Court Says Priests Must Pay Income Tax on the Rectory

My priest makes a salary.

It qualifies him for food stamps, medicaid and government housing.

Thanks to a lawsuit brought by our friends at the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a legislating-from-the-bench judge, the courts are now going to have to decide if priests and other clergy should pay income taxes on the privilege of living in the Church rectory. Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling that would require clergy of every type and denomination to have their stay in church rectories taxed as income.

That means my priest would have to pay income taxes on the rectory.

Of course, since Father’s grandiose salary qualifies him for free government housing, we could always just move him in there. It’s not too cushy, but there is an exciting mix of truly needy people, drug dealers, ex-offenders and pimps. He’ll have to learn how to sleep through the nightly gunfire and the screams and shouts from daily assaults, but he did a tour in Viet Nam before he entered the priesthood, so he’s trained for it.

Maybe Father can stop wasting his time saying mass and funerals, hearing confessions and administering our parish and turn his attention to the mission field of his new neighborhood. That will leave the parish somewhat forsaken. But it’s all about Freedom From Religion anyway, so what’s the beef?

My parish will now be free from our religion.

Nifty.

If this ruling is upheld in higher courts, I am wondering if the next move will be to make members of religious orders pay income tax for the privilege of living in their convents and monasteries. How about those military chaplains who live in base housing? This ruling doesn’t just apply to Catholics. It takes in protestant ministers, rabbis, imams, Native American shamans, and probably witches, as well.

The last time I checked, deciding who gets tax exemptions is the business of legislative bodies. Not only did this judge, who has ruled previously that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, set off across the uncharted seas of lawmaking by judicial fiat, she is attempting to shift the taxing powers of the elected representatives of the people to the judiciary.

There is a reason that the framers of the Constitution placed taxing power and budget matters squarely in the hands of elected representatives. The reason is simple. The people can retire their elected representatives to private life at the next election.

But we’re stuck with judges. The trouble is that a lot of judges aren’t judges anymore. They seem to view themselves as appointed monarchs who can use their position to make anyone they don’t like, in the words of Henry VIII, “shorter by a head.” Or, as in this case, they can make them shorter by a rectory.

These judges have left the bench behind and taken on judicial dictatorship. They rule according to their personal prejudices in order to make law with a rap of the gavel. This has become so widespread that it is, in itself, something of a challenge to our democracy.

One of the problems is that judges stay on the bench too long. The purpose of giving judges a life-long sinecure was to create a judiciary that was free of political pressures. It was a balance of power. The elected representatives would appoint judges and the judges themselves would not have to stand for election, but would be able to rule without the pressure to heed passing public moods.

It worked quite well until the 20th Century when the Supreme Court woke up and realized, hey, we can do anything we want.

There has been a considerable (if you will pardon the phrase) trickle down from the Supreme Court to lower courts of this understanding that the judiciary is not required to follow the laws of anyone and can, in fact, make law according to its whim, prejudices and personal vendettas. If a judge gets a hate-on going for a particular part of the populace, like, say, religious people, then you’d better get back Loretta. Those nutty, individualistic and flat-out discriminatory rulings will start popping up like popcorn in the microwave.

We’re having trouble in this country with the second-rate people we’ve got at the top. Whether it’s elected officials (of both parties), the judiciary (appointees of both parties), or the people who are running our finance, media and corporate wings, they appear to be all about changing the face of this country into something that serves their greed, prejudices and various venalities.

How should we respond to these challenges?

Pope Francis is showing us the way. We should respond with love, faithfulness to the whole Gospel of Christ and by walking the Christian walk without being afraid of our critics or changing our message to suit them.

If Father has to move to government housing, we won’t despair. We’ll just say mass there and do what we should have been doing anyway, which is to work to convert the drug dealers and pimps to follow Him, along with us.

From Huff Post:

(RNS) A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that allows clergy to shield a portion of their salary from federal income taxes is unconstitutional.

The clergy housing exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

The suit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation on grounds that the housing allowance violates the separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The group’s founders have said that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing subsidy, other tax-exempt groups, such as FFRF, should get one, too.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb on Friday (Nov. 22) ruled in their favor, saying the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

The case, decided in the District Court for the Western District Of Wisconsin, will likely be appealed to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

The housing allowances of pastors in Wisconsin remain unaffected after Crabb stayed the ruling until all appeals are exhausted. Crabb also ruled in 2010 that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional; that ruling was overturned the following year.

Advent in 2 Minutes

Busted Halo created this cute video about Advent. I hope it cheers you a much as it did me.

YouTube Preview Image

A Big Birthday Card for Pope Francis

Here’s an idea worth emulating.

More than 10,000 young people have signed a birthday card for Pope Francis.

The Holy Father’s birthday is December 17.

After reading this, I decided to send the Pope a Happy Birthday greeting by means of Pontifex, which is his Twitter account. You can find Pontifex here. My suggestion: Go thou and do likewise.

From Catholic News Agency:

Steubenville, Ohio, Dec 6, 2013 / 02:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10,000 young people have signed a giant birthday card for Pope Francis, offering their prayers and well-wishes for the Holy Father’s 77th birthday on Dec. 17.

“We wanted to give the Pope a gift he would truly appreciate; something he would be proud of,” said Mark Nelson, founder of Catholic to the Max, the Ohio-based arts and gifts outlet company behind the initiative.

The 4-foot-tall card consists of a tri-fold plaque featuring an image and prayer of one of the Holy Father’s favorite Marian devotions, “Mary, Un-doer of Knots.” After collecting both physical and digital signatures, Catholic to the Max intends to send the card to the Pope later this month.

Nelson said that the idea to give the Holy Father gifts of prayer and service came from the Pope’s first “Urbi et orbi,” when he asked that the faithful pray for him before he imparted his blessing.

“From day one, he has asked all of us to pray for him and to serve the poor. This is our response,” Nelson said.

The card traveled to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis last month and acquired signatures from more than 10,000 young people.

Now that the card is back in Steubenville, Ohio, it has been gathering signatures at local Catholic parishes and Franciscan University.

 

My Take — Not Pope Francis’ — On a Christian Approach to Economics and Government

I’ve been the voice of a large number of people in government for 18 years.

During those years, I have voted many times on economic issues. I have a couple of beliefs about government that inform those votes — as well as the others I cast.

1. I am the voice of the people I represent. I must put their interests ahead of all others. At the same time, I feel that their interests are always best served by a just and stable government, because

2. A just and stable government is always the greater good. Look around the world and you will see the human suffering and death the comes from unjust and unstable governments. My constituents deserve a representative who works toward a just and stable government, because that one thing will predicate for better lives for them, all by itself.

3. Government should serve the people, not itself and not special interests. Most elected officials today are beamed into office on a beam of special interest money. These elected officials, represent the special interests who paid for their elections and put them in office. Even though this is legal, it is corrupt. It is also diametrically opposed to the premise I stated: Government is meant to serve the people, not special interests.

These are the parameters I use to decide how I vote. I have a master’s degree in business management, which means that while I am not deeply educated in economics, I do have a passing acquaintance with how economics works in real life. Despite that, I do not place any economic theory at the head of my list in how I vote on issues, including economic issues.

The reason for this is that I consider all economic theories to be tools that are useful so long as they work for the good of the people. They are not a holy grail and they should never be put ahead of the greater good of a just and stable government.

I also believe that Capitalism, as well as all other economic systems, is amoral. Not, notice, immoral. It is an economic system, not a moral system. As such, it stands behind the Gospels and the teachings of the Church in my considerations. I don’t judge the Gospels or the teachings of the Catholic Church by economic theories. I judge economic theories by the Gospels and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

That leaves a lot of room for individual ideas and understanding about economic issues. The teachings of the Church are not a 1, 2, 3 blueprint that we must follow as we craft our solutions to the economic problems that beset us. They are rules about what we should place first in our considerations. The teachings of the Church tell us how to get to heaven.  Their first rule about economics is that if we want to go to heaven we should put the good of people, of human beings who are made in the image and likeness of God, in first place.

That will not lead us to the same conclusions. On the contrary, it opens the way for fruitful discussion and creative thinking. Two good people who are both committed to Christ and who both are trying their best to do the right thing can look at the same situation and come up with diametrically opposed ways of dealing with it. That does not make either one of them wrong. It also does not make either one of them evil. It makes both of them human.

I believe that the best solutions in government and in life come about when we remember this and listen to one another respectfully and try to find a middle way between our competing ideas. I can change my mind, and if you can change your mind, we can learn from one another and come up with solutions that are far better than either one of us would find on our own.

The thing that is lacking in our current debate on almost every issue, including economics, is a mutual commitment to the common good rather than the good of whatever viewpoint or special interest we are espousing. The thing that is lacking in the economic theorizing of some Christians is a proper reverence for Jesus Christ as Our Lord.

There are Christians, both on the left and the right, who have left the Gospels and made a false god of this or that economic theory. Instead of judging their economic ideas by the Gospel, they are judging the Gospel by their economic theory. Many of them (again, on both the left and the right) have cherry-picked the Scriptures to find verses and admonitions which they then use to deify their ideas. This is idolatry. It is also heresy.

Put Jesus back on the throne and look at your politics as one way you live out your call to follow Him. Do the same with your ideas about economics. If people would do that, we’d find solutions to all our problems and get this nation back on track. If they don’t, we are going to continue our spiral down.

To get back to me, if you look at my votes, I think you will see that I am basically an Oklahoma populist in matters of economics.

I believe that capitalism is the best economic system people have come up with so far. However, I don’t think that capitalism, as some people who get worked up about it see it, exists outside of a few on-line chat rooms and the definitions of economic systems in intellectually shallow textbooks. It’s a bit like absolute vacuum; a good working construct that does not exist outside of theory.

Capitalism as it is practiced in America — and in any working government that I know of — is a hodgepodge of competing interests, each of which is trying to use the government to gain an advantage over their competitors. I think that most people believe that legislative bodies spend their days debating great questions of human life such as abortion or gay marriage or some such.

What we do in real life is spend most of our time passing laws for business interests that allow them to gain an advantage over their competitors. Almost all the “pro business” legislation that I have seen in the past 18 years was of this type. Likewise, the tax cuts that I have voted against in the past few years were all weighted to give tax cuts to the people at the top of the column and not those at the bottom.

I would have voted for most of these bills if the people I represent had actually gotten a tax cut from them. However, they did not. That has been true of tax cuts at the federal level, as well.

How does that jibe with my idea that a just and stable government is always the greater good? First of all, tax cuts that only favor those at the top are unjust by definition. I also do not believe that they are good economics.

There are a couple of economic theories, both of which are capitalist in origin, about how to generate growth in an economy with tax cuts. One, which I do not subscribe to, is that if you enrich the small segment at the top of the economic ladder, their wealth will “trickle down” to those below. (I am aware that the trickle down theory applies to far more than tax cuts.) The other is that if you put money in the pockets of those in the working and middle classes, they will buy more goods and generate growth through their purchasing power.

I am personally persuaded that, in terms of economic growth and taxes, many people at the bottom end of the working class have become so close to subsistence level that they place any extra monies on survival items such as getting their utilities current or fixing the broken window in their car.

What I am saying, (and this is a frightening prospect in economic terms) is that a large section of the working class of our economy, who are gainfully employed, many times working several jobs, is verging on being unable to generate growth of the larger economy because they are too poor. That, in itself, is an indictment of our economic policies of the past few decades.

So far as generating economic growth with tax cuts is concerned, my personal feeling is that the most economic stimulus will come if the tax cut benefits the people in the middle class and the upper working class. Sad to say, the lower working class is verging toward the unemployed in that they need assistance to survive and as such don’t generate much growth with their purchasing power.

Given all that, I guess you could say that I am a bit of a trickle up person in my economic beliefs.

This goes back to my ideas about a Christian approach to economics. It also broadens the discussion beyond the question of tax cuts. I think that a Christian approach to economics has to be based on the same premise as the one I use to make decisions about the sanctity of human life. Those decisions are based on the idea that people are more important than any other consideration.

Government exists for people. Economics exists for people.

Government and economics (you cannot have modern economics without government) exist to serve the people. As such, a respect for the rights of private property is a basic delimiter of good government. People need and want their own things about them. They need homes that are theirs and a place in the world that belongs to them.

The means of making a living, be that a computer, a car, a sewing machine or an 18-wheeler, are a form of private property that people should also have. When those means become factories and patents and vast corporate enterprises, the same rules of private property that apply to individuals also apply to them.

But when this basic right to private property becomes a means of depriving vast numbers of people of their own homes and their own ability to make a living, then it has to be moderated by regulation and tax structures that provide a hope and a future to everyone. I am not talking about attacking capitalism. I am talking about a more level playing field that allows everyone to be a capitalist.

Capitalism, when it becomes a vast corporate hegemony that is linked to the power of government that works at its behest, is no longer capitalism. It is fascism. Look it up in your economics 101 text book.

Capitalism that has morphed into corporate fascism, which is the wedding of government and corporate power so that government no longer serves the people, must be dealt with as the unhealthy thing that it is. There is no place in a just and stable government for corporate fascism.

This has nothing to do with free markets or the right to private property. It is the antithesis of them, since it concentrates the entire mechanism for earning a living and all the wealth of a society, as well as the power of government, in a few hands.

I think government should serve the people. I think that a just and stable government is always the greater good.

Corporate fascism, or as Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II called it, “corporatism,” does not do these things. It serves the corporations and it tends toward instability in government. It is unjust by definition.

These are the parameters I use for trying to apply economics in a Christian way. I am writing this so that those of you who feel so strongly about these issues can tear into me, instead of the Pope. I can’t abide people attacking Pope Francis on this blog. But you can go at me and it doesn’t upset me so much.

Have at it friends.

Defenders Describe Attack on Argentine Cathedral as “Satanic, Part of an Anti-Christian World Revolution”

YouTube Preview Image

I thought when I began work on this post that I would have a lot to say. But the more I read, the less I understood.

My first thought was that the nudity of some of the women protesters might link the riot in the video above to the activities of Fenem in Europe. That may be true, but I can’t find anything that says one way or the other.

Fenem is a small group of young women who began their activities in the Ukraine and have since moved to Paris. They show up nude from the waist up at various public events, and are known for doing outlandish things such as tossing water in an Archbishop’s face and urinating on photos of the Ukrainian president.

I’ve looked at their website and their Facebook page and I can’t find anything that explains what they are doing. If they have a manifesto or a philosophy or even a set of demands, I can’t find them. On the other hand, I did find a listing of things they oppose on Wikipedia, and I have to admit, I agree with them about some of these things.

According to Wikipedia, Fenem began in the Ukraine under the leadership of Anna Hutsol. The group opposes legalizing prostitution, sex tourism and human trafficking. These are all things where I agree with them.

Fenem is also evidently pro abortion and strongly in favor of gay rights, although I am not sure what particular form this support of gay rights takes.

I don’t have any idea what the point of stripping to the waist and tossing water in people’s faces is about. I do get the message in urinating on the president of the Ukraine’s photo. I’m just think there are better, more effective and less vulgar ways to make the statement.

Does Fenem have any connection to the riot in the video at the top of this post? I don’t know.

I haven’t had much luck finding press coverage of the incident recorded in the video. According to the articles I did find, the rioters gathered for the National Meeting of Women in San Juan de Cuyo, Argentina. Evidently, this group has a history of these kinds of “excesses” which have been documented in other videos.

Prior to the attack on the Cathedral, the rioters marched through the city, painting anti-Catholic slogans such as “burn the churches” or “set fire to the churches” on signs and homes. They then moved to attack the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which, based on the things they were painting on signs and buildings, they probably intended to burn.

Some of the female rioters stripped to the waist, but the rioters were not just women. It also wasn’t a feminist demonstration, at least not as I would think of it. While Fenem does at least talk about legitimate feminist concerns such as human trafficking, sex tourism and prostitution, this group of about 1500 men and women seems to have been focused almost entirely on attacking the Church. The only issues raised that I read anything about were homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion.

However the real issue appears to have been the Church itself.

After tormenting and degrading what appear to be mostly young men who formed a human chain to protect their church, the rioters burned Pope Francis in effigy, dancing around it while it burned. Local law enforcement refused to protect the Cathedral or interfere with the vandalism.

I can hear the young men on the video, praying the Rosary while they are being attacked. I think we owe these young men a great debt. I am proud of their courageous and non-violent defense of my faith. We should be grateful to them.

I imagine they will have bad dreams about this for long time. Many of them described the experience afterwards as a “satanic attack, with demonic figures” and as “part of an anti-Christian world revolution.”

“I think that this goes beyond religious discrimination,” Bishop Juan Martinez of Posadas said. “If this had been done to a synagogue, everyone would have condemned it as anti-Semitism. They do this against Catholics and many people look the other way.”

This is a new kind of movement, in that it does not appear to have any real purpose or plan. I saw spiritually sick people in that video. It was disturbing on many levels to watch it.

I think the world needs Christ and that, whatever else we eventually decide about all this, our call to evangelize is appallingly clear.

Sources: Wikipedia, Catholic News Agency, TFP Student Action, Protect the Pope, Women of Grace

 

 

His Holiness Who Talks About Other People’s Sins vs That Gasbag in Rome Who Talks about My Sins

Evangelii Gaudium is a convicting document.

If you read it with an honest heart, you will be moved by it to ask God’s forgiveness and to deepen your prayer life.

That’s exactly the effect it had on me. I dropped into prayer numerous times as I was reading Evangelii Gaudium. It brought me face to face with my own spiritual drift and self-absorption. It is a convicting document, if you let it be a convicting document.

It can also be a damning document if you read it with a self-righteous heart. You can deprive yourself of the Gospels if you chose to cling to your pet sins and condemn the Pope for pointing them out to you.

A good number of very devout Catholics are settling for a faux faith whose repository is in various web sites run by pundits with collars and pundits without collars, all of whom preach a narrow, self-satisfying Gospel focused on other people’s sins.

If we confine the Gospels to thou shalt nots about abortion and same-sex marriage, it’s easy for people who are not tempted to those sins to feel like their only sin is uttering a curse word when they accidentally hit their heads on the cabinet door while cooking dinner. By the same token, if we confine our fidelity to the Church to an exaggerated obsession with our disagreements with priests, bishops, and lately the Pope himself, we will miss our blessing entirely.

Some Catholics seem to have become the mirror image of those who judge God by whether or not He agrees with them. We live in a culture that refuses to repent of its sins and that demands that the Church validate its sins or be labeled a heartless bigot.

Sadly, more than a bit of this attitude has crept into the pews and behind the altars of the Church itself. There is a large segment of the Catholic faithful who refuse to accept the teaching authority of the Pope when he teaches something that disagrees with their politics, (either of the left or of the right, it doesn’t matter) or their private view of things.

The abortion issue in particular has led a lot of Catholics to assume that if the politics are right-wing, they are also righteous. Pope Francis, by pointing out that all politics, either of the left or the right, must be judged by the true compass of the Gospels, has shook these people to the core.

As I said in an earlier post, this business of slicing one or two sins out of the Gospels and using them to condemn political opponents while twisting and perverting all the rest of the Gospels to suit secular political goals, is heresy. It is not the Word of God that leads to eternal life.

Pope Francis is preaching and teaching the whole Gospel of Christ in all its radical, game-changing power.

Some Catholics judge the Pope by whether or not he teaches a Gospel that affirms them in their condemnation of others. They want him to do this without disturbing them by calling foul about their own pet sins. These unhappy folks are throwing away the blessings of faith with both hands. They are outraged and enraged by that gasbag in Rome who is telling them that they are in need of conversion just like everyone else.

The Pope goes from His Holiness, the Vicar of Christ who they follow because they are “loyal to the magisterium” to that illiterate and uneducated-in-the-ways-of-the-real-world meddler in the Vatican who should be ignored and even condemned. How dare he tell them what they don’t want to hear about things that they don’t want to change?

I think that a number of the pundits who are calling the Pope names like “Marxist” never read Evangelii Gaudium. I would guess that they either thumbed through it until they sighted the buzz words they wanted, or they had someone else do it for them. I know for a fact that the criticisms I’ve read of Evangelii Gaudium are untrue, self-serving and predictable.

I am flummoxed by devout people who want the Church to affirm them in their sins. Their hearts are so hard, their self-assertion so grim. Is that all Christ means to them? Does their “faith” in the teaching authority of the Church end where their politics or self-interest begins?

The teaching of the Church is a doctor that helps us diagnose our spiritual ills so that we can get well. Pope Francis is calling each and every one of us to the incredible joy of laying down the lead weight of darkness that comprises our false allegiances to the things of this world. He is calling us to follow Jesus without reservation. He is showing us how to be saints.

I, for one, want that. I want the joy of Christ. I want the true freedom of the Gospels. I want to follow Him.

Because I know the pit of sin and death He saved me from. Because I know the price He paid to do it. Because I know that the freedom of following Him is absolute and the joy of living and walking in His Heart is beyond words.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to follow Jesus because I love Him.

Pope Francis wrote a convicting document when he penned Evangelii Gaudium. It is a road map to evangelizing the world. In the Christian way, it asks each of us to begin this journey of evangelization by cleaning out our own souls first. It asks us to give up our pet sins for Jesus.

My advice to those who are willing to hear it is to stop following false popes who teach a self-satisfied self-righteousness and the bitterness that comes with it, and follow the real Pope.

You know who I mean: His Holiness, Pope Francis.

 

 

Counting Coup, Atheist Style

The Cheyennes and other plains tribes had a practice called counting coup.

Counting coup, Cheyenne style, meant taking a life-threatening risk to dash up to a bear or a rival tribe member and touch them, then dash back to your fellows to get well-earned kudos for your bravery. The essential component to counting coup, Cheyenne style, was that it took actual guts to do it.

I never understood this before I began blogging, but evidently counting coup has moved forward into the tribal rites of various on-line social clubs. At least on this blog, atheist trolls are the ones who seem to practice it.

For reasons I don’t fully get, the atheist bloggers on Patheos have zeroed Public Catholic in general and little ole me in particular, for their disdain. According to them, we’re all crazy over here on the Catholic portal and need a good dressing down from time to time.

I come in for more than my share of this rhubarb. It’s the usual stuff about how I’m a politician who’s writing all this religious stuff for political gain and I’m a religious fanatic with an IQ about three points above asphalt. That sort of thing.

What interests me are the coup-counters. They come dashing in here and drop off a random insult in what is usually a totally non sequitur fashion and then dash back to the Spanky and Our Gang Christian-Haters Clubhouse to tell the tale of their courage.

The Cheyennes risked their lives when they counted coup. It took both intelligence and actual courage for them to do it. Since almost all these insult-dropping dive-bombers from the atheist zone arrive under cover of pseudonym, they aren’t even risking their reputations. It also doesn’t take a whole boatload of intelligence to type some version of “sez you, you piece of dirt” and then go running off.

It’s kind of fun to watch this spectacle. And when its not kind of fun, I just delete.

It is interesting though, how people who say they don’t believe in God also can’t say it enough times to feel good about themselves. They really do protest too much. When tasked on this point, they usually come up with an explanation about how they aren’t obsessed with God. It’s just us Christians who force them to behave as if they were obsessed with God because they can’t, well, live in a world where people believe things that they don’t believe.

Oh well.

I pray for them. And I want them to know that God loves them as much as He loves any of His children. Anytime they decide to stop running around waving their arms and pulling their pants down, they are always welcome at His table. They are my lost and somewhat ditzy brothers.

In the meantime, I get a kind of there-they-go-again amusement from their coup-counting. As for the insults, I’m still waiting for them to come up with one I haven’t already heard a few thousand times before.

ACLU Sues Bishops Over Abortion in Catholic Hospitals

I remember the days when pro abortion people were pro choice.

I mean, actually pro choice in that they didn’t push to force everyone else on the planet to participate in their “choice.” That has devolved, along with most of the rest of the culture, into a caricature of itself.

I also remember the days when the American Civil Liberties Union concerned itself with civil liberties. Sadly, it has, along with so much of the rest of our society, become a caricature of itself. The ACLU has increasingly become all about using  the Constitution as an instrument of coercion and the power of government as a means of forcing people to do things against their conscience.

A case in point is the recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the nation’s Roman Catholic Bishops. The lawsuit seeks to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions under the guise of good medical practice.

The lawsuit appears to be based on a single case concerning a woman in her 18th week of pregnancy. According to the vague descriptions I read on the ACLU web site, the woman’s membranes evidently ruptured during the 18th week of her pregnancy and the ACLU has decided the hospital erred by not referring her for an abortion. Ipso fatso, as Archie Bunker used to say, it’s time to make some new Constitutional law.

I have experience with a situation like this from one of my own pregnancies. The statement on the ACLU web site doesn’t give enough detail about the medical situation for me to have an opinion about this woman’s medical care. But I am here to tell you — as is my 23-year-old, 6’3″ hulk of a son — that if the ACLU is claiming that ruptured membranes in the second trimester of pregnancy are an automatic reason for an abortion, or that it means the baby has no chance of survival, they’ve got their heads stuck up something or the other.

That’s just not true.

I don’t think this is a legitimate lawsuit. I certainly don’t think it’s a case of violation of civil liberties.

I think it’s the ACLU, trying to coerce the whole wide world to live by what has become their actual credo (which has nothing to do with civil liberties) that a certain slim slice of American thinking should be not only pre-eminent, but enforced and coerced by the government on everyone, everywhere.

All these attacks on the Church and religious freedom are obviously coming from a playbook of sorts. From forcing people to bake cake and take photos against their will, to suing the bishops for refusing to sanction abortions, the message is the same: Government force should be used to coerce people to violate their faith.

It’s an old idea. The Romans pioneered it against Christians when they demanded that Christians bow down to idols or die. Nebuchadnezzar got some of the same action with his golden idol and Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego.

There is, as Ecclesiastes tells us, nothing new under the sun. Christians today, like Christians in the past, are being threatened with government reprisal if they won’t kiss Ceasar’s ring.

Nebuchadezzar, Ceasar, the American courts and the ACLU: It’s all the same lie told by the same dark lord.

From The New York Times:

The American Civil Liberties Union announced on Monday that it had filed a lawsuit against the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, arguing that their anti-abortion directives to Catholic hospitals hamper proper care of pregnant women in medical distress, leading to medical negligence.

The suit was filed in federal court in Michigan on Friday on behalf of a woman who says she did not receive accurate information or care at a Catholic hospital there, exposing her to dangerous infections after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy.

In an unusual step, she is not suing the hospital, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, but rather the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its ethical and religious directives, the suit alleges, require Catholic hospitals to avoid abortion or referrals, “even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk.”

The suit opens a new front in the clash over religious rights and medical care.

Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes: Part 1, The Call

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the world. Jesus Christ

 

Evangelii Gaudium is a call to you and me and every other Catholic on this planet to step out of our petty personal piety and evangelize the world.

There is a considerable body of support for this call throughout Christian history. The first and most important — in truth, the only support anyone needs — comes from Jesus Christ Himself in what He said in the words I put above.

Protestants call it the Great Commission, and a number of their denominations are built on living it out. Jesus Christ told His followers to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Just to put emphasis on it, He had, before His murder, cursed a withered fig tree for not bearing fruit. What did that fig tree do to Jesus, and what meaning does Our Lord’s action have for you and me? The tree was a symbol of all of us who do not bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus taught the same message over and over. Bear fruit, use the grace you are given to bring others to Me.

That, without the more negative allusions (I used the fig tree story, not the Pope.) is what Evangelii Gaudium is about. The Pope is calling us to do exactly what Jesus told us to do. He is calling us to bear fruit by converting the world around us. Evangelii Gaudium is a call, directly from Pope Francis to every Catholic everywhere, to shake the dust of self-absorption off our feet and take the message of the Good News of Christ to the world.

Pope Francis calls us first to remember our own salvation and to rejoice in it. Think about it for a moment. We are eternal beings who, because of the great sacrifice of Our Lord at Calvary, are given the opportunity to chose of our own free wills to spend our eternal life in the company of the God Who made us.

I experienced a touch of what that means at my own conversion experience when the Holy Spirit filled me with the divine love and rapturous joy of God. Heaven is for real, folks, and it is too wonderful to describe. We can spend eternity there in that joy and love. All we have to do is chose Christ.

But in this world that is stunted, deformed and perverted by the wiles of the evil one, heaven can seem a distant and irrelevant country. I have been fascinated for a long time by the fact that we are so much better at depicting hell in our art than we are at depicting heaven. Heaven, in the movies we make and the poetry we write, comes across more insipid than heavenly, whereas hell glows and glowers with its sadistic reality.

I think that is because this world is so blighted by the father of lies that in some ways, his dark version of things seems to be reality. If we want to see his handiwork, all we have to do is click on our televisions and punch in the number for any news channel.

“The world is too much with us … getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” Wordsworth wrote. That is true of every single one of us, including me.

Pope Francis is calling us in clear language that a fourth grader can understand to remember that we are more than “getting and spending,” and that there is more to every person than the evils they do. Evangelii Gaudium is an exhortation for us to remember our salvation and rejoice in it.

The Holy Father is asking us to remember that first love when the Holy Spirit filled us with Divine Joy. Joy is exactly the right  word for it. It was the word I used before I gave up trying to find words to describe what I experienced when Christ first hugged me to His heart.

Joy.

Joy beyond our ability to describe or comprehend. Joy based on love that is also beyond our ability to describe or comprehend.

That is what Pope Francis is calling us to in this great document he has written. He is asking us to set aside the “getting and spending” that lays waste our powers and live in the joy of being eternal children of the eternal God Who loves us beyond our ability to either describe or comprehend.

He is asking us to live in the joy of Christ and the peace that passes all understanding and then to exercise the generosity which is a natural outgrowth of that kind of living in our dealings with the lost and unwanted people around us. I have failed in this call as much as anyone I know. I am a mass of resentments and angers, ironically, many of them over the way I have been treated by those tormented people who reject Christ.

Reading Evangelii Gaudium was an occasion of convicting conversion for me. I have allowed myself to forget the joy I knew when I first met Him in my too-earnest attempt to follow Him and be true to Him. I, like everyone else, need to go back to what Christ called “your first love,” which is that moment when He loved me from life to death.

Then, I need to do as the Holy Father is calling me to do and share that love with those I encounter. That is the root and the beginning of the New Evangelization. It is the core message of Evangelii Gaudium.

Pope Francis did not write about politics. He wrote about Jesus and our call to bring all the world to Him.

Here in Pope Francis’ words, is what Evangelii Gaudium is all about:

The Joy of the Gospel fills the the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.

I Am a Woman, a Feminist, a Christian.

Fellow Patheosi, Tony Jones, who blogs at Theoblogy, published one of those slap-in-the-face posts last week that really get people humming.

Tony called for a schism in Christendom, or at least in Christianity.

He wants to part company with those Christian communions who don’t allow women to “preach and hold positions of ecclesial authority, support complimentarity, or that do not affirm women as leaders, speakers, teachers.”

Since that sounds like he’s describing my Church, the Catholic Church, I was interested. Since Tony was speaking about something that I feel to the core of my being, which is the equality of women as full human beings, I was very interested.

I am a woman, a feminist, a Christian.

I am a woman who has spent a good bit of my life working for women’s rights. I am a woman who has made some serious mistakes in pursuing women’s rights; mistakes that I would not be able to live with without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

I am also a woman who encountered Christ in what I can only describe as a knock-you-down-in-the-middle-of-the-road conversion experience that left no doubt in my mind that God is real and that He loves us with an ecstatic love that is beyond our comprehension. But I don’t want to write about that conversion today. I want to write about what came after.

Conversions of the type I experienced are not long on explanatory material. People like Leah Libresco and T. S. Elliot, who reason their way to God, probably walk into Christianity with a more formed understanding of what they’re doing that I did. All I knew was that God is real and that He loves me and is with me every moment.

The rest of it was a learning experience that took years and is still on-going.

I walked into my encounter with Christ like a prize fighter with his arms down, and it knocked me flat. When I got back up, a hand reached out to help me, and I began a journey of discovery and inquiry.

I entered the world of faith with a lot of baggage from my life before faith. Odd as this may sound, it was not the things I had done which ultimately proved most difficult to deal with, but things that had been done to me. It was a long, slow walk from the woman I was when God filled me with His love, and the woman I have become and am becoming because of that love.

What does all this have to do with Tony’s call for schism among the faithful? What does it mean and how does it apply to the question of his assertion that those who believe in women’s rights should no longer associate with those who do not? What, in fact, does his assertion that the definitions he uses actually separate those who believe in women’s rights from those who do not?

Do the things he lists say anything at all about women’s rights? Or, are they window dressing that dances around the real issues of violence and suffering that are far too often woman’s lot in this life? And finally, what does my conversion experience have to say about that set of delimiters?

Just this.

I understand where Tony is coming from. I do not know what life experiences have led him to this passionate espousal of women’s human dignity and full equality before God. But I would venture that they are not any more profound and powerful than the life experiences that led me into a prolonged and ultimately failed anti-God period in my own life.

I didn’t just espouse leaving those who did not accept the full equality of women behind. I did it.

I did it in a way far more thorough and absolute than any of the atheists who fill their blogs with endless chatter about faith and Christianity even begin to approach. I cut off my contact with that other world with a cut as final as amputation.

And I meant it.

I meant it all the way through.

When I ran headlong into the living God that day, I was unprepared, did not imagine, and could not comprehend the power of the love and joy that Being poured into me. I was home and I knew it.

I also knew that this God I had met and Who was now walking with me every step of my every day, had very little to do with the god I’d heard about in sermons when I was a teen ager. He had nothing at all to do with the denouncing, loveless god I’d been taught to think was God.

That little g, woman-hating god I had been shown as a teen was more like a shade of the devil than a glimpse of the real God I encountered at my conversion. I had met the real God and He was love.

But the baggage remained.

I spent years, thinking and praying through all the contradictions between the real God and the god of the pulpit. My eventual conversion to the Catholic Church intensified these questions.

I remember, not too long after my conversion, that I asked Him if He hated women. It seemed to me, based on what I had seen and known, a fair question. It still does.

I don’t always or even often get direct answers to my prayers. But I got one then. I don’t want to describe it in a blog, since it was a heart to heart experience of breadth and power, but I’ve known ever since that anyone who preaches and teaches violence and harm to women is not of God.

It is as simple as that, and I would guess that a similar insight may very well be what is driving Tony Jones to make his call for separating from those churches that don’t live up to his understanding of how women should be treated. I will never fault anyone who evinces a genuine concern for the welfare of womankind.

I will, however, offer a bit of advice. That advice is to slow down and go back to the God of love Who made us all and use Him for a reference.

This is advice I should take myself. I can get pretty riled up over issues and come across far harder and more inflexible than I actually am. I’ve been thinking about that after reading Pope Francis’ Evangellii Gaudium. It’s a convicting document. I say that in the best sense possible.

So, my advice to Tony and all the other Tonys reading this, is the same advice I’m trying to give myself: Slow down and go back to the God of love. You know the one. Go back to the God Who made women in His Image and Who loves us with a love that, if you’ve ever experienced it, you have no words to describe.

Go back to Him and realize that He’s leading each of us Who tries to follow Him by the hand, each at our own pace, like precious little children. He is gently guiding us toward a time when we will be able to do more than just accept that love that defies description. He is leading us to an understanding and a conversion so deep and so real that we can pass that love on to one another.

I am not going to argue with Tony about the things that trouble him. I will, however, point out that the answer to our differences is not schism. It is love.

Go back to God, Tony. Ask Him if He hates these other Christians who you find so confoundingly unkind to the female half of the humanity He created.

The answer will change you from top to bottom.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X