Note to Bishop Tobin: If You’re Looking for God in a Political Party, You Need a New Roadmap

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It is, in that grand Public Catholic tradition, roast and toast Rebecca time. 

Get out your flame-throwers and pitchforks folks. I’m going to talk about the two political parties. 

There are little g gods. And then there are little g gods. 

No little g god I’ve talked about on this blog draws quite the high octane, teeth-grinding I’ll-poke-a-stick-in-your-eye, flat-out mad as when I tell people that their political parties suck. When I pour on the gasoline and say things like they are both corrupt and you can not follow Jesus and follow either political party, I get walking-off, a pox-on-your-house-Rebecca disgust. 

The reason, I believe, is that we want an easy way out of our responsibility as Americans and Christians to engage the larger culture for Christ. When engaging that larger culture includes the rough and tumble world of politics, we really start scratching around looking for an easy way out. We want a pass. A haiku. A some little something to do that will make us feel good while we don’t risk much. 

We don’t want — all of us, including me — to go out there and take the hits that come from engaging the world, including our political parties — for Christ. 

Our problem is that the real Jesus, as opposed to the Hallmark Card Jesus, was a trouble maker. And He still is. Stick with Him in party politics, and you’ll end up getting booed and called names and probably nobody will eat lunch with you or talk to you. It will be time out in grade school all over again if you try even a little bit to follow Jesus first in the context of party politics. 

Nobody wants that. It hurt when we were kids. And it still hurts now that we’re grownups.

What we want — and we are willing to go along with just about any craven lie or manipulation of our consciences to get it — is a safe place where we can just vote straight party a few times a year and then shoot self-righteous arrows at all those fallen folks in the Other Party, which, we are sure, is the devil.

The truth is, boys and girls, as American Christians we have the power to affect how these political parties behave. But doing that means we have to do a few things. We have to,

1. Get up off our duffs and get involved in party politics at the local level.

2. Accept the fact that if we truly follow Jesus, we are going to be unpopular, whichever party we join. 

3. Stand for Christ even though we will get hit with brickbats and name-calling. 

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Deacon Greg Kandra wrote about Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who recently made an announcement that he’s switched from Democrat to Republican. His reasons are sound ones. In fact, I know exactly how he feels. The Democratic Party, at least at the national level, has become the party of abortion. It is also the party of gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and a number of other horrific things. 

If the good bishop feels that he can’t abide all this and wants to change his D to an R, I say go for it. However, if he’s got some idea that the Rs are going to be a safe haven where he can peacefully abide and get glad-handed and sucked-up-to without challenges to his leadership as a bishop, he’s living in fantasyland. 

Oh, he’ll get all the glad-handing, back-slapping and suck-uppage anyone’s heart could desire. But the no-challenges-to-his-leadership-as-a-bishop will only come if he hands over the keys to the party leadership and walks their wide and smooth way. 

My hope is that in all his newfound enthusiasm for political engagement he doesn’t sell out the farm to this party. He’s supposed to speak for Christ, and that means he needs to make sure that he doesn’t end up toadying to the Rs.

I’ve seen, up close and personal, how the Rs treat their toady clergy. My message to the bishop: You don’t want to be them. Not only that, but you can’t be them if you want to be who the Church says you are. 

There is plenty to address in the Rs economic and military policies that would keep the good bishop busy being a bishop and not a party stalwart, if he wants to do it. There’s also quite a bit he could do to get them off high center on some of the things that make Christians register R in the first place, such as life, family and religious freedom.

That said, anyone who is a D (like me) really does have their work cut out for them. If the Rs co-opt traditional Christianity and its religious leaders, the Ds are at war with them.

I could go on and on about HHS Mandates and gay marriage and falling down before the idol of Planned Parenthood, but you know the story. The point is, the official Democratic Party has lost its soul. It no longer even pretends otherwise.  

In my opinion — and this invariably raises combox ire — you can and will take this country and yourself both right down to hell by following either political party blindly. I also think that weak-as-water Christians have brought a lot of this trouble on us all by going along with their parties rather than following Christ. 

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Here’s the truth of it: There are plenty of Christians in both the Democratic and Republican parties, at least at the county and state level. But they’ve sold out Christ for the party line. They won’t stand up for Jesus because they want to be friends and pals with their other party faithful buds. They convince themselves to believe the drivel that these people talk, and the seriously evil drivel that sold-out, fallen religious leaders say to excuse the sinfulness of the party. 

There are a ton of sold-out, fallen religious leaders in both political parties. Go to any party convention, and you’ll see them there. They don’t speak for Christ when Christ’s teachings contradict the party’s teachings. Instead, they give tortured explanations about how Jesus really agrees with the party. They don’t use their prophetic and moral voice as religious leaders to speak for the light. They use them to give excuses for the darkness. 

These preachers have sold Jesus, and they’ve sold Him cheap: To be part of the R or the D.

I often — and I mean often — hear Christian people go on and on about “how can anyone be part of a party that is pro abortion” or whatever bad thing the Ds espouse. They do this right in front of me, as if they’ve forgotten than I am a rather public and unapologetic D. If I say anything, they tell me “Oh, you’re not like the rest of them.”

And they’re correct in that. I’m not “like the rest of them.” I try my best to do that thing which I believe down to the core of my political being that politically inclined people must do as their part to save this culture. I engage the party from a Jesus-first position. 

That is what I am trying to get the readers of this blog to do. Engage your political party with a Jesus-first outlook.

Stand. For. Jesus. 

Not the R or the D. 

There is nothing wrong — and I mean nothing — with being part of either political party, if you go into it with that attitude. 

In fact, I would say that there is something exactly right about it. 

Jesus told us to be the light of the world. But party faithful are faithful to the party first. Political Christians, whether they are R or D, almost always end up hiding their light under the party loyalty bushel.

My note to Bishop Tobin is that if he’s looking for God in a political party, he needs a new road map. He’s already in the place where people can find God, and that’s the Catholic Church.

I do not mean to say or imply in any way that Bishop Tobin should not be engaged in America’s political struggle. I back the bishops completely in what they are doing. But this nation is lost first in its soul. All the other things are just symptoms of that deep soul-sickness.

We need religious leaders who will equip the laity to fight the political battles by teaching and leading us in the Way of the Cross. The Church has the answer already and that is Christ and Him crucified. That, and not the R or the D, needs to be his message. 

Shacking Up, Gay Marriage and Now Wed Leases: Is Marriage as the Larger Culture Lives It Dead?

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Shacking up, gay marriage and now wed leases.

Given all this, I’m inclined to say as so many people do these days Why bother?

A reader sent me a copy of the Washington Post opinion piece excerpted below. The author, who is a divorce attorney, suggests that, given today’s revolving door marriages, we just set up marriage as a lease arrangement and forego all that “til death do us part” nonsense at the get-go. He sees it as a simplification of the court-laden bitterness of today’s divorce culture.

My first thought was that the guy deserves a couple of stars for innovative thinking and his willingness to legislate himself out of a job. But then I thought that he’s probably as sick of doing divorces as every other attorney I ever met. Setting up wed leases for his clients (His suggestions would require quite a bit of personalized legal tailoring for each couple.) would probably end up being, if not as lucrative as a high-dollar divorce, still a good living for an attorney, and without the need to Xanax.

So, I guess he’s not being entirely selfless.

However, he has put his finger on the truth of what is happening in our society.

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We’ve trashed marriage to the point that it no longer means much of anything. Gay marriage is the end of marriage as a legitimate institution. Now the flood gates on redefining marriage are open and you can bet that a lot of garbage is going to trot through them. Of course, none of this would have happened if heterosexuals hadn’t trashed their marriages (and their kids, homes and finances along with their marriages) for so many years.

Christians who want to follow Jesus instead of the world are going to have to make a decision about their marriages. Are they entering into Holy Matrimony, which is a life-long union on which God rains down sacramental graces? Or, are they entering into an elastic “so long as we both dig it” legal contract endowed by the state with nothing much but a lot of misery and legal gas?

The truth is, marriage, as it is practiced today has nothing — and I mean nothing — to do with the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as Jesus created it and as the Church has provided it for 2,000 years.

Which is it Christians?

Have you and your spouse entered into a Covenant before God Almighty that bonds you together in sickness and health, for richer and poorer until death does you part? Or are you just play-acting with some legally created contract that you can breach or nullify anytime there is sickness or poverty or you just don’t feel like it today?

For centuries, the legal definition of marriage corresponded closely enough to the Christian understanding of Holy Matrimony that the two could function almost as the same thing.

No more.

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In today’s brave new world, “marriage” is a legal construct. At best, it is a contract. At worst, it is a sham. Many times it is both — a sham contract.

Holy Matrimony, at least as the Catholic Church and some other denominations do it, remains unchanged. Outside of those churches that still treat marriage as the life-long Covenantal relationship between a man and a woman that God intended, there is no Holy Matrimony in our society today.

Christians who want to follow Jesus are going to have to learn to make this distinction, first in their own lives, and second as they regard the “marriages” in the wider world. There are things that redefining the law cannot change, and this is one of them.

True marriage, which, to distinguish it from the legal contracts of the wider society, I have decided to call Holy Matrimony, is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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It is up to you, my Christian brothers and sisters, if you want to be married in the eyes of God in Holy Matrimony, or you want a legal contract for sex and shared finances. If you want Holy Matrimony, then you must begin with the Church as the cornerstone of your marriage. By that I mean you must be married in the Church and you must make Christ the head of your home.

I do not think it will be possible for Christians to be the light the world so badly needs if we continue down this path of half Christian/half worldly.

More and more the world itself is demanding that we, as Joshua demanded thousands of years ago, choose this day whom we will serve.

Choosing to follow Christ begins in the individual heart, and it is first acted out in the home. The creator of home is Holy Matrimony.

Everything else is dead legalism.

From the Washington Post:

We all know that far too many marriages end in divorce, yet this institution does not adapt. Indeed, most Americans today want to expand conventional marriage to include same-sex couples.

So why is there no effort to improve the legal structure of marriage, when it shows itself to be deficient?

Marriage is a legal partnership that lasts a lifetime — one lifetime to be exact, that of the first of the spouses to die. Generally speaking, that is a long time for any partnership. People, circumstances and all sorts of other things change. The compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction.

In real estate, one may own a life estate in a piece of property. This is comparable to the term of a marriage — a lifetime. And in real estate, one may hold possession of property for shorter terms through a lease.

Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a “wedlease.”

Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

Being There: The Magic Means of Passing on Your Faith to Your Kids

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You can not control what other people do. That includes your adult children.

However, if you are lucky, and you’ve done a good enough job raising them, chances are that the things your adult children end up doing will be consistent, at least in an overall fashion, with the values you hold yourself. That does not mean that your adult children will always make the choices that you would make in the same situation. It also does not mean that they are going avoid all the mistakes you wish you’d never made.

One of the hardest lessons any parent has to learn is that you can’t always save your kids from the hard knocks you gave yourself when you were their age. You can’t — and this is hard to accept — impart the wisdom you gained from getting your nose bloodied to keep them from getting their noses bloodied.

Sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch and be there later with a cold wash cloth and an abundance of love. A lot of times what you will see when you do this is that your children are more like you than you would wish.

The best you can do as a parent is to give your children the tools to manage their own lives productively when they grow up and love them passionately, no matter what, after they do grow up.

My husband and I decided when I was pregnant with our first baby that the tools we could give that mattered the most were, (1) a stable and solid marriage between their mom and dad, (2) a strong grounding in faith in Jesus Christ, (3) a good education, (3) the security of knowing that we would always love them, no matter what mistakes they made in life.

My greatest fear as a parent was that I would lose one of these precious little ones that God gave me to the larger culture. I can’t imagine how anything else in life could matter if you mess up your own kids, and for me, messing them up would mean that they lose their immortal souls.

The trick to child rearing is to do such a good job giving them the right tools that they can manage their own lives and make the right decisions for themselves. This should begin long before they fly the nest. In terms of my Christian faith, that means I wanted to teach them to love Jesus and to give them some basic tools for discernment in matters of faith. The rest, I knew, was between them and the Holy Spirit.

I think it’s important for parents to raise their children. I don’t mean that it’s important for parents to send their kids off to daycare or school and let the people there raise their children. I think parents should do it.

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That means a lot more than being your kids best chauffeur and activities manager. When my kids were growing up, they each had one organized activity. At some times, it was chess club. At others, it was swim team or Boy Scouts or Little League. They picked and my husband and I came up with the scratch for the uniforms, lessons or whatever. We also went to tournaments and swim meets and games, etc.

But that was it. I did not want to spend all my precious years with my kids driving them from one activity to another. I saw parents who did this and in my opinion, they weren’t raising their kids. They were scheduling and chauffeuring them.

Kids need time with you. They need time in their own homes where it is safe and they can just play. They need unscheduled down time in which you are just with them and they are free to be.

Families need this, too.

So, the first thing I would advise is don’t-overschedule your kids. Let them be kids. And be there with them.

This business of being there with them leads to the single best way that I know of to raise your children in your faith. Do it as a natural part of interacting with them on a daily basis.

Read Bible stories to them, say prayers with them, take them to church. But don’t think that those are the ways you teach them the faith. Those things model faith in action, but teaching faith is something else.

You teach them the faith by being there when they have questions and giving them faith-filled answers. For instance, I have never been troubled by questions of evolution vs the Bible. I know people who have actually lost their faith in God over this quibbling nonsense.

The reason it never troubled me was that when I first had a question about it when I was little, I asked my mother. She explained to me that God’s days were not simple 24-hour solar days. God’s days were infinite. Later on, I realized that if God created time, that meant that God was outside of time. It all just fell into place from there. The result: No religious crisis over evolution.

The same thing happened with the story of Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac. My mother told me that God asked Abraham to do this to make it absolutely clear to him and his descendants that God did not want human sacrifice. I learned later that there were other meanings to this story, but I’ve always thought my mother was basically right about this.

The point here isn’t that my mother is a great theologian. The point is that she was there to answer my questions and she did answer them in simple ways that insulated me for life from a certain set of attacks against the faith. All this took place as part of the casual give and take of daily life and living. It was not scheduled.

That’s the way it is with kids. The best and most important moments; the ones that determine who they are going to be, are not scheduled. They just happen, and when they happen, mom or dad need to be there. If you don’t want the larger culture or the mixed up kid from down the block raising your kids, then you’re going to have to step in and be there so you can do it yourself.

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I made the decision to homeschool my kids. I think that was one of the best things I ever did for them. All the things people claim will happen to homeschooled kids — bad education, unable to associate with others, etc — did not happen to my kids. You have to work at it a bit, but the payback for protecting your children from the evil that’s out there until they are old enough and their personalities are formed well enough for them to handle it themselves are on-going and enormous.

My husband and I have somehow managed to raise a couple of fine young men who are good people and who have never caused problems for us or for themselves with their behavior or attitude, not even during the dreaded teen years.

How do you pass on your faith in Christ to your children? As nearly as I can tell, you do it by being there in their lives to answer the questions they have when they ask them. You do it by protecting them from being drafted into the sicko values of our larger culture when they are too young to fight back on their own. You do it by reading the Scriptures aloud with them, beginning with Bible story picture books when they are little and working up to the real thing when they are a few years older. You do this with a readiness to put down the book and chat about what it means at any time.

Pray for your children. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself praying for them and for wisdom to be their mom or dad in the way that God wants you to be their mom or dad several times a day. Pray with your children. Take them to church. Protect them from the world. Put them in places where they will have the opportunity to make friends with kids from families with values similar to yours.

Most importantly, enjoy them. Have fun with them. And love them with all your heart.

Then trust God with the rest. After all, they are His children, too.

Short-Circuiting the System to Play Elected Dictator

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Prosecutorial discretion.

Now there’s a nice phrase. 

Another phrase that’s almost synonymous with prosecutorial discretion is selective prosecution. One is considered a sometimes valid, if often abused, tool in the prosecutorial toolbox. The other heads off into the dark hinterlands of overt discrimination and flat-out corruption. 

From what I’ve seen, selective prosecution is closely aligned with those other destructors of justice: subornation of perjury and tampering with the evidence. 

Taken together, these little prosecutorial peccadilloes have the ability to overturn our justice system and make it into a tyranny.

Prosecutorial discretion, when mis-used for political demagoguery, can easily become a means of blocking the system and turning the whole legislative/judicial process into a sham. Prosecutorial discretion aligned with political demagoguery is so close to selective prosecution that it’s difficult to differentiate between them. 

My colleague, Leah Libresco, chimed in on the question of prosecutorial discretion yesterday with a fine post on the behavior of two elected officials. These two people are at the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum on what they are demagoguing about, but their misbehavior is based on an identical misapprehension of the powers of their office. 

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One is Kathleen Kane, the Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania. Attorney General Kane announced a few weeks ago that she would not do the job the voters of the state of Pennsylvania elected her to do. She would not defend the state’s law defining marriage in court. Why? Because she doesn’t agree with the law. She seems to think that the law is immoral.

Her announcement was greeted by cheers from gay rights activists and uncomprehending silence from most of the citizens she betrayed. Attorneys General have gone about the business of doing their jobs for so long that most people just take it for granted that they will do them. In fact, a lot of people don’t really understand that when an attorney general flat-out refuses to do their job in this way, it is, and should be, an impeachable offense in most localities. 

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The other is a sheriff in Baton Rouge Louisiana who has been arresting homosexuals for violation of what sounds like the state’s anti-sodomy law. The Supreme Court overturned this law in 2003. I would guess that the sheriff didn’t agree with this decision. He may very well mirror Attorney General Kane by thinking that the decision is immoral.  

This debate about where personal morality ends and the responsibilities of office begin is not nebulous. It also does not apply to employment situations such as whether or not a pharmacist is required to fill prescriptions for RU486, a nurse should be required to assist in an elective abortion or a florist must sell flowers for a gay wedding. But it applies absolutely to elected officials. 

The difference — and it is an enormous difference — is between ordinary employment and elected office. An elected official who refuses to fulfill the requirements of their job or who deliberately oversteps the limits of their powers, is violating a public trust. They are violating the Constitutional privilege to hold office and execute the powers of the people in the name of the people.

Public office is not mere employment. It is the indispensable ingredient of the smooth functioning of a just and stable government. As such, it is incumbent on every and all elected officials to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and not the abuse the powers of their office. 

I react to both the situations described above, not, as Leah did, as a philosopher, but as an elected official who has been charged with fulfilling the duties of office for 18 years. I understand several key things that proponents of these two elected officials’ actions won’t accept.

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First, law enforcement, from top to bottom, is not law making. Law enforcement enforces laws. It does not write them. If Attorney General Kane wanted to work to overturn Pennsylvania’s marriage law, there were many options open to her, including running for election to a law-making position. Since she is an attorney, she might also have considered not running for office at all and filing cases against the law, maybe doing it pro bono. 

An Attorney General is not supposed to even take positions on the laws which they are sworn to defend and uphold. By that I mean that she should not be out making stump speeches against such laws — or for them, for that matter. Her job, and I keep saying this, but nobody seems to hear me, her job is to uphold and defend the laws of the State of Pennsylvania.

This is especially grave since, like all elected officials, she is the only person in her jurisdiction (in this case, the entire state of Pennsylvania) who holds the power of her office. If she refuses to do her job, the job can not be done by anyone else.

This is equally true of the sheriff in Baton Rouge. As an elected official, he is the only sheriff in that jurisdiction. No one else can do his job. Also, he is not a law maker or a law interpreter. He is a law enforcer. The decisions about what laws he should enforce are made by Congress, the legislature and the courts. 

Elected office is a privilege, not a sentence to be served. If any elected official finds that they cannot in good conscience perform the duties of their office, they have the free right to resign at any time.

Leah Libresco used a quote from a play and movie about my patron saint, St Thomas More, in her analysis. Thomas More was the Chancellor of England. Despite the enormity of this position, he resigned when his conscience would no longer allow him to discharge his duties as the King demanded. This is a good example for all of us who hold office. 

If Attorney General Kane can not in good conscience do the job that her office requires of her, she has the clear option of resigning. What she does not have is the option of refusing to do her job and thereby depriving the people of Pennsylvania of the legal representation they are Constitutionally entitled to. 

I am glad that Leah found this example giving the other side of this argument. Maybe it will help clarify what is at stake for those people who are so enthralled with their particular advocacy that they are willing to support overturning the very structure of government that gave them the right to advocate in the first place. 

From Unequally Yoked:

I’m a little troubled by the way same-sex marriage is becoming de facto legal in Pennsylvania.  When I was having SCOTUSblog parties back in June, I found the reasoning based on standing kinda messy.  If a law is challenged, it seems like the appropriate state officials should be obligated to defend it.  Ducking it seems like a odd kind of de facto veto.  And not a proper civil disobedience-y one, a la Mayor Jason West of New Paltz, who conducted then-illegal marriages and was charged for it.

And now this is playing out in Pennsylvania.  The PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to defend her state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and it’s unclear who will pick up the baton, or if anyone will be left with standing to do so.  The proper way to overturn laws is repeal or, if they’re actually unconstitutional, letting them have their day in court.  Not short-circuiting the system over a conscience objection.

 

The One Person

Marriage

Everybody, it seems, is writing about what not to do if you want to stay married.

Everything I’ve read so far, which you can find here, here and here, is good advice.

But is staying married a matter of the things you don’t do?

I hope not. Because I am convinced that there is a lot more to a happy marriage than what you don’t do, or, for that matter, just “staying married.”

Did you notice my choice of words? I said “a happy marriage.” The goal of life — and marriage is life — should not be to just stay with someone. Marriage is a relationship that sustains. As such, it is about trust.

There are many levels of trust. When you leave your purse sitting on your desk at work without worry that your co-workers are going to riffle through it, that’s trust. When you drive through an intersection believing that none of the other cars are going to ram into you, that’s trust.

But married trust goes a lot deeper than these superficial trusts that make it possible for millions of people to live together in a society and function independently dependent on one another.

The trust of marriage involves that one flesh thing the Bible talks about. Your husband or wife knows you in a deep-down, all-the-way-through kind of way that precludes simple definitions of trust. You bind yourselves to one another at a spiritual level that goes deeper than any other relationship you will ever have, even and including relationships with your parents and the children you create with one another.

This person, this one person, is your helpmate, friend, lover, love and the steadying hand under your arm when you are shaky. That goes beyond simple lists of don’ts, even though it does include them.

You may not sleep around. You may not hit, disparage, gossip about or abuse your spouse in any way. Because, stupid, you and your spouse are one flesh. What you do to them, you do to yourself. Make them miserable, and you will be miserable, too.

So, rather than give a list of things you shouldn’t do, I want to give you one thing you must do if you want a true marriage that lasts: Love your husband. Love your wife. Cherish them and treat them as if they were your life’s companion; the one person you will share your days with all the days in this life that you have.

Because that’s exactly who they are.

Convos With My Two-Year-Old: The Pants

I love Convos with My Two-Year-Old.

These are the continuing episodes, 6 & 7, titled The Pants.

Enjoy.

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Pope Francis to Youth: Grandparents are Vital. Cherish the Elderly.

My kids adore their grandmother.

The word “dote” wouldn’t be too strong to describe their attitude toward her. It’s a mutual doting. She tells me constantly how “brilliant, sweet, generous and good” they are. They, in turn, seem to not mind one bit doing the yeoman labors of making sure she takes her medicine, gets her meals and is constantly looked after.

Caring for an elderly parent is not all that difficult when the grandkids stop their rounds of work, dates and classwork to take on far more than their fair share of the tending. It amuses me no end that the first person they introduce their girls to is my mother. She always knows all about their date lives, while I am usually far behind on the information curve.

They feel so strongly about their grandmother, that when I tried to take on more of her care — in the mistaken idea that I was lifting  a burden off them — they protested loud and long.

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I felt much the same about my own grandmother. Grandparents are a healthy relief from the intensity of the parent-child relationship. They give a safe place for kids to spread their wings in the relatively low-key and tolerant atmosphere of adoring grandparents. I remember once my mother told me “we don’t do homework at my house,” when I asked her to make sure the boys did some sort of schoolwork that needed doing at the time. I don’t remember if my lower jaw hit the floor or not, but I do remember the amusement I felt when she said that.

I had the urge to tap her on the forehead and ask, “Mama, are you in there?”

This clearly was not the same woman who had raised me.

And, of course, that was true. She wasn’t the same woman who had raised me. At that point, I was the one on the hot seat. I was the parent with the task of shaping these babies of mine into responsible, productive adults who could earn their living and found families of their own one day.

My mother had done her time in the parental labor yard, and now she was deep into that other role of Grandparent. It was not her job to make sure they did their homework, and she wasn’t going to do it. Her job was to adore them and give them the unalloyed love and adoration that only a grandparent can.

Judging by their attitude today, when she’s a little bit dotty and a whole lot in need of unalloyed love and adoration herself, she did well.

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Pope Francis spoke of this beautiful and unique contribution that grandparents make to the welfare of their grandchildren yesterday, on the feast of Joachim and Anna, who were Jesus’ grandparents. We often think of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as a totally isolated unit. But in truth, they existed within a community of relations and kinsmen, as do people in the Middle East, even today.

Scriptures mention this in the story of Jesus getting separated from Mary and Joseph when He stayed back to teach at the Temple when He was 12. There are oblique mentions of it later in His life when the Scriptures reference His mother’s relations, as well as His “brothers,” which is to say His kinsmen. Again, even today in the Middle East, people call their kinsmen, including cousins and more distant relations, “brothers.”

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We don’t have specific information about how Joachim and Anna lived out their grandparent role in Jesus’ life, but since God had chosen to be born to this particular girl who was part of this particular family, I think it’s a good guess that they did it well. After all, these were the people who raised Our Lady. That’s a powerful testament to their child-rearing abilities.

Pope Francis emphasized on the flight from Rome to Rio earlier this week that the elderly are as important to the future of the Church as the young. There is a symmetry to life and this Latin American pope seems well aware of it. Traditional families, based on a mother and a father, and backed up with the loving help and support of the generation before them, are the best, most stable and healthy way to nurture and guide children from birth to adulthood.

People who grow up in this environment have learned the value of all people at various stages of life by seeing that value acted out in their own families. They’ve learned love by being loved. They acquired stability by growing up in stable homes. They’ve been supported, first by their parents and then by their grandparents who could pitch in and broaden their experiences and also fill the gaps in their experience that parents could not reach.

I had many of the most profoundly shaping conversations of my childhood with my grandmother. She had time to just sit and listen to my childish rambles that my mother and father did not. She was removed from the pressures of getting it all done and could give me her undivided attention for hours at a time. I basked and flowered in the soft sunlight of this attention.

My mother did the same thing for my kids. And now, just as I adored my grandmother, they adore her.

My youngest son drives a pick-up that sits high off the ground. When he wants to take his 88-year-old Amah out for a spin, he picks her up like she weighs no more than a potato chip and lifts her onto the seat. Then, off they go on a ramble.

She invariably comes back all aglow, telling me “that boy is the sweetest thing.”

I was setting up some work on my house yesterday. The lady who took my order was here for a while, measuring and writing down the particulars. I got calls from my kids who were at work and my mother who was at adult day care all through my discussion with this lady. I didn’t think anything about it. They call me all the time.

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But as we were winding up our discussion the lady taking the order said, “Do you know how blessed you are?”

I said yes. And I do know. But it was lovely to have her remind me.

The generations, young to old, are good. The Holy Father is right: We should cherish the elderly, for they are vital to us and our well-being.

Christians’ Dual Citizenship and Engaging the Culture for Christ


In the video below, Cardinal Wuerl discusses what he calls the “subtle” loss of religious liberty in America.

From my viewpoint, the loss of religious liberty is only subtle to those who do not want to see what is happening. In truth, it has been snowballing for quite a while.

The sign of hope is that for the first time, there is real pushback. I’m not talking about angry speechifying and partisan political demagoguery, but actual pushback in the form of court cases, marches and a public engagement in favor of religious liberty by whole groups of people who heretofore opted out of the battle.

The HHS Mandate was a watershed moment in American history in this regard. By attempting to force the Church itself to violate its own teachings in a federalized, all-fifty-states manner, the Mandate forced the war upon religious leaders who had been committed to a policy of negotiation and compromise. The Mandate pushed things past compromise and into choosing this day whom you would serve.

The administration has since backed off parts of the mandate, but the essential core of its position on religious liberty: That the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion pertains only to churches and direct church institutions, has not budged. The question that this forces on thinking people is whether or not they will support our Constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion without government interference or not.

Far too often, people allow their partisan political loyalties to make their decision in this matter for them. This is such a strong trend that I am fairly certain that if the party who was being criticized for attacking religious liberty changed from, as it is in this case, the Ds, to the (as it has been and will be again in other cases, the Rs) many people would switch their positions on the issues to follow their party.


I do not know how to get people to stop looking at the world through partisan-tinted glasses. But I know that this is essential — essential — if you want to be effective for Christ in our country’s political discussions.

One way that America is unique is that every citizen is a de facto politician. No American citizen is exempt from responsibility for the directions our government takes. Because of the great freedoms and the many powerful options to seek redress against our government that every American citizen possesses, we are all called to have opinions and engage the political world for change, at least on some level.

Our government and both political parties have become corrupted by the control of special interests and overweening government bureaucracies. I don’t know how else to say it. We, as American citizens, have a responsibility to stand back from that corruption and think for ourselves. As Christians we have an eternal responsibility to put the Gospels first in our considerations.


American Christians are citizens of two kingdoms simultaneously. We are American citizens and we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God. One of the great things about America is that is has not, up until very recently, required its citizens to chose between these two kingdoms.

America has always honored the demands of conscience of its individual citizens. Those whose faith demands it are not required to fight in our wars and no one challenges their patriotism. We have never forced anyone to undergo a religious test to hold public office in this nation.

But now, there are groups which seek to push their ideas on other people to the point of abrogating their right of personal conscience. Rather than follow the time-honored American tradition of allowing those whose faith compels them to forego certain activities to do so, they are using the law and courts to force religious people to participate in everything from abortions to gay marriages. They base this on nebulous claims to their “right” to these activities which, they say, trumps the rights of other citizens not to participate in them.


The HHS Mandate is a sinister, tyrannical abuse of government power that attempts to shear the First Amendment loose from its time-honored moorings in the rights of individual American citizens to act and live according to their faith without government penalties, intervention or discrimination. It thrusts the United States government into areas where it has never gone before and into which it should not go now.

Other laws, such as those Cardinal Wuerl mentions in this video, have been bubbling up all over the country, which, at least in their local applications, set aside First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty almost entirely in favor of other new goals of government meddling in American’s private lives and religious institutions in order to force private citizens to participate in culture war objectives such as abortion and gay marriage against their will.

I am aware that a good number of the readers of this blog comfort themselves with the fiction that all they have to do to support religious liberty is to vote Republican. I am also aware of the fact that most people don’t have my experience dealing with these issues from inside government and seeing first hand what a shallow and ultimately bogus hope that is.

I can only tell you that I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, not once but many times, how completely craven both political parties truly are in these matters. I am not saying that many of the people in the Republican party are not wonderful, committed Christians. I am saying that when push comes to shove, they allow their party to tell them to back off, back down and shut up about everything from pro life to religious liberty. I have seen it happen.

In this respect, they aren’t all that different from the Democrats. There are devout Christians in the Democratic Party, as well. But they can’t withstand the pressure from their party.

The big difference is that Democratic party structure itself has become overtly hostile to traditional Christian morality as it applies to human sexuality, while the Republican party gives a lot of lip service to supporting it. The Rs do not attack Christian morality concerning human sexuality with legislation designed to undermine it. The Ds will and do.

But the Rs (again, I refer to the party structure, not individual Republicans) only take stands with words, or when they see a political advantage. In fact, in many instances, (I’m specifically thinking about the HHS Mandate here) the Rs take stands only with words and do not use their clout in Congress to effect change.

The point I am making, is that if you are a Republican, you should not stand for this. You need to stop buying the manipulative nonsense your party is pushing and demand they go at the HHS Mandate by making it a sticking point in their negotiations on budget issues or wherever else they can gain traction. People get what they want. If the Republicans wanted to stop this mandate rather than just use it for campaigning purposes, they could make a big difference.

On the other hand, Democrats like me are so isolated and besieged within our parties that only the most determined of us can stay the course at all. It is impossible to describe to someone on the outside the kind of pressures that Democratic lawmakers are under to compromise matters of faith concerning issues such as abortion, marriage and religious freedom.

If you are a Democrat, you need to step up to the plate and demand that your party stop attacking the pro-life, pro-religious freedom lawmakers in their midst. You also need to consider running for party offices, beginning at the precinct level, to replace some of these nuts who are running our party and get the thing back on track.

Americans do not have the luxury of sitting around and saying “what can you do?”

The truth is, any American, all Americans, can do a lot.

My father was a mechanic with an 8th grade education. I went to the worst schools in the poor part of town. I am a woman, from an era when women didn’t have the options we have today. And I have spent 18 years in elective office.

Why? Because I am an American citizen and I have Constitutionally guaranteed right to engage the larger culture about the things I believe.

The rest of you should try it. Politics can be both honorable and holy work. All you have to do is put Jesus first and let the chips fall.

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Same Judge Who Turned Hobby Lobby Down, Now Grants Them a Stay on HHS Mandate

 

Hobby lobby zps8425ff5aI’ve read the news reports on several outlets, and I’m not exactly sure what the judge did, except that it’s clear that he stopped the government from dropping the guillotine on Hobby Lobby next month.

The draconian HHS Mandate, which is scheduled to go into effect in August, would probably, in the judge’s own words, “cut the legs from under” any “individual or corporation” who is so bold as to say “no” to it. Judge Joe Heaton ruled that Hobby Lobby is exempt from compliance with the HHS Mandate, at least until higher courts rule in the matter. He also put the case on hold until October 1 to give the Obama administration time to respond. 

What does this mean?

Well, it means that the government can’t start putting Hobby Lobby out of business because it won’t pay for abortifacients for its employees, at least not next month. 

It also gives the Obama administration a bloody nose. The administration originally contended that First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion only applied to churches. Then, when it began losing in court, the administration widened that out to include direct affiliates of churches. The administration has not budged in its position that the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion does not apply to you, me or any other individual. 

I think this latest ruling puts other judges on the hot seat. Are they going to allow corporations and individuals to go down the tubes next month, or are they going to step up and grant similar stays for everyone?

One interesting fact: Judge Joe Heaton is the same judge who denied a somewhat similar request by Hobby Lobby in November 2012. His reasoning then read like Obama administration boilerplate. 

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What has happened to change his mind? 

It may be that the reasoning of other justices who did not agree with him made him re-think the issue. It may also be that he finally wised up to the fact that the HHS Mandate is a challenge to the Constitution itself. It may also be that he came to understand what I saw when I first read about the nascent HHS Mandate months before it was promulgated: This thing has the makings of a Constitutional crisis of a magnitude not seen in this country since the Civil War. 

There has been a huge overstepping of individual liberties in the culture wars lately. Whether the issue is abortion or gay marriage, those who promote these positions are not satisfied with laws that allow them to do what they want. They are pushing hard for laws that force other people to participate in doing it with them. 

The HHS Mandate, by directly targeting the Church itself, along with its many ministries, stepped up the fight and made it something that was impossible to ignore. The days of going along to get along ended for believers in religious liberty and freedom of conscience when President Obama signed that thing. 

It’s possible Judge Heaton got his wits together and realized the magnitude of what he was dealing with. It’s also possible that Hobby Lobby’s lawyers wrote a better brief this time around. 

I don’t know. 

I do know that this ruling today is a good and hopeful one for all of us who hold our Constitutional liberties dear. 

The Secret’s Out: Devout Catholic Husbands and Wives Have the Best Sex

Catholic wedding

If you want great sex, trying marrying for love and committing yourself this person for life. It also helps if you worship the God Who made you in a Catholic Church every week. 

That’s the upshot of a spate of articles floating around the internet, including this one that mentions Patheos blogger Dr Gregory Popcak. It turns out that devout Catholic husbands and wives have the most satisfying sexual relationships of any group. 

Why?

Based on what we see on HBO, it would appear that the most satisfying sex must occur between people who don’t give a flip about one another. According to the media great sex is found in quickie relationships where one of person may even be paying the other to participate. Greatest sex probably occurs between groups of people or people who’ve slept with everybody in the telephone book before arriving at their latest coupling. Tossing in drugs to “heighten” the experience is also depicted as a useful way to get great sex. 

Of course, that’s not real life. The hook-up culture is as empty of emotional sustenance as a steady diet of styrofoam would be of nutrition. Eat enough styrofoam and you will die physically. Engage in enough meaningless sex and you will lose the ability to connect with the people you are “sexing,” and the sex itself will become more about sweat and release than satisfaction and happiness. 

This little lesson in human nature applies to just about everything in life. Is it more satisfying to eat in a crowded diner with strangers, or to spend the evening with someone you enjoy and who engages you? Is a movie more fun sitting in a theater full of strangers or alongside someone who shares your life and viewpoint and laughs and cries right along with you?

“It is not good for man to be alone,” the Lord God said after He created Adam. Adam was surrounded by all of creation, including the many creatures who populated it. But he was alone. When God made woman, Adam knew that this person was not just another creature, but “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” He recognized her as his partner; another living soul made in the image and likeness of God. 

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Men and women are made for one another, in the best and most beautiful way. We are not insects who reproduce in a soulless exchange of genes. We are human beings who create life out of our mutual love and self-giving. Anything less always ends up dehumanizing us. 

Sex is a great gift to humankind, a gift with a purpose. We create life with it, and we also bind ourselves man to woman for life by the tenderness and trust of life-long fidelity and sharing that is true marriage. True marriage between a man and a woman is the simplest and best way to have a satisfying and productive life. Satisfying sex is not the purpose of marrying for love, for life and within the Church. It is a free gift and a natural by-product of this free commitment of two lives to one another. 

It doesn’t surprise me that devout Catholic wives and husbands who are living together in the sacrament of holy matrimony are also blessed with fulfilling sex lives. What does surprise me is that anyone ever doubted it. 


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