23 April 2009

God willing, this won't be the last letter like this

The Bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, wrote a pastoral letter last month encouraging the people of his Diocese to "rediscover" the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year. Speaking as one who prayerfully came to the same conclusion last year, I can only hope that more bishops will speak out on this matter. I won't post the full text of the letter here, but here are a few snippets so you get the gist of what Bishop Conlon is saying (emphasis mine):


We cannot become literally other Christs. We can be transformed by his life and be instruments of his life for others. Just as he accomplished salvation through his supreme sacrifice on the cross, we can fulfill our Christian mission through sacrifice. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, fast and care for the poor as types of sacrifice.

Maybe we separate these three activities into distinct functions. Jesus drew them together in feeding the multitude. He took the meager food of the apostles, prayed over it and distributed it to the poor. On Calvary, after a day with no food or drink, he gave his life for us sinners, all the while praying to his Father.

We can do the same in a very simple way. I am inviting the Catholic people of the Diocese of Steubenville to resume the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, but with a twist. I am asking that this be not only a penitential practice but also an experience of prayer and service. This can happen by connecting abstinence with our witness to the sacredness of human life.


Abstinence is a form of fasting—a discipline of the body. It can remind us of the beautiful gift of life that God has given to us personally. It can also remind us and each other of how sacred everyone else’s life is. As a public witness, it can be a service to those whose life and human dignity are at risk.

Next to Sunday, Friday has always been a special day in the Catholic Church for prayer. Offering prayer for life--praising God as the source of life and begging him to turn away threats to life--is a fitting addition to abstinence. This prayer can be in the parish setting, in the family or alone. Abstinence itself can be offered consciously as a prayer for life and in reparation for sins against life.


Until 1966, Catholics around the world were required to abstain from meat on all Fridays. That year, Pope Paul VI determined that the rules for fasting and abstinence should be set by the various episcopal conferences according to local circumstances. At the same time, he reminded us that doing penance was commanded by Christ himself and is an important part of our spiritual life.

The bishops of the United States eliminated mandatory abstinence from meat on Fridays except during Lent. However, they insisted that all Catholics should observe some penitential practice on Fridays, in remembrance of the Lord’s passion and death, and they highly recommended continuing abstinence from meat.

So, the present challenge to the people in our diocese is not really radical. It is a call to what many if not most of us have put aside. And it is a way for us, like the apostles, to give up a little food and help Jesus feed the world.

15 April 2009

On allegedly Catholic institutions

As if the hoopla surrounding Notre Dame's invitation to the President to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree wasn't enough (more on that in a minute), another Catholic institution has gone and bowed to the great presence of the almighty Messiah, Barack Obama. I clearly never expected Georgetown to not permit Obama to come and speak (it lost sense of its Catholic identity some time ago), but it would have been nice if they hadn't covered up the IHS Christogram in the room where Obama spoke. I really wonder whose idea this was -- did Georgetown not want to offend Obama, or could Obama not stand the sight of something that reminded him of the actual Messiah? Gun to my head, I guess I'd choose the former, but it would be a tough call.

Not that the Notre Dame debacle is anything new, but on a related note, I wanted to share a snippet of the letter that Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, sent to Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame:
Permit me to add my name as well to the long list of Bishops of the Catholic Church who are utterly appalled at your dedication to immorality and wrong-doing represented by your support for the obscenity called "The Vagina Monologues" and your absolute indifference to the murderous abortion program and beliefs of this President of the United States…I can assure you of my prayers for your conversion, and for the conversion of your formerly Catholic University.

Harsh words, yes, but sometimes they are necessary to change hearts. Bishop Bruskewitz is one of 33 American prelates who have written to Fr. Jenkins to express their concern over Obama's speech and honorary degree. American Papist has the full list, if you're interested.

08 April 2009

On people who need to keep their mouths shut

It's that time of year, when I start writing more blog posts instead of studying for exams. Oh, what fun.

Anyway, there's been a lot that has happened recently that is worth noting, but I'd like to focus on something that just happened today. In an interview with Attitude, a gay magazine in the UK, Blair basically criticized the Pope and the Church for being "anti-gay" (which is far from the truth, regardless of how much gay rights activists want to smear the Church -- they might want to consider doing their research before embarking on crusades like these). In relevant part, Blair's interview reads:
"Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you'd be surprised at how liberal-minded people were."


On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement. But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you’d find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes. If you asked "what makes you religious?" and "what does your faith mean to you?" they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering. I would be really surprised if they went to "actually, it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong" or "it’s to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way".

Right off the bat, Tony Blair might want to think about his own views on things before he criticizes anyone else's. I was cautiously optimistic when Blair was first received into the Church, but I knew that he would have to change a lot of his stances on things, especially his well-known, long-standing support for abortion rights and homosexuality. Now, I see that my caution was well-founded, as it seems that Blair has no intention of renouncing his views in these areas. I must ask, Tony, if you weren't willing to accept the teachings of the Church and were probably just as happy being Anglican (a church in which your views were accepted and lauded), why did you convert?

In the excerpt above, Blair uses a dangerous argument, and one that is more and more common these days. He argues that since your average Catholic parish is more "liberal-minded" than the Pope and other Church leaders, Catholic doctrine and dogma should be liberalized to match the views of the majority. Fortunately for him, truth is not and has never been decided by a majority vote. Otherwise, the Church would have caved long ago to forces seeking her destruction. People use this argument to say that the Church should change her attitudes on a whole host of issues, including abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. The Church's stance on each of these "hot-button" issues has been temperately formed over many, many years, and it's a shame that the culture of "me" has made people think that they know better.

What the Church actually teaches about homosexuality is a hefty topic that deserves its own post, but for the sake of openness, I'll post two relevant sections of the Catechism here:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

It would be one thing if Blair were calling for increased "respect, compassion, and sensitivity," echoing the words of the Catechism. I don't think any Catholic would argue that we should not reach out with respect and compassion to homosexuals. But this isn't what he's saying, and it's incredibly damaging.

My advice for Tony Blair: take this opportunity as an exercise in humility. The Church's views on life and marriage have been formed by hundreds and thousands of years of observing and living the human experience (plus, y'know, her God-given authority). Try giving that experience some thought and respect -- and consider why you think you have the authority and experience to argue for change. Spend an hour (or four) in front of the Blessed Sacrament and surrender yourself to God's will. You might not like what you hear, but it might just help your soul.