with me, though.)

Then, I read that the brightest gas giants were going to put on a show on the winter solstice, coming so close together — for the first time (at night) in 800 years — that they would appear more or less to be one star. Or so it might appear to the magi looking for it two millennia ago.

I liked the story, especially since it involved my planets with which I had been so pleased in recent months. My planets, which I had so recently noticed — I mean, discovered!

When the show happened tonight, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that they hadn’t come completely together — there was about a tenth of a degree of darkness between them. Also a tad put out because they had now moved so far to the right that they’d only be visible for an hour or so before setting. And I was especially ticked at myself for not being able to line up the lens on my phone with my binoculars to get a really awesome shot.

But I still thought it was pretty cool.

Did you see it? Thoughts?

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13.

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13. Saturn was to the left then.

The war on Hannukah

menorah

Since we’re now in the “War on Christmas” season, when we are subjected to all sorts of odd assertions — here’s an example — I thought I’d share this change of pace.

I’m on Stan Dubinsky‘s email list, and he emails all sorts of interesting things. Sometimes about politics, sometimes about Israel, sometimes about linguistics. Today, Stan was ticked about a piece in the NYT, about which he said:

The NY Times, making sure to remind us, in this holiday season, what a vile bunch of people write for it and how much they hate Jews (even as some of them are Jews – or more accurately JINOs). – SD

That’s Stan’s opinion, not mine. In my view, all sorts of people write for the NYT. Some I really like, some I really don’t, some in-between, but I seldom encounter anyone I would call “vile.”

I do believe if I had read the piece he was referring to, I might have considered the writer… tiresome. One does weary of people trying so hard, like Netflix, to be “modern” — folks who seem to have no other reason for writing beyond communicating that about themselves. Like a password to a club or something.

Anyway, Stan passed on this piece about the NYT piece, with his implied approval. I only share it in case you’re looking for something a little different from the “War on Christmas” thing (although the piece contains a bit of that as well). It’s headlined, “‘Goodbye to Hannukah,’ Says a Headline in the Post-Judaism New York Times.” Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

by Ira Stoll
OPINION

The New York Times is greeting the holiday of Chanukah with an article by a woman explaining why she won’t transmit to her children her family’s tradition of celebrating the holiday.

Saying Goodbye to Hannukah” is the headline over the Times article, which is subheadlined “I lit the menorah as a child, but my kids are growing up in a different type of household.”

The author, Sarah Prager, explains that she celebrated Chanukah as a child because her father was Jewish. “Each of those eight nights we’d recite the Hebrew prayer about God while lighting the menorah. We memorized the syllables and repeated them, but they had no meaning to us and my parents didn’t expect, or want, us to believe what we were reciting.”

The Times article goes on “I married a woman who was raised Catholic but who, like my parents, had left her family religion as an adult. She and I are part of America’s ever-growing ‘nones’ with no religious affiliation at all. Before we had kids, we imagined we’d choose a religion to raise them in, maybe Unitarian Universalism or even Reform Judaism. But when our first child was born four years ago, we realized that going to any house of worship and following a religion just for our children to feel a connection to something wouldn’t be authentic. We couldn’t teach them to believe in anything we didn’t believe in ourselves.”…

… and so forth.

Happy, you know, holidays…

Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics’

Back in the middle of last month, I tweeted this about a group that was planning to spend millions trying to prevent the election of our second Catholic president:

That led to a somewhat extended discussion with Chad Connelly, former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina and founder of Faith Wins, a group that aims to engage Christians in the public arena. I’m not sure of Chad’s denominational beliefs, but he seems to have a sharply defined idea of what we Catholics are supposed to believe. It has to do with one issue — actually, one monolithic aspect of one issue. Guess which one:

The Catholic Church still condemns abortion though right, so it makes sense the church and Christian leaders within would denounce Biden’s 47 year history & consistency of being okay with killing babies? I’d hope any catholic group would work against his policies.

My first response was: “Chad, that’s right. Our opposition to abortion is one of many, many important teachings of the church. So yes, many people grab onto that one in order to allow themselves to ignore all the ways Trump ignores and violates other profoundly fundamental teachings.”

If you want to read the full discussion, it’s attached to the tweet embedded above.

Anyway, readers of this blog know of my unwavering opposition to abortion. Some of you might even realize that’s one aspect of Cardinal Bernardin’s Seamless Garment — a fully-developed respect and reverence for human life, to which I also try to adhere. Among the many things the cardinal said and wrote about it:

Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.

It’s kind of what, you know, the pope teaches:

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly…. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in (the) world.

Is the pope Catholic? I tend to think so, because I’m Catholic, and that’s what I believe. (Other, far more authoritative, sources would also, I believe, support his being about as Catholic as one gets — hence the joke.) Being pro-life means caring about all sorts of things, all sorts of people — including, for instance, those who live in “shithole countries,” to quote the man whom some people inexplicably believe Catholics should follow. You know, the guy who said “I am pro-choice in every respect,” until it was to his advantage to do a 180.

Excuse me for using such language while discussion religion. But as jarring as that is, it helps express just how far Donald Trump is from being someone a Catholic, or any follower of Jesus Christ, should support. And indeed, half of Catholics voted against him in 2016. I hope more of us will this time.

But don’t just listen to me on this.

I loved this piece by Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of the comedian Jim Gaffigan. I’ve even started watching some of his standup on Netflix, for the first time, since reading it. But I’m more a fan of his wife. She’s the one I now follow on Twitter. Anyway, she just recently wrote this great column for the Jesuit magazine America headlined, “My loved ones told me ‘real’ Catholics vote for Trump. Here’s my response.” Some excerpts:

My critics seemed to conclude: If you don’t support Mr. Trump, you, Jeannie Gaffigan, mother of five, are a pro-abortion, “fake Catholic.”…

Jeannie Gaffigan

Jeannie Gaffigan

Here is my confession: I am a real Catholic, and I am not going to vote for Donald J. Trump….

My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant. I am not sure how one thing that harms a life can be weighted more strongly than another, but based on the reaction to Jim’s now-infamous tweetstorm, it is abundantly clear that there is a segment of the Catholic Church that feels that the single issue of abortion, for lack of a better word, trumps every other evil…

Actually, I just want to quote the whole thing, but I don’t want the Jesuits coming after me for violating their copyright. So I urge you to go read the whole thing yourself. If you don’t read anything else about how real Catholics should approach this election, read this.

Oh, I can’t hold back. One more quote:

As much as some of my well-intended fellow Catholics will hate to hear this, it is crystal clear to me that the right thing to do is vote for Joe Biden. I believe it will be impossible to tackle these other issues with a president who is working overtime to sow division and hatred in this county through insults, intimidation, fear and blatant racism. This venomous “us against them” mentality is trickling down, seeping into our churches and poisoning our pulpits. To a culture of life, vipers are deadly….

Are you seeing a consistent theme (say, a consistent ethic of life) running through what she, the pope and Cardinal Bernardin said? Yeah, me too. And if you go read the Gospels, you’ll see Jesus was pretty much in keeping with this point of view as well. Or rather, they’re in keeping with him.

Let me finish with a column E.J. Dionne wrote in recent days. It was about something Pope Francis just wrote — and, as previously mentioned, the Pontiff is way Catholic.

It was headlined, “The pope’s unexpected election message.” You should read that, too.

We are not accustomed to a hearing from a pope, a month before Election Day, who criticizes “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism,” and castigates those who, through their actions, cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”

E.J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne

Nor is it in our political playbook that a pope would call out an “every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”

Or say this: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”

These are all Pope Francis’s words from his encyclical letter released Sunday, “Fratelli Tutti.” It translates literally “Brothers All,” words drawn from St. Francis of Assisi, although Francis was quick, in his first sentence, to address “brothers and sisters.” His purpose was to advance a worldview that stresses, as he put it, “the communitarian dimension of life” and values “fraternity and social friendship.”…

E.J. quickly adds that there is “no evidence that the pope is trying to influence the contest between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.” Basically, the Holy Father (that’s something we Catholics call the pope, you see) says stuff like this all the time.

Which kind of makes you wonder why some Catholics don’t listen when he does…

St_Patrick's_cathedral_NY

Noah Barker: ‘Make the president Christ-like again.’

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That's him in the white shirt and no jacket, very excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That's me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That’s him in the white shirt and no jacket, a 17-year-old pretty excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That’s me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Today I called my young friend Noah Barker, fellow Smith-Norrell veteran, to talk about yard signs. He’s the one who got me some Biden signs for my neighbors, as related earlier.

Noah, who’s now a student at USC, happened to mention an opinion piece he had written for Medium — a website I had not been familiar with, but which seems to have been around for several years now. He wanted me to take a look at it and see what I thought.

I got a little panicky when I saw the headline, “Make the president Christ-like again.” I thought, whoa, Noah — we both love Joe, but let’s not go overboard! But almost immediately after that, I knew what he meant, and it worked. I could tell that from the photo with the piece: There was Joe with his head humbly bowed standing with his mask on among fellow worshipers — as human as you can get. (It would have gone well with that Facebook post I cited awhile back from Sister Nancy Hendershot — which you should go read if you haven’t.)

I read on, and saw that Noah had done a good job. Here’s his piece:

I don’t often write about my faith. I usually refrain from these types of writing because of two different lessons that I was taught as a child.

The first one was a favorite saying of my grandfather, Wilson Bryan, who would say “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” He believed that you shouldn’t have to utter the words “well, you know, I’m a Christian.” The way you treat others should show folks that something is fundamentally different about your life.

The other lesson was from Jesus, who according to the Book of Matthew said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (6:5–6).

However, I’m breaking this rule to write this essay. After watching the Democratic National Convention this past week, I couldn’t keep these thoughts to myself any longer.

It has been hard for me to watch fellow Christians continue to support a man like Donald Trump. He lies, he cheats, he steals. He spews hatred and breeds bigotry. He makes fun of others and he is never hesitant to give an opponent of his a childish nickname (see “Slow Joe” or “Pencil-neck Adam Schiff”). He never forgives and he never asks for forgiveness.

Sometimes, when I am listening to him rant and rave I’m reminded of the words of Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the people of Galatia, Paul outlines the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. In case you haven’t walked by your old Sunday school class and seen that poster in a while, these nine attributes are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I think of these nine attributes because I have never witnessed Donald Trump show any of them in his public life. Now, this has nothing to do with me being a Democrat, which I am. I saw these nine attributes present in the life of George W. Bush, a man that I almost never agreed with. They were also present in the lives of almost-presidents, like John McCain and Mitt Romney.

This is not about politics. It’s not about policy. It’s not about the Supreme Court or abortion. This is about character.

Now, let me say, I am in no position to question whether someone is a Christian or not. Donald Trump has said that he is and that is between him and God. Full stop.

However, when it comes to electing a president, I want someone who shows me that they are Christian, not tells me. I want a leader who isn’t just a Christian, I want someone in the Oval Office that acts Christ-like.

I don’t mean performing miracles or being perfect; we all fall short of the glory of God.

But, I at least want someone who tries.

Who tries to be kind.

Who tries to be honest.

Who tries to heal the wounds of our nation.

I want a president who uses love to unite us.

Who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.

That’s not Donald Trump. That’s not his story. It’s not his life.

On the other hand, Joe Biden isn’t perfect, and unlike Donald Trump, Joe would be the first person to tell you that. He’s not the second coming and he’s not the Messiah, and he certainly doesn’t act like he is.

We’ve all heard the countless stories of Joe Biden comforting those with a sick loved onehelping those with a stutter, or just being kind to the people that are around him.

I believe he is a fundamentally decent man, warts and all.

I don’t agree with Joe Biden on everything, but I believe it is our job as voters to choose the better person and in this case, the better man.

That choice is clear to me.

This November, I’m voting to make the president Christ-like again.

Noah describes himself at the end as “78th Governor of Palmetto Boy’s State | Son of Lugoff, South Carolina | UofSC’23 |”

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Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

email promo

We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

The bloody, horrific Fourth Day of Christmas

Massacre of the Innocents, by Léon Cogniet

Massacre of the Innocents, by Léon Cogniet

I was going to post some quick quotes from columns I read this morning, one of them quite frivolous, but then I remembered what today is. The Fourth Day of Christmas, when we remember the slaughter of the innocents.

And yes, it’s still Christmas. We’re only a third of the way through. You can’t tell from the secular signs. There’s not a carol to be found on the radio. They played them all back during Advent, the heathens.

Speaking of heathens — lest I seem to be putting on righteous airs, I would have forgotten myself except for a silly show I saw on PBS the other night, telling how the 12 days were marked during the reign of Henry VIII. And then the NYT reminded me, too.

And it’s the most sobering day of the season:

Gospel Mt 2:13-18

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:


A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

Have a penitent, unabashed Ash Wednesday

ashes

On Ash Wednesday, I usually wait until the Mass at night to go get my ashes. Of course, I do that with any holy day that comes in the week, such as… well, I guess Ash Wednesday is the main one… because it’s convenient: Get through the working day, go to Mass, go home.

But I know that a small part of the equation is that I don’t want to go around all day with the ashes on. And this is evidence of being a bad Catholic, I think. I mean, the whole point is to spend the day wearing an outward sign of penitence, right? Show everyone you’re sorry for your sins. I think.

It’s not that I’m embarrassed to show my faith. I do that all the time. In fact, I disobey Jesus’ admonition not to pray in public, by briefly saying grace wherever I sit down to eat. If there are people who are inclined to say, “Look at the crazy Christian,” they have ample opportunity. (Which is worse — praying in public, or failing to be grateful for one’s daily bread?)

But the ashes… They call for explanation. My mind goes back to a time shortly after I first became Catholic. It was Ash Wednesday, and I went into a Chinese restaurant with my ashes on. The proprietor helpfully told me in broken English that I had something on my forehead. I told him it was supposed to be there. This perplexed him, and I started trying to explain, but there was enough of a language barrier to make that impossible. Eventually, apparently deciding that the crazy foreign devil was making fun, he laughed. I gave up.

That was 30 something years ago, and I’m pretty sure that on some level I’m still trying to avoid having that conversation again. Partly because living in the South, many Christians don’t know about Ash Wednesday, much less other folk. So you have this situation where people are looking at you, and you figure they’re wondering about the ashes, and you can’t decide whether you should assume that and offer an explanation (evangelicals certainly would, if they followed this practice), or just let them wonder.

So I go at night, which minimizes interaction with the uninitiated.

And I feel a little bad about that.

I feel especially bad on this Ash Wednesday, because at breakfast I saw the guy above on a TV set, standing in front of the world with his ashes on. The sound was off, so I don’t know if he offered an explanation of his ashes or not.

Well, good for him. I applaud him. Among other things, he’s showing the world that journalists are not all a bunch of godless barbarians. And this one is on MSNBC, no less! Take that, all you alleged Christians who voted for Trump!

Anyway, I just looked at the schedule, and while I don’t think I’m going to make it to the noon Mass, I see there’s one at 5:30! I could go to that, instead of the 7:30!

Baby steps…

Amazingly, they’re actually getting the boys out of the cave

Ekapol and players

Ekapol Chanthawong and some of his players.

I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.

Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.

A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.

What else could possibly go wrong?

And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.

But they got out!

A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…

During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.

On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.

And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.

Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.

I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don't think I'll do that again...

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don’t think I’ll do that again…

Memphis knows how to throw a party (or something) for St. Pat

catechismNo doubt some will cite this as evidence that my Ménière’s has reached the point at which I need a hearing aid.

But in my defense, my wife was out in the hallway when she said this, and I was in the bathroom with the exhaust fan running — although the door, I admit, was open.

Anyway, she had come upstairs to tell me that her youngest brother was on his way to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Memphis (my wife’s family, the Phelans, are real Irish Catholics, not pretenders like me), and that he had told her something alarming about that parade.

She said the people on the floats throw catechisms to the crowd.

At least, I thought that’s what she said. I considered it a bit odd — most such parades aren’t that, shall we say, holy — but nevertheless arguably appropriate, since St. Patrick converted the heathen Irish to Christianity.

Then my wife said something odder. She said she thought that sounded “dangerous.” I reflected that maybe so, if they were hardbacks. But they could throw paperbacks, and maybe there are some abridged, pocket-sized versions…

Then she said other things that made me wonder. I asked her to repeat the first thing she’d said.cabbage

This time, I thought she said they were throwing “catechists,” and that did sound dangerous. If you go throwing people, religious education teachers, off of floats, someone could get hurt.

But something about this version sounded even more suspicious, so I finally asked her directly whether she had indeed said they were throwing catechisms or catechists.

She roared with laughter at this point (which frankly I don’t think is the kindest way to deal with my affliction). She had been saying, “cabbages.” They were throwing cabbages from the floats.

Yeah, OK. That could be dangerous.

You can stop laughing now…

Look out! What's that they're throwing? The St. Patrick's Day parade on Beale Street.

Look out! What’s that they’re throwing? The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Beale Street.