Monday, June 29, 2015

Obergefell and a Tale of Three Cities

I.
 
 
(Washington, D.C., 2015)  Nietzsche rules!  Through a narrow majority ruling of the high court, the "will to power" carries the day throughout the USA:  Marriage is no longer something, but is anything those in power want it to be.
 
The Court's decision implies that children no longer need to be bound together with their mother and father; despite sociological and psychological evidence to the contrary, society as a whole must now say that any combination of partners can do an equally effective job raising children.  Thus, the re-defining has more in common with un-defining:  What once was something, and now is anything the powerful want it to be, in reality has thus become nothing.  Marriage and family have effectively been de-constructed.

"Equality," reduced to mere "sameness," requires the elimination of anything that suggests difference.  "Love," reduced to mere sexual attractions and desires, demands the social acceptance of any and all sexual behavior, even as it denies the possibility of chaste friendships rooted in mutual affection.  A politically correct version of "inclusion" ultimately requires intolerance toward anyone who appears to be "exclusive."

Thus the Obergefell decision looks eerily analogous to previous Supreme Court decisions which attempted to re-define reality--e.g., "human beings" in a way that excluded African Americans (Dred Scott), or  "choice" in a way that included a right to kill the unborn (Roe v. Wade).  The least and the powerless suffer at the hands of the prevailing whims of those in power.  Presumably, this decision also lays a legal foundation for preventing future "discrimination" against polyamorous or incestuous relationships.  After all, how can the state deny equal treatment to those who demand it?

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the deconstructive force of the "will to power" can provide the peace and joy and hope which eluded Nietzsche himself. 
 
II.
 
 
(Jerusalem, 33 AD)  Christ conquers!  The reality of the Resurrection confirms the presence of God in the person of Jesus and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.  Death itself is swallowed up by Life. 
 
God has spoken the definitive answer to the emptiness, the hopelessness and the meaninglessness which threaten even those who live according to the "will to power."  The fullness of life is now available to any person who wants to live in right relationship with God and others.  Jesus' "not my will, but yours be done" has definitively trumped Satan's non serviam--"I will not serve".  Human beings need no longer be slaves to the fallen tendency to stamp their feet and shout "my will be done."
 
The grace of the Risen Lord, who is present and active through his body on earth, empowers people to give even the least what they deserve.  Survival is not allowed only for the "fittest," and power is no longer used as a weapon against the weak.  The needs of children are more important than the emotional demands of adults.
 
Love itself has been liberated from incessant self-seeking--self-gift and self-sacrifice for the sake of others is the "new normal".
 
III.
 
(My Hometown, USA)  Which city will you embrace in your home and in your family:  The City of God or the City of the "Superman" (Nietzsche's "Ubermensch")?  The city where the little ones and the least are put first, or the city where the desires of the powerful (re)define reality itself?
 
The Kingdom of God is at hand, indeed. 



Monday, June 22, 2015

A Man for This Season

St. Thomas More
As prayer, penance and study continue during this year's Fortnight for Freedom, St. Thomas More again looms large.

Check out this three-minute scene from the 1966 Academy Award winning film, A Man for All Seasons: Having been convicted of treason and sentenced to death--despite an absence of evidence--Sir Thomas More is allowed one final statement before the court.  Such moments of Christian witness speak to truths which precede and supersede the authority of any civil state.

Finally, here is an additional pearl from Robert Bolt's original play, A Man for All Seasons:
 
 
 
 
 

 “If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable,
common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly.
And we'd live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.
But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity
commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought,
and we have to choose, to be human at all...
why then perhaps we must stand fast a little
--even at the risk of being heroes.” 
 


Monday, June 15, 2015

Reframing Fathers and Fortnights



As a society, we celebrate what we value, and we protect what we celebrate.

This week commences with both our national observance of Father's Day and with the kick off of the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom, whose theme is "Freedom to Bear Witness."  Whether or not we will continue to protect and celebrate these social values remains to be seen, of course.  But the coinciding of our traditional celebration of fathers and our recently rediscovered appreciation of religious freedom invites us to consider how we might look at each with fresh eyes.

Why Fathers Matter

If there were times in human history when the role of fathers was overplayed, it is safe to say that we are in an epoch where the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  Brought on in large part by the failures of fathers themselves, of course, there are some people who would probably like to dispense with this annual theme day.  Given all of the pain and suffering caused by bad fathers, some might even claim that a fatherless world would be more civilized.

Of course, sociological evidence points to the contrary: Despite the often heroic efforts of mothers and grandmothers, when fathers abandon their families, the children suffer.  They are more vulnerable to predators of all sorts; they are more susceptible to "high risk" behaviors.

So, what positive differences can and should fathers make?  Fathers should stand ready to protect the physical and emotional well-being of their children.  They should provide appropriate opportunities for "going forth" into the world, while always offering a safe-haven and refuge for the children when they return.

They should stand ready to help their children learn both their true identity and their ultimate destiny. Fathers should help their children resist the temptations of the day--be it a view of freedom uprooted from reality, a pagan perspective on the human body, or the "idolatry of money" identified by Pope Francis.

Unlike dead-beat dads who generate new life only to abandon it, real fathers should love their children with a healthy indifference--that is, with an openness to the mystery of who the child will become, without a need to control or manipulate him or her.
Why Religious Freedom Matters

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Only Sadness in Life

Kevin Hansen (1982-2015)
Stalin's cynical adage may be accurate--"the death of one is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic"--, but sometimes the death of one can seem even more tragic than usual.

Perhaps it's a shocking traffic accident.  Perhaps it's a devastating heart attack or stroke.  But when a seemingly healthy 33 year-old man leaves work at the end of the week and is dead in seven days, it is hard for family and friends not to be shocked.  When the 33 year-old is a theology teacher at a Catholic high school, the shock waves reverberate to wide circles of former and current students, as well as to grateful parents and families. 

However, when the 33 year-old himself has spent his relatively short life giving to others with passion and purpose, and when his family responds with the witness of a Catholic faith deeply lived, the seeming tragedy begins to look more like the Paschal Mystery played out once again.  Indeed, when Jesus Christ is the Person who motivates both the gift of self and the courage of the grieving family, the dying seems to somehow already imply a rising.  The loss seems somehow laced with a promise. 

In a funeral filled with memorable moments which still inspire conversation months later, the family of Kevin Hansen and his school community were able to point to some of his favorite sayings and quotes.  Mr. Hansen, as he was respectfully and affectionately called, sprinkled the walls of his classroom with the slogans he wanted his students to embody.  They ring out like mission statements for life:  "Doing the right thing is still right, even if no one else is doing it"; "doing the wrong thing is still wrong, even if everyone else is doing it."

Perhaps most inspiring of the featured quotes was a line from a French novelist and poet, Leon Bloy:  "There is only one real sadness in the end, not to have been a saint."

Mr. Hansen certainly knew that no one is perfect, but he reminded his students that everyone is perfectible.  He pointed students and colleagues toward life's immediate and ultimate goal: Being holy, that is, perfectly who God created us to be.  Faith in a God of infinite Love should not dissolve into banalities, but should open us to the Lord's transforming grace, so that we become today who God wants us to be for eternity. 

A living faith in the living God should look differently from a lifeless faith in the empty idols of our age.  A saint lives differently here and now, as well as forever.  A saint sidesteps the sadness of life by helping others find joy even amid great sadness.  A saint inspires us not to hope too small.

Sometimes the "death of one" reminds us that we should all go into the ground like a grain of wheat, which is destined to bear much fruit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Yes" to Persons, "No" to Ideologies--Part II



Don't we all want to say a more sincere "Yes" to every person we meet?  The desire to welcome, to respect and to value is rooted deep within the human heart.  Part I of this reflection on the question of redefining marriage attempted to speak to this urgent issue--particularly to the Christian message that every person's deepest identity comes, first and foremost, from being a beloved son or daughter of our heavenly Father. 

Some people feel that questioning the movement to redefine marriage is disrespectful toward those homosexual couples who are in committed relationships raising children.  If you feel this way, please consider the deeper "Yes" articulated in the following column, "Dear Justice Kennedy: A Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent."  For those who dare to forge ahead on this topic, however, the comments below argue that our acceptance of persons must proceed hand-in-hand with our resistance to ideologies.

"No" to Sex and Gender Ideologies

Even as we meet individual people where they are, Christians need to see today's prevailing "gender theory" for what it is--namely, an ideology which must be resisted.

If it were a theory, the prevailing views on sex and gender would be open to exploration, rational discussion, and assessment in light of all available data.  We would be able to admit that contraception has failed on a social level--that is, failed to deliver what it once promised (fewer children born out of wedlock, fewer abortions, lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, stronger marriages, etc.).  We would be able to have honest discussions about whether or not children need a mother and a father.

However, given the way that "gender theory" continues to manifest itself, Christians must engage in a clarification of thought about these emotionally-charged topics.  After all, an ideology seeks to impose its will on others.  It takes partial insights and makes them absolute.  It seeks to silence any objections, and it smothers all inconvenient facts.

So, if today's so-called "gender theory" wants to show that it is not an ideology, it will have to reconsider its answers to questions such as the following: