Schools of Unconditional Love

My wife, Kristina, and I were blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families conference back in 2015. The wonderful Professor Helen Alvaré gave one of the keynote talks during that week that really struck me.

Professor Alvaré was talking about how the love we give and receive within the family grows and overflows into the wider world. Specifically, she spoke on how a parent’s unconditional love for their child “organically and divinely” grows into the unconditional love of strangers. She said:

Eventually, if you have asked God day in and day out to work His will with you, you begin to see every child as if they could be your child…You won’t be able to look at the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the fatherless, without remembering how they are someone’s child or sibling or mother and then converting that co-suffering converting your maternal and paternal selves into action.

This comment resonated with me at the time and still resonates with me now.

Just a few weeks before this conference started, there was a picture of a little boy that was circulating online. The boy was three years old in this picture, just a little older than Simon, my eldest son. In the picture he was lying down with his knees tucked under him, his arms off to his sides, and his head full of light brown hair turned sideways. It looked just like Simon when he slept.

Except this little boy wasn’t sleeping in this picture, he was lying on a Mediterranean beach after drowning in the Aegean Sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and his family were refugees fleeing Syria.

I remember staring at this picture when it came across my newsfeed and it totally captivated me. This little boy reminded me so much of Simon. I realized at that moment that this little boy, Aylan, was loved by somebody as much as I love my own son. Aylan smiled and laughed and cried and played like my own son. Aylan drowned in the Aegean Sea along with his brother and mother because his dad wasn’t able to hold onto them. I just sat in front of my computer and cried.

 

2bf2811200000578-3223447-image-m-29_1441465290247
Aylan Kurdi – Daily Mail, “Daddy, please don’t die”
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223447/Daddy-don-t-die-Drowned-Aylan-Kurdi-s-tragic-words.html

We’re supposed to see Christ in others, because all of us bear the image of God. We are especially supposed to see Christ in the poor and the hungry and the homeless and the refugee because He said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.”

But that’s really hard to do.

I mean, Saint Mother Teresa saw Jesus in the poor, but she’s a saint! The best I can muster up when I see a beggar is pity…not the love and respect due to our Lord. Yet God is so wise. He knows that it’s hard for us to see His image in the stranger, so He gave us our families to be training grounds for unconditional love. He lets us first see every child as if they could be our child so that we may eventually learn to love the outcast like we love our own children. He gave us our family as a school of love.

As a Christian, I must resist looking at the poor, the homeless, and the refugee as “people,” as an abstract group or “issue.” I must see every human person for the unique and valuable individual that he or she is. I must see the poor as I would see my own family. I must love the homeless as I would my own family. I must treat the refugee as if they were my own family.

As Professor Alvaré put it, “We start with family and end with strangers in need whose only link is our common humanity.” Go love your family, and let that love overflow into the whole world.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Voting with the Heart and Mind of the Church – Part 1: A Catholic’s Role in Politics

Paul Fahey – July 18, 2016

This is the first article in a three-part series I’ve written about voting with the heart and mind of the Catholic Church (Here is  Part 2 and Part 3).

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:14-16.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s a presidential election year. Are you looking forward to November? Are you tired of all the political conversations or does discussing politics get you excited? Are you feeling hopeless, frustrated, or angry at how this election is going? Do you look at the candidates before us and want to move to Canada, eh?

Today begins the Republican National Convention where they will, barring a miracle, nominate Donald Trump to be the Republican candidate for president. Likewise the Democratic National Convention will be following shortly thereafter and we will see Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. In light of that, I wanted to take some time to write a few posts about how we as Catholics are called and empowered to act. Specifically, I want to explain some of the foundational principles that guide a Catholic understanding of politics and then use those principles to lay out the options that we as faithful Catholics will have come November.

Before I dive in, though, I want to touch on two things. First, we all have deeply held political, economic, and moral priorities. So before you start reading this, I want to assure that my goal is to present to you what the Catholic Church teaches and not simply my own thoughts and opinions. My primary source is the wonderful USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops) document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” If you’re interested in politics, frustrated with this election, or totally confused about what to do come November, then this document is for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

forming-consciences

Second, I urge you to approach what the Church teaches with an open mind and heart. We are called to be docile in the face of the teaching of Christ and His Church. We are called to make Christ’s priorities greater than our own. It’s good to feel challenged by the Church’s teaching because the Church is a mother who instructs us and always urges us to more fully mature into images of Jesus Christ.

So what is a Catholic’s role in politics? Our bishops say, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation…The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.” Let’s unpack that.

Jesus calls all of His followers to be light for a darkened world. Because of the grace given to us through the Sacraments and in having a personal relationship with Christ, Catholics are specially equipped to be bearers of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in all areas of our culture, which includes politics. Also, because of the centuries of rich teaching from the Catholic Church regarding human nature, ethics, and social justice, Catholic are uniquely qualified voices of reason in the political arena. Therefore Catholics have a “moral obligation” to participate, at least at a minimal level, in the political system that they find themselves in. So here in the US, where we have a representative government, voting is that minimal participation.

However, just showing up and voting isn’t good enough. If we don’t act any differently from anyone else, then how are we lights in the darkness? We do a service to our country when we vote, but only when we vote as Catholics. The US Bishops say:

“Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable…As citizens, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”

So how do we do this? How do we vote as Catholics and not like everyone else? How can we participate in politics so that our political party and our society are transformed for the better rather than us being transformed for the worse? That is what I will discuss in Part Two.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Capital Punishment – Blinded by Vengeance

Last week, I read a chilling article from The Atlantic titled The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett. The author, Jeffrey Stern, in one of the best written I’ve ever read (on any topic), shares just how corrupt and unethical capital punishment is in this country. Corruption and ineptitude that led to prisoners being administered inadequate and untested cocktails of drugs by unqualified personnel, culminating in the torturous executions of multiple inmates.

Porch 1

In a post-holocaust world, Conservative politicians want to execute people in gas chambers.

The Supreme Court is currently ruling on a case involving the botched executions of three inmates in Oklahoma, including Clayton Lockett. Undeterred from their blood lust, Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a law in April allowing for execution by gas chamber just in case the Supreme Court rules that lethal injections are unconstitutional. That’s right, in a post-holocaust world, Conservative politicians want to execute people in gas chambers. It should cause us serious alarm when the champions of capital punishment tend to be “pro-life” Christian Conservatives with 76% of Republicans favoring the death penalty for convicted murderers.

There is no adequate justification or defense of the death penalty in the United States today – especially if one is calling themselves a Christian. The reasons are numerous, not only in variety but in kind – ethical, theological, and economic arguments for the abolition of capital punishment are legion.

Pragmatically, it’s a fact that death row inmates cost states more than those serving life sentences, in some cases three times as much. Additionally, there’s no evidence that the death penalty actually deters crime. Furthermore, we are killing hundreds of innocent people because 4% of those on death row are likely innocent, this fact alone should be enough for to stop us from implementing the irrevocable punishment. And if these facts are convincing enough then we must consider that 3-7% of executions are botched with inmates screaming in agony as their given unreliable drugs prescribed, not by a doctor, but by the prison’s warden or attorney.

The sheer evil and stupidity of capital punishment is even more evident for Catholics living in the United States. Quoting Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Catechism states that while the teaching of the Church does not outright prohibit the death penalty, but only if there are no other means to protect innocent people from violent criminals. The Catechism continues:

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means…Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (CCC 2267).

In other words, the only way that a Catholic in the US can licitly support capital punishment, no matter how heinous the crime, is if it can be proved that there are no other means to protect society from the convicted criminal. Otherwise one would be contradicting the Catechism, St. John Paul II, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The death penalty, like abortion, is an issue where Catholics, along with other reasonable people, are blinded by self-interest.

The death penalty, like abortion, is an issue  where Catholics, along with other reasonable  people, are blinded by self-interest. In the case of  abortion we can’t see past the inconvenience of  having a baby and the restriction that pregnancy  puts on our sexual preferences and practices.  Likewise, we are blinded to the evil of capital  punishment by our desire for vengeance and the  “need” to see bad men suffer. Like the prophet  Jonah who lamented over God sparing the city of  Nineveh, we have such a desire to see the wicked  suffer that we make viewing areas for executions.

So, when confronted with a convicted murderer and terrorist like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, do we fall blindly into lockstep with the jury and all who wish to see Nineveh burn for it’s crimes? Or do we look on this man with the eyes of Christ?

Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”(Matthew 25:34-36)

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We are commanded to look at the incarcerated and see the face of Christ.

Our Lord explicitly identifies himself with the terrorist, thief, murderer, rapist – thus we are commanded to look at the incarcerated and see the face of Christ. How does a Christian respond to the evil of the Boston Marathon bombings? I think the Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, said it well in a recent Facebook post:

You don’t have to feel much pity for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean that his life is not sacred. And the more I live as a Christian, the more I am convinced of this truth: every human life is utterly sacred.

Tonight let us pray for the victims of the Boston bombings, both living and dead; for those who mourn the dead and comfort those who were so terribly injured; and also, difficult as it may be, but as Jesus commands us when he asks us explicitly to pray for our enemies, for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

Linked sources and further reading:

  • The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett
    – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/execution-clayton-lockett/392069/
  • Lethal injection case exposes U.S. top court’s death penalty divide
    – http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/29/us-usa-court-deathpenalty-idUSKBN0NK1EP20150429
  • The Trouble with Oklahoma’s New Execution Technique
    – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/oklahoma-death-penalty-gas-chamber-117156.html#.VVzh2vlVhHx
  • Americans’ Support for Death Penalty Stable
    – http://www.gallup.com/poll/178790/americans-support-death-penalty-stable.aspx
  • The slow death of the death penalty
    – http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21601270-america-falling-out-love-needle-slow-death-death-penalty
  • 1 In 25 Death Sentence Prisoners Is Likely Innocent, Study Finds
    – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/28/death-sentence-prisoners-_n_5229094.html
  • 7 Things You Should Know About The Death Penalty, Even If You Support It
    – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/15/death-penalty-boston-bomber_n_7294748.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000013
  • Evangelium vitae
    – http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
    – http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm
  • Having the wrong debate about the boston marathon bomber
    – http://www.catholicvote.org/having-the-wrong-debate-about-the-boston-marathon-bomber/
  • Death penalty / Capital punishment
    – http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment/
  • Fr. James Martin’s Facebook Page
    – https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin
  • Killing Capital Punishment
    – https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/death-penalty-public-support-firing-squad/
  • Dzokhar Tsarnaev Gets the Death Penalty
    – http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/dzokhar-tsarnaev-death-penalty/393446/?utm_source=SFFB
  • There’s still no evidence that executions deter criminals
    – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/04/30/theres-still-no-evidence-that-executions-deter-criminals/

 

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and the Director of Religious Education in small town USA. He’s studied just enough Theology to get him into trouble. Click here to see his other posts for The Porch.

Tolerance and Virtue

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Friday,  March 20, 2015

When Socrates spoke on the two principles of knowledge and ignorance, there is the notion that sound ethical behavior arises from knowledge and evil by the latter. Morality becomes centered on the progression towards knowledge.For Aristotle, this was the point of pure contemplation upon one’s existence. In order to produce a ethical modern society, we are encouraged to go out and learn about the cultures that compose our communities. This coincides with Augustine’s statement, which is also used by Aquinas, that “one cannot love what they do not know”. Yet, when confronted with ideas that one does not like, we are told to practice tolerance as a form of social virtue. The problem is the emphasis on tolerance does not work with the pursuit of knowledgable love. Rather, it does that opposite by acting as a censure in which we force ourselves to be ignorant of another.

Tolerance is defined primarily as accepting the existence of traits and practices that one does not approve of. But what is happening in order to allow communication between two individuals tolerating the other? In the theoretical scenario of an African-American citizen conversing with a racially biased individual, is it just these two simply accepting, as a present reality, the conflicting differences between the two? I say no, as, especially in situations of race and prejudice, the conscious awareness of these traits cannot be simply accepted. If communication is possible, it is only because these negative characteristics are pushed into the background. We know they are there, but we choose to not let them immediately dictate the current situation. As such, one is never fully addressing another as they are in their totality.

This is important in terms of the inability for tolerance to fully resolve the problems of social communication. This can be seen explicitly in the growing circular arguments of “You are not tolerant” followed by “You are not tolerant of my intolerance”. What is happening here is not a rhetorical means of evading tolerance, but a showing of tolerances own limitation. Tolerance, as a permanent means of creating peace, becomes obstructed by its own intolerance towards the intolerant. Within any social relationship, there is this initial moment of tolerance in which one differs their attention away from traits they do not like. But, in the growth of knowledge and communication with that individual, there arises this point in which tolerance of these characteristics is no longer possible. There is this process by which those who promote tolerance must become intolerant of another’s refusal to be tolerant. In dialogues concerning sexuality for instance, there is this necessary moment in which the conservative and liberal can no longer tolerate the other.

What should not be concluded from this is intolerance being the more lasting method of communication. It does not follow that the limitations of tolerance should lead to an opposite unlimited intolerance. Intolerance is just as limited as it focuses on changing perspectives of individual characteristics. What truly elevates relationships within society is the application of the virtue. With specific differences in mind, the general definition of the virtues are that they are dispositions/attitudes towards life that allow for one to be a good person. To understand its relationship to tolerance and intolerance, virtue acts as a mediator between when to reasonably be tolerant or intolerant. The mediating principle of virtue is important as it clarifies my view of tolerance: it is inherently pragmatic. It is important, but its importance should be understood within the confines of pragmatism. Virtues provide a means of elevating relationships outside of a tolerance/intolerance dynamic. In lifting one up towards goodness, there is an ethical condition that goes beyond needing to tolerate.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog https://musingconvert.wordpress.com/

Modern Indulgences

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  February 28, 2015

When reading about Reformation Europe, there is also that recourse to the practice of paid indulgences within the Church. The main point of this recourse is to discuss the issue with the notion of buying one’s way into heaven. While, as many apologists no doubt have said, the notion of buying one’s way into heaven is a overly reductionist explanation. Indulgences exist prior to the economical method of the Reformation era. But there is a fundamental question related to economically buying one’s way into a good ethical standing. The importance of such a question is evident when one looks at the socio-economical ethics that seems common in our business models today.

The practice of paid indulgences arose in the 15th-16th as the result of changing European society. Leonard Hoff’s insightful text The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa describes this change as the severing of the old medieval communitas <more specifically, the liturgical common space>. One contributor to this was the growing economic conditions within Christendom that lead to the development of a distinct merchant class. Within the Divine Economy <the many ways by which God draws his people to salvation>, the paid indulgences became a common occurrence to suit those within this merchant class. Indulgence practices would very over what was viewed to be the most appropriate method to the individual. Usually, what this would lead to would be fiscal payment by the rich, and physical labor (e.g. pilgrimages) for the poor.

"A Question to a Mintmaker" by Jeorg Breu Elder

“A Question to a Mintmaker” by Jeorg Breu Elder

From my experience, the furor over this between the Reformation era Catholics and modern day commentators differ. Nobility generally complained about what the money was being used for <with harsh critiques of the Papal States for using them to help with its prestige>. Among the peasants, the class distinction between them and the rich <merchants, priests, nobility> inspired more hostility as presented in texts such as Peasant’s Fire: The Drummer of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli. Even within Luther’s Catholic early writings, the hostility was more drawn towards malpractice that always followed the paid method, not the indulgences themselves. The modern critique, on a more normative level, revolves around the notion of buying one’s way to heaven. While certainly influenced by the faith v works dichotomy of the Reformation, the view, at least among the secular, can be said to revolve around buying one’s ethical status. The question is, with current trends, have the moderns lost the validity of this critique?

Within the current economical mindset, consumption is rewarded by buying into charity with every purchase. For instance, when buying fast food, one is commonly asked to contribute money to St. Jude’s Hospital. Starbucks promotes assisting the countries they export from; Chick-fil-A found itself benefiting financially from the American culture war. The ethical and economic spheres are grounded together within our culture. While certainly one will say, “Well of course ethics and the economy are grounded together. An ethical economy is a healthy economy.” True. The point I wish to present is the relationship between one’s ethical status and the medium by which it is accomplished. To refer back to the Chick-fil-A example, the conservative Christian perceives his consumption as a means of holding back the domineering Liberal threat. The act of consumption has become the medium by which the Right is supporting its views of traditional marriage. What is derived from this is an ethical status derived from consumption not sacrifice. The money paid for fast food is not sacrificial, it is consumptive.

As a final note, there should be a brief reference to another critique which simply is the emphasis on heaven in indulgences. Perhaps, from a more atheistic perspective, paying for some fictional status in the afterlife is what makes indulgences unethical. Fair enough, but the notion of heaven is no purged from the atheistic model; it is rendered material or at least immanent. I do not believe the rise in volunteer work, ethical capitalist alternatives, and environmental care are the result of some self-masturbatory need to feel good. There is this sense of contributing to a better world. This is not a transcendent heaven, yes, but it is a better future than what it currently present. Regardless of the atheistic or the ethical critiques, upon looking at our society, we are throwing our money towards an ethics. We are indeed making a system of paying for the sins of our own system.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. Sooner or later he will work on his course material, but there are blog posts to write!