Love and Fear

Unless all your Facebook friends think exactly like you, your newsfeed is probably like mine right now–completely polarized on the issue of admitting Syrian refugees to the United States.

On one side are those who believe that terrorists will take advantage of the situation to sneak into the country to do us harm.  On the other are those who believe we have a moral responsibility to welcome the stranger.  Some of the first group are racists who think all Muslims are terrorists; most feel bad for the refugees but are sincerely concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones.  Some of the second group are motivated by Christian beliefs, others by their sense of what this country is supposed to stand for.

Both groups demonize the other.  Both groups are afraid–one of the consequences to our country if we admit the refugees, the other of the consequences if we don’t.

Both groups seem increasingly desperate in their attempts to convince each other that they are right, posting and reposting poorly-sourced and slanted news articles and judgmental memes.

I fell prey to this temptation myself the other day when I posted a meme involving the comparison of the refugees to the Holy Family seeking shelter in Bethlehem, and casting doubts on the true Christianity of those who would turn them away.

While 40 of my friends “liked” this post, many others, lacking a “dislike” option, shared their feelings in the comments.  In the end, I realized that posting something like this might make me feel good for a minute or two, but it doesn’t convince those who disagree with my position to change their minds.

Lesson learned, since then I’ve gone back to trying to be informative rather than judgmental and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what this crisis is doing to our country and to our relationships with each other.

If the goal of terrorism is to create fear, then we are all letting the terrorists win.  If half of us are so afraid of terror attacks that we are ready to ignore our responsibility as Christians, human beings, and yes, American patriots to welcome the stranger, the terrorists are winning.  If the other half of us are letting this disagreement divide our nation, if we are demonizing our friends, neighbors, and relatives instead of trying to alleviate their fears, the terrorists are winning.

Lorelei has a great picture book called The Monster Who Grew Small.

A retelling of an Egyptian folktale, it is the story of a boy who is afraid of everything.  On a quest to find courage, he comes upon a village of people so paralyzed by fear of a nearby monster that they are unable to function.  As the boy approaches the terrible creature, he finds that it grows smaller and smaller until he is able to pick it up in his hand and take it with him back to the village:

The people crowded round to see the Monster. It woke up, yawned a small puff of smoke, and began to purr. A little girl said to Miobi, “What is its name?”
“I don’t know,” said Miobi, “I never asked it.”
It was the Monster himself who answered her question. He stopped purring, looked round to make sure everyone was listening, and then said:
“I have many names. Some call me Famine, and some Pestilence, but the most pitiable of humans give me their own names.” It yawned again, and then added, “But most people call me What-Might-Happen.”

Are we going to let the fear of What-Might-Happen destroy our country from within?  Even if you take issue with calling America a Christian nation, there’s no denying that the majority of Americans say that they are Christians.  Aren’t Christians supposed to believe that God is in control?

So I’ll leave you with these words from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. . . If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What might happen if we embraced love–both of our fellow Americans who disagree with us and of refugees–instead of fear?

Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.- Marianne Williamson.png

What's a Catholic Voter to Do Part Two

This is Part 2 of a story which begins here.  It chronicles the unforeseen results of my having had the temerity to publish a column on voting in the local Catholic press just before the 2004 elections.
I felt good about what I had written.   I thought I had expressed myself well.  I sat back and naively expected peace and goodwill to ensue.
That isn’t what happened.
I was working in my kitchen one morning when the phone rang.  This was way before iPhones so the identity of the caller came as a complete shock.  It was the Chancellor of my Diocese calling to tell me that the Bishop!! wanted me to know that he could not support everything I had written.
I am not going to try to recount that whole conversation.  It was eight long years ago after all.  But some parts I remember quite clearly.  As I stood in my pantry staring at the shelves, the Chancellor told me that Pope John Paul’s condemnation of the Iraq war was merely his “prudential judgment.”  He said that the Pope had not declared it an infallible, ex cathedra teaching.   I think he might have been a bit surprised that I was able to fire back the names of the TWO (yes, only two) such pronouncements on which all theologians agree.

U.S. President George W. Bush greets Pope John Paul II during their meeting at the Vatican June 4, 2004. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2004/20040606/wd1.jpg

What I remember very clearly is the impression I was left with–that I had just been ARGUED with by a Church official about whether there might be a “Catholic” way to vote in the coming election.  And I remember wondering, if it all comes down to prudential judgment, shouldn’t I, as a Catholic, give more weight to the judgment of the Holy Father than to that of any elected secular official?
Before it got better, it got a lot worse.  Shortly thereafter I got another call.  This time it was the Bishop himself on the other end of the line!  I got the sense that he knew the first call hadn’t gone well and that he felt bad about it.  His call had more of a pastoral tone. I  honestly cannot remember WHAT he said, but I could tell he wanted me to feel better about the whole thing.  I recall that he stated that he would be publishing something himself later to clarify the issues involved.
In those days my husband was an active Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and I saw the Bishop frequently at KOC events.  He had always been friendly and kind and complimentary about my column in the past.  So I felt bad.  Very bad.
See, I consider myself to be orthodox, more so than most people I know.  I take the teachings of the Church very seriously.  I am not a “cafeteria Catholic.”  And before I wrote that column I made sure to read the relevant parts of the Catechism and the Gospel of Life and the document the Bishops put out every election year.  I had my husband read it over too.  I wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure that it reflected Church teaching.
To have someone in the hierarchy suggest differently was DEEPLY painful. (I am sorry for all the capital letters.  It’s how I am feeling as I write this.)  It’s still painful.  I don’t feel completely comfortable publishing this, and probably would not if either of the people involved were still in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Was I wrong?  And if I was wrong, was I going to have to believe that the Church could back certain voting choices?  If so, would I have to follow those directions to remain a faithful Catholic?  Or was I going to have to become a dissenter in order to follow my own conscience?
I didn’t like any of those options.  I was in spiritual agony.  I was also about eight months pregnant.  Not a good combination.
I went back and reread what I had written.  I read the documents again.  I still couldn’t find anything wrong with what I had said.  Nor could other people I trusted.  Could this mean that it was the “prudential judgments” of the Bishop and the Chancellor that were  in error?  That was a scary thought.
In the end, though, that’s what I’ve come to believe.  I stand today by what I wrote eight years ago.
But there’s more to the story.  Stay tuned.

What's a Catholic Voter to Do?

This is an edited version of a column I wrote in the fall of 2004.  At the time I was extremely disturbed by the vitriol surrounding the Presidential campaign, particularly that directed by Catholics toward other Catholics, presuming to assert that there was only one way for a good Catholic to vote.  I did not remember people being so hateful about politics in the past.  (Of course, things are much worse today, with Catholics routinely being assured by their brethren that they are headed straight to hell if they vote for a  pro-choice candidate.)  So I wrote this in the hopes of calming folks down a little bit, at least folks who read the East Tennessee Catholic.  

The first time I was eligible to vote for President, when I was 21, I was away at college and did not get my absentee ballot in time.  My parents and grandparents were all Democrats, and therefore so was I:  no decision-making would have been necessary.
I was similarly complacent the first time I was able to cast a vote, although in the opposite direction, for George H.W. Bush.  He was against abortion, the most horrible evil in the world.  How could other issues matter?
Four years later other issues seemed more important than I had thought.  In the most recent elections choosing a candidate has become agony.  I am unwilling to equate “pro-life” with anti-abortion, so I see no “pro-life” candidate.  Anyone who wages pre-emptive wars that kill up to 20,000 innocent civilians is not pro-life.  John Kerry’s assertion that life begins at conception while he blithely votes to give women unlimited power to end it doesn’t sit well with me either.  What’s a Catholic voter to do?
Thoughtful Catholics will come down on both sides, and if they have informed and followed their consciences, they are not sinning.  But no candidate is in line with all of the Church’s moral teachings.
Although the Church gives us guidance in this matter, it does not endorse candidates.  Many of you read Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s statement that when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s pro-choice stance but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered “remote material cooperation” [in evil] which is “permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”  The cardinal [later Pope Benedict] does not define the proportionate reasons, leaving us to define them ourselves.
The U.S  bishops published Faithful Citizenship:  A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, which states:  “The 2004 elections . . . pose significant challenges for our Church . . . the Church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any candidate.  Our cause in the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity . . . As Catholics [we are called] to recommit ourselves to carry the values of the Gospel and Church teaching into the public square . . . Faithful citizenship calls us to seek ‘a place at the table’ of life for all God’s children in the elections of 2004 and beyond . . . A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.
Finally, our Holy Father [Saint Pope John Paul the Great] quoted the following statement of the Second Vatican Council in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), a must-read for anyone who dares consider himself an authority on life issues:  “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.”
The Pope adds: “The underlying causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labour, urban, residential and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for the family, so that it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly.”
With the help of these experts, I have the following reflections to offer.  One way to choose your candidate is to decide which issues are crucial to you and vote for the candidate who shares your perspective.  If you judge abortion the ultimate issue, you could vote for the candidate who opposes it. Or you might vote based upon the amount of change you expect the candidate to be able to effect in various areas of importance.  For example, if you voted for President Bush because he was pro-life the last time around, look at his record:  how many lives has he saved?  How much power does the President have to effect change in this area?  Some voted for Bush in 2000 so he could choose Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.  But he has yet to appoint a single justice.  And who can guarantee his choices would vote against abortion?  Look at the records of Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, both appointed by conservatives.
What can a President affect in the way of life issues?  He can start a war, a war our Holy Father opposed.  And what about other life issues the pope enumerates in The Gospel of Life?  Some “conservative” social policies may lead to more abortions, when women choose abortion because of a lack of money, homes, or childcare.  There are many voter guides available online to further help you in the discernment process.
Because the Church doesn’t tell us for whom to vote, we must inform our consciences before making this important choice.
Have you fully informed yourself on the Church’s position on all life issues by reading The Gospel of Life?  Have you prayerfully considered the the teachings of our bishops?  Have you acquainted yourselves with the positions and records of both candidates?  If so, your conscience has been properly formed, and you have nothing with which to reproach yourself.  And if in charity you assume that your fellow Catholics who may have chosen a different candidate have done the same, you have nothing with which to reproach them either.
My column did not have the effect I had hoped or expected.  More on that in my next post.
Part II
Part III

Pro-life, or Anti-Abortion?

This is a reprint of the very first column I had published in the East Tennessee Catholic.  Although it appeared in late 2001, I had actually written it over two years before, as one of three sample columns which were rejected by the then-editor. 
What does it mean to have a “consistent life ethic?” You may remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to decide who should have the robe he was wearing.  They couldn’t split it among them because it had no seams.  Some have referred to the concept of a consistent life ethic as the “Seamless Garment.”  Life is a continuum, and we cannot pick and choose whose lives we are going to care about and protect.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God”(2319).
If we are to be consistent–constant, dependable, invariable, steady, unfailing–in what we believe and do regarding life issues, we must protect and care for all life, not just the lives of the innocent unborn.  Many people have bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming, “We vote pro-life!”  Well, I would love to vote pro-life but I can’t find a pro-life candidate.
Under the topic of “You shall not kill” in the catechism, we read the obvious: abortion, homicide, suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited.  But we also read that those who contribute to famines are liable for the deaths of the starving, that destroying whole cities in wartime is a crime, and that “the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race” (2329). The death penalty is limited to cases in which it would be necessary to protect other victims from the aggressor–something solitary confinement in a maximum security prison can certainly do.

Photo credit: wht_wolf96653 via Flickr

It is relatively easy to be pro-life when it comes to the slaughtering of an innocent in the womb. It’s harder to care about a serial killer. It’s pretty easy to know it’s wrong to throw a newborn in a dumpster. It’s harder to say that no one, no matter how sick he is or how much he is suffering, has a right to take his own life. It’s easy to decide to support laws which ban abortions. It’s harder to support laws requiring that tax dollars be spent to keep poor children off the street, to provide aid to mothers on welfare, to create programs for job training for unskilled workers.
Being consistent isn’t easy. All human beings are a mass of inconsistencies. Being a truly pro-life Catholic isn’t easy either, but Jesus never claimed that His was an easy road to follow.
“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to buy a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough to love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”   –Wilbur Reese
God, the Giver of life, the Creator of life, calls us to believe in life 100%. If we’re only willing to give $3.00, then we aren’t pro-life. We’re just anti-abortion.