Pope Francis is Person of the Year and It Doesn’t Mean a Thing

Time Magazine named Pope Francis their ‘Person of the Year’ for 2013.

This honor, which is usually a signal event in the lives of most of its recipients, was probably more of a bemusement to the Holy Father.

He walks in the shoes of the fisherman.

I have always loved the power of that first call to Peter. It is an incredible story. Here it is, in all its stark simplicity.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.

Think about this story for a moment. Simon and his brother Andrew are going about their daily work as fishermen. They are casting their nets into the lake. Then this stranger comes up and says, Follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people. 

What would you do?

I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy people in my time in public office. Many of them have pulled me aside to share their delusions. I’ve always handled it as gently as I could. But I never considered dropping everything and following them off to Mars or wherever they thought they were going.

You can tell when someone is delusional. It’s not difficult at all.

But this carpenter’s son was different, and those who, as He said, had the eyes to see, picked up on it immediately. Simon and his brother dropped their nets, left their livelihood, and followed Him.

Why? What did they have the eyes to see?

I think it was more of an intuition and an instinctive response to the presence of God than knowledge and understanding. The Gospels make it clear that all the Apostles, including Peter, (who was called Simon until Jesus changed his name) slowly and often reluctantly came to an understanding of Who Jesus was and what His call meant. They were still quarreling among themselves as to their position in what they thought was going to be an earthly kingdom a few days before the crucifixion.

But the same Jesus Who others humiliated and murdered without fear for themselves or their immortal souls, was, for those who had the eyes to see, a transcendent figure from the first.

The seeds of His crucifixion were sown early in His ministry among those who were offended by His teaching. This was not a simple miracle man. He challenged the jots and tittles of the weighty interpretations of the law that the priests had layered on the people. He laid bare the priests’ pretensions while opening His arms to the displaced and despised.

They accused Him repeatedly — and accurately — of healing on the Sabbath. They “grieved and angered” Jesus with “their hardness of heart.”

Is it better to save a life or end it? he asked them, and they responded by plotting to kill him.

He could have quibbled and shuffled his feet and obfuscated His way out of the danger. He could have watered down the Gospel so that it fit the teachings of these fallen priests.

But He didn’t. Instead, He went right in their faces with his challenge to their mis-use of the law to control and weigh people down. The son of man is lord of the Sabbath He told them. The Sabbath was made for people. People were not made for the Sabbath, He said.

And they killed Him for it.

The crowds loved Him. They followed Him everywhere, even going so far as to knock a hole in the roof of Peter’s house to lower a crippled man for Him to heal. Less than a week before they yelled “Crucify Him!” the crowds shouted Hosanna! and laid palm branches in the road in front of Him.

Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. When he — or anyone — speaks out for the Gospels, he will be dealt with in a manner similar to what Jesus Himself experienced from human hands.

Is the servant greater than the master? Jesus asked his disciples. If they persecute me, they will persecute you. 

Today, as 2,000 years ago, high profile followers of Christ are subjected to the same push-pull of adulation that is placed on them instead of Him as well as the attacks and smears that are also placed on them instead of Him. In truth, both the love and the hate are focused on Jesus.

These high-profile followers of Christ are just the temporal targets through which people express their feelings about Jesus and their understanding of the Gospels. Pope Francis, as the Vicar of Christ, get this treatment, raised to powers of ten.

On the one hand, he is named Person of the Year. On the other hand, he is attacked as a heretic and compared — with absolutely no basis in fact — with the most corrupt popes of history.

Why? Because he says that Jesus came to seek the lost, that we must not walk past Lazarus, that the prostitutes and drug dealers and homosexuals will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the pharisees of our time.

He is accused of being a sell-out because known sinners are attracted to him. He is called outrageous names because he says blessed are the poor.

This honor of being named Person of the Year will almost certainly further inflame those who are so bitterly angry with him. After all, the honor — in all its temporal nothingness — comes from public sinners.

Who is Pope Francis to tell sinners that Jesus loves them? Who does he think he is, insisting that Christ the Lord meant what He said?

Maybe, he thinks he’s the Pope. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had a thing or two to do with his election. It’s possible that he was put in this position because what he’s telling us is what we need to hear.

I wrote a post declaring my loyalty to this good man.

I ended up deleting a number of disturbing comments on this post. The comments came from people who wanted to rage at  the Holy Father — and at me, for standing with him.

They came from Catholics whose Catholicism has devolved down to a Gospel according to them as explicated by some false internet pope they are slavishly following. They repeatedly cited this or that cult-leader of a fallen priest or political guru to explain why the Pope is a heretic, a fool, or worse.

They chided me for following the Pope instead of their fallen priest or political guru. They explained to me why there is no responsibility for Catholics to follow the teachings of the Holy Father when it conflicts with the teachings of these internet tin gods.

Each of these rageful, bitter people appeared to be convinced — absolutely, foaming at the mouth I’d like to kill you for disagreeing with me convinced — that the teachings of their fallen priest/political guru trumped that of the Pope. They were, in a word, demented. They were, in a phrase, in the grip of a virulent form of self-deluding, self-righteous evil.

This is all First Century stuff. It is the same old story, re-told with living actors who don’t seem to know they are playing a part. I know that the chock-full-o-nuts attacks on the Holy Father for being named Man of the Year will arrive soon. I’ve read enough attacks claiming that the Pope is a heretic because public sinners are attracted to what he’s saying to know they’re coming.

For those of you who are interested, here’s my take on the Person of the Year deal: It doesn’t mean a thing.

Those same people who are so in love with Pope Francis today can turn like they were on ice and begin attacking him tomorrow.

What does matter — and is of eternal consequence — is whether or not those who hear his message will be convicted by it to turn to Jesus. The Pope is in the business of saving souls, not gathering honors.

He’s the Pope. He stands in the shoes of the fisherman. Which makes him a fisher of people.

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Virgencita Mexicano: Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, the Americas and the New World.

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Anniversary: No Posts Today

I’m celebrating my anniversary today. That means no posts. I’ll be back in full form tomorrow.

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Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes Part 2: The Beam in My Eye

 

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. 

Jesus Christ

Pope Francis is calling all of us to take up what Protestants call the Great Commission.

That is the direct command from Our Lord to Go and make disciples of all nations. The Holy Father is teaching in exactly the same way Jesus taught by advising us to cleanse ourselves of our own sins before we head off diagnosing the sins of other people.

This is an call to evangelize the world, but like the good pastor that he is, Pope Francis calls us first to evangelize our own hearts through genuine conversion to Christ. Evangelii Gaudium is a convicting document. If you read it with an honest and open heart, it will convict you of the need to change your ways.

No one is more prey to the error of condemning others while wrapping themselves in a cloak of self-righteousness than politicians and bloggers. It is an occupational hazard.

Since I am a politician blogger, I get a double dose of the temptation to become a bargain-basement Pharisee. Blogging at the intersection of faith and politics is a location fraught with all sorts of annoyances and frustrations. It’s easy to lose track of the love and desire to do good that brought me here in the first place.

Evanglii Gaudium reminded me that the joy of Gospel, the freedom of the Gospel, the absolute certainty that everything I do matters to God, belongs to me. It is a free gift from a God Who loves me so much that He was willing to suffer the extremities of humiliation, public torture and a hideous death to give it to me.

When I focus on protecting my petty little sins, I toss those joys to the ground and turn to the bitterness and alienation of the lost people I claim I want to help.

That, in the final analysis, is the price for clinging to your precious little sins: Anger, bitterness, self-righteousness. The fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, are all lost to us and replaced by an angry obsession with what is wrong with other people.

As those of us in the West move more deeply into a post-Christian world, we are going to find that the only thing that sustains us is the Spirit, and that our call to follow Christ will either be sustained by these gifts of the Spirit, or it will fail.

The second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium is a call to personal housecleaning. It is a diagnosis of how we have cast ourselves out of the garden all over again by biting into the bitter fruit of our own cherished sins.

Since Evangelii Gaudium is a call to the whole Church to evangelize the whole world, it focuses its diagnosis of sin on the corporate sins we commit against one another as part of groups. The Pope doesn’t go over the obvious. He doesn’t remind us of what we should very well know: That when we live our lives built on the cheats of greed, lies of adultery and the brutality of murder we are not God’s people and if we do not repent, we will not go to heaven.

He focuses instead on what the political power brokers and money changers of our times don’t want us to see. That is the vast corporate and social ways in which we commit these same private sins and the enormous price in human suffering that this behavior exacts on so many of the 7 billion people living on this planet today.

A few paragraphs in this second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium have raised the ire of the corporatist apologizers in the media. Most of this particular group has spoken out against abortion down through the years, along with gay marriage. They have not been so eager to condemn other forms of killing, ranging from embryonic stem cell research to wars of conquest, and, as has been revealed from time to time, many of them do not practice a private sexual morality that matches their public statements.

This has confused many good Christians who’ve been taught — by fallen clergy and these same corporatist apologizers — that economics is entirely outside the reach of the Gospels. They have exempted themselves from the piercing eye of Gospel teachings in matters of money, and a lot of good Christians have bought this deal because these same people condemn abortion.

But the same Jesus Who taught that every life is valuable to God sent the young rich man away and said, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

It was Christ the Lord who drove the money changers out of the temple.

I would imagine that what some of these people are saying about Pope Francis would look mild and mannerly compared to what they might say about Our Lord.

Pope Francis is asking us to stop putting fetters on the Gospel and accept it in all its demanding power. He is asking us to throw off our chains of political fealty and approval seeking and step out on the ice and live the teachings of Christ as the transforming, Kingdom building powerhouse that they are.

Part of this is his condemnation of what he calls “the new idolatry of money.” The pope calls us directly and explicitly to work for economic systems that are based on the good of human beings.

Despite the media focus on these few paragraphs, they are a small part of the message of Evangelii Gaudium, and economic sins are just a few of the things the pope addresses.

He speaks eloquently about the challenges Christians face concerning Christian persecution (emphasis mine):

We also evangelize when we attempt to confront … the attacks on religious freedom and new persecutions directed against Christians; in some countries these have reached alarming levels of hatred and violence. In many places, the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideology which has come about as a reaction to anything which might appear totalitarian.

The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal … completely rejecting the transcendent. It has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin and a steady increase in relativism.

… As the bishops of the United States of America have rightfully point out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid of everyone, “there are those in our culture who portray these teachings as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights … the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom.”

the negative aspect of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family.

Evangelii Gaudium takes an uncompromising position in support of the sanctity of marriage.

The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. The family … is the fundamental cell of society. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will.

There is much more in this second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium. But I hope that you are getting the message. The document itself is a call to evangelize the world. The much-picked-over paragraphs about money are a small part of the message of the second chapter of the document.

The second chapter deals with the areas where we need to give ourselves, both as individuals and as a Church, a spiritual house cleaning. Money is a part of this. If economics have no moral requirements, then Jesus Christ Himself was a fraud, because that is certainly not what He taught.

People who attack the Pope for saying what has been Church teaching for two-thousand years and who try to subvert him when he challenges us to give up our greed and venality about money, are attacking the Gospels themselves.

But the primary injustice they are committing by focusing on these few paragraphs is that they are depriving the people of God of the convicting power of this document. If all you know about Evangelii Gaudium is what you’ve read in the press, then you know nothing about it all.

Evangelii Gaudium is a treatise on the New Evanglization. The second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium is a treatise on some of our most glaring social and personal sins. The Holy Father focused this second chapter on the sins that, as he says, damage or even destroy the ability of the Church and individual Christians to effectively evangelize the world.

He is calling us to reclaim for ourselves the joy of the Gospel by yielding up all our precious sins to the teaching, transforming power of the Gospels. He is calling us to conversion, to walk the walk of our Christian faith in the real world.

Powerful people hated this message two-thousand years ago. Powerful people hate it today.

Part of our job as Christians is to ignore them and follow our Christ. The teachings in Evanglii Gaudium help us do that.

 

 

To read part one in this series, go here.

 

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Pope Francis Credits Nun with Saving His Life

 

Like every pope before him, Pope Francis brings his own history to the Papacy.

Pope John Paul II was deeply influenced by his experiences living under the Nazis and then the Communists. Pope Benedict XVI was influenced by his academic background as well as growing up under the Nazis and then living in a country divided into slave and free. These life experiences added human understanding and dimension to the way they lived their office.

Pope Francis comes from, as he said, “the ends of the earth,” which is to say a world far removed from the Europe of the mid-twentieth century. But like these two men, he has faced unjust governments. He has also pastored people who live in abysmal poverty, in a land where children of the poor search through dumps for the means of survival while the extremely wealthy live in a separate and rarified world.

One of the most powerful formative experiences of his life must have been the illness that cost him a lung. The book I Foretti di Papa Francisco, reveals that the Holy Father credits a nun who ignored doctor’s orders and increased his dosage of antibiotics with saving his life.

It’s a powerful story that tells us a lot about this holy man.

From The Telegraph:

In a new book, I Fioretti di Papa Francesco, (The Little Flowers of Pope Francis), Andrea Tornielli, a veteran Vatican journalist, the pontiff speaks of his gratitude to the nuns who worked in the hospital where he was ill as a young man.

“I am alive thanks to one of them,” Pope Francis said. “When I had lung problems in the hospital, the doctor gave me penicillin and antibiotics in small doses.

“The nun who was on the ward tripled that because she had an intuition, she knew what to do, because she was with the ill all day long,” the pope said.

“The doctor, who was very good, spent his time in a laboratory, but the nun was living on the front line and talking with those on the front line every day.”

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Immaculate Conception: The Door Opening

The Immaculate Conception is the door opening on our salvation.

It is God the Father, preparing the way for the birth of God the Son by first preparing a holy mother for Him.

The idea that God chose to enter the world as a helpless baby, born to a young girl and her carpenter husband in a backwater province of a conquered nation goes against everything we know and believe about what makes a person important.

We live in a world where might makes right and the biggest and meanest get to make all the rules. This disregard for the little people of the world was even more pronounced in that long-ago day when Our Lady was conceived. This tiny spark of humanity, who was destined to become the bearer of the hope of all humankind, was, if possible, even less important to the worldly world than her baby son would be at His beginning.

She was, after all, a girl in a world that to this day regards little girls as less than worthless. She was that half of humanity which was often exposed at birth and left to rot. Even today in large swaths of what we call civilization, baby girls are aborted because they are girls, and if they are born, killed shortly afterwards. Girls in these cultures often get less food, little education and almost no support in their development as people. They are subjected to brutalities ranging from female genital mutilation, to child marriages, rape and battering.

And yet, God chose, with every possibility possible at His disposal, to come into our world through the motherhood of a young woman. God entrusted Himself to a mother from His conception to His eventual death on the cross. It was a woman who gave Him life and who nurtured, shaped and reared Him into young manhood. This does not take anything away from Joseph’s contribution. Fathers are just as important as mothers. But today we are considering the one person who was with Jesus from conception to grave, and who then was there at Pentecost when the Church was born.

Mary is the mother of us all, the essential human contribution to the undoing of the curse of the Fall. She was prophesied at the Fall and she will be there at the real end when Jesus comes again.

And it began with her conception, when God re-created the lost innocence of Eden in a new Eve who would give birth to the salvific Child to undo our transgressions. This great re-wind started then, in her Immaculate Conception. It was the long-awaited door opening. This feast day is our chance to go back and re-learn what has been given to us by a young girl who, conceived without sin as the original Eve had been, did not falter in her mission as that earlier Eve did, but remained sinless until her own death.

God gave us Mary, and Mary, through her obedience and faith, gave us His son.

She is not, as some traditions try to treat her, a mindless incubator we bring out for Christmas pageants and then forget the rest of the year. Our Lady is woven into the story of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Everything that is wholly human about Our Lord comes from and through her. She gave us her Son, first at His birth and then later at Calvary; and He in turn, gave us His mother.

The Immaculate Conception is a door opening on the end of hopelessness and death. It is a cell-sized point of light shining in the darkness of our own devices. Mary, Our Mother, began the way we all did, as a single cell made in the image and likeness of God.

Christ’s humanity is her humanity. Her dignity is our dignity. She is our mother for the ages.

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Litany of Our Lady

 

This litany is a wonderful way to pray today on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Conversion Story: Jesus Came to Heal the Broken Hearted, and I Had a Broken Heart

 

This is a beautiful testimony of conversion to Jesus. In a way, it’s a rescue story.

Notice this young man’s discussion of his friends who led him to Christ by their example, witness and loving invitation. That is a potent form of evangelization. It is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us. The question is, do we have the ears to hear?

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Great Pro Life Argument Based on the Core Assumption of Abortion

 

The core assumption of abortion is that the laws we write have the power to determine who is human.

It leads to the secondary assumption that if our laws say that a whole segment of the human population is not human enough to be worthy of the most basic human right of all human beings — the right to life — then that is, because the law says it, true.

This is a lie, and on this lie abortion builds its house.

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Baptists Teach Catholics How to Follow Church Teaching

 

 

This is basically what Pope Francis teaches about economics in Evangelii Gaudium.

There is nothing “Marxist” about it. It is basic Gospel teaching that every serious Christian should seek to follow.

It comes from an Oklahoma Southern Baptist family, talking about their business. This is the brave Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

 

This is my favorite Advent Hymn. I love its haunting melody and plaintive cry for our savior. It makes me think of all the lost people who are crying out for Him, even, sometimes, with their angry attacks on Christianity.

At heart, so much of this culture’s anger toward our faith is a cry of unrequited love from people who don’t know that God loves them.

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Stand Four — Eight Nights of Hanukkah


Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

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Convos with My Two-Year-Old: The Dress

 

It’s time for a break. Nothing amuses me more than my favorite YouTube videos, Convos with My Two-Year-Old.

Watch for Dad’s reaction at the end. It’s priceless.

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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.

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Advent in 2 Minutes

 

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

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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.

 

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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.

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If You’re Looking for Me, You’ll Find Me Standing with the Pope

Pope Francis’ wonderful exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium is a call to each of us to do our part to evangelize the world.

It is also a call to universal conversion and a radical reorientation among both the faithful and the ordained ministers of the Gospel. The Holy Father want us to trim the sails of our spiritual life as individuals so that we can move forward in this mission which Jesus gave us 2,000 years ago.

The Church and previous popes have been routinely attacked by those on the left of the political spectrum for a failure to abide by left-wing social teachings concerning abortion, gay marriage, and lately, questions of individual conscience of religious freedom. Pope Benedict XVI was routinely pilloried for things he did under force while he was a teenager, while Pope John Paul II suffered an attempted — and nearly successful — assassination attempt.

As this was happening, those on the right side of the political spectrum attempted to co-opt the Catholic Church in the same way that they had managed to co-opt other denominations by convincing them to whittle the Gospels down to two thou shalt nots about abortion (as opposed to the whole spectrum of the sanctity of life) and later, gay marriage. The price for their support on abortion was to be given a free ride on everything else.

Most conservative Christian denominations fell into line, up to and including the point of cherry-picking Holy Scripture to find verses to support specific economic policies. A number of lower-level Catholic clergy did the same thing. This was, as I keep saying, heresy.

Just to be clear, the left-wing churches that interpreted thou shalt not kill and a man shall cleave to his wife and they twain shall be one flesh out of significance in order to please their political masters were also committing heresy.

A few lower level members of the Catholic Clergy, as well as a good number of well-intentioned Catholic laity, cut their faith to conform to their politics. But the great moral voice of the Church stayed solidly consistent with 2,000 years of Christian teaching in these matters.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict issued documents containing virtually the same admonitions concerning economics that Pope Francis has just issued. I know, from reading many papal encyclicals, that these admonitions go back in a consistent pattern at least to the 19th century and probably long before. I know because I have read the documents containing these statements.

What is new is not what the Holy Father has said, but the contentious and narcissistic character of the entitlement on the part of political groups as regards religious leaders. Right-wing politicians and their operatives in the media and the corporate world have come to believe they “own” these religious leaders. They expect religious leaders to interpret the Gospels of Jesus Christ as they dictate. In their view of things, Jesus Christ is a great vote-getter and power compiler for them, and His clergy are their moral apologists and errand boys.

I have written many times about the way that I have seen Republican political leaders bully, boss and order the heads of whole denominations to say what they are told and do what they are ordered. I have watched while these same religious leaders fell into line and did exactly that.

I want to emphasize that this is not conjecture. I have witnessed these things and argued in vain with some of the religious leaders, urging them to grow spines and stand for what they say they believe. I have heard their excuses. I have also seen how whipped and meek they were in their dealings with these politicians.

I’ve seen them back off and back down about the one issue they claimed was number one with them: The issue of abortion. I’ve even had pro-life leaders lie to me in a failed attempt to try to keep me from taking a stand against Republican legislative initiatives that were enabling abortion rather than shutting it down.

These political leaders are the religious leaders’ masters, and they are not at all shy about yanking back on the reins if the religious leaders forget this.

I believe that this prevailing relationship of religious corruption and political abuse has created an expectation on the part of right-wing leaders in all venues, including the media, that religious leaders are under their thumb. The Pope is the great exception in this. He is not owned or dictated to by either the minions of the right or minions of the left.

The Catholic Church does not trim its teachings to suit the fancy of American politicians. For all their arrogance and power, these political forces and their operatives cannot control or dictate to the Pope.

Evangelii Gaudium does not say anything new in terms of Catholic teaching and economics. But its total lack of obeisance to the political powers in one wing of American politics both affronts and angers them. The Pope is a problem.

The last thing they want is for religious leaders to start behaving as if Jesus Christ was actually the arbiter of their teachings. The scary thing about Pope Francis’ independence and total unconcern about them and their power is not only that tens of millions of American Catholics might follow him, but worse, that their toady religious leaders might consider preaching the Gospels of Christ instead of political expedience along with him.

Courage breeds courage. There is just the glimmer of a possibility that these had men of the fallen collar class might decide to become real men of God and start standing for Christ. What would happen if, instead of bending over and apologizing to their political masters for disagreeing with them, the religious leaders these political parties depend on for their moral cover actually stood for Christ?

This scenario of corruption and abuse is a house of cards built on government sinecure that depends entirely on the willingness of religious leaders to barter the Gospels in the political marketplace. The fact that they do it for significantly more than 30 pieces of silver does not alter the meaning of the exchange.

Evangelii Gaudium doesn’t mention any of this. But the clear moral teachings it contains are a direct challenge to it, anyway. The Pope, because he is independent and teaches and preaches Christ, is a threat.

These people have become so arrogant that they think they can talk to the Pope the way they talk to their toady political religious leaders that they’ve bought and own. Since they can’t even get an audience with the Pope, they are going directly to the Catholic faithful they have beguiled for so long and are doing their best to get them riled up into a froth of Pope-hating.

They are also depending on the same thing that President Obama has used in pushing the HHS Mandate. They are counting — probably correctly — on the latent anti-Catholicism in our society, in particular in certain conservative Protestant circles. All this Pope bashing they’ve been engaging in is designed to undermine the Holy Father with a portion of His own Catholic faithful, while shoring up their position with their wholly-owned religious leaders.

Not only does it feed them red Catholic blood to whet their anti-Catholicism, it demonstrates what can happen to those who don’t do what they are told. The Pope might be able to shrug off their insults, but lesser clergy would have their reputations and careers wrecked by an onslaught like this.

In short, since they can’t bully and coerce the Pope, they will try as much as possible to isolate him and render his moral teachings insignificant among those religious leaders they can bully and coerce.

The sheer amoral hubris of these people is mind-boggling. They are no more Christian in their way of looking at things than the people they have excoriated for not being Christian these past decades. They have exempted themselves from Gospel claims on their behavior, and they have bought up a clergy to support them in this and teach their followers that it is righteousness to do so.

I am not concerned with what the fallen clergy whose lord is political power do or don’t do. I am not even concerned at the moment by the latent anti-Catholicism in our society.

What concerns me is Catholics who chose to follow these pied pipers of right and left wing politicians in attacking the Pope. I washed my hands long ago of the left wing Catholics who excoriate the Pope and refuse to follow the Church’s teachings. I have given up trying to reason with them and confine myself to praying for them, instead.

But I still have some hope for the right wing Catholics. I know that many of them have been deceived by the political hoy-paloy and that they are earnest in their desire to follow Christ and live their lives as faithful Catholics.

I also know that facing the fact that you’ve been successfully lied to and shifting out of a well-worn path in your thinking is painful. I know this because I’ve had to do it.

It is not easy or popular for an elected official to make a public 180 degree hard about on these fire-brand issues. The price is high. But that is what I did.

I understand how hard it is to do and I sympathize with those who try to avoid it. I tried to avoid it myself.

But you can’t be a half-way Christian. As Jesus said, you can’t serve two masters.

Most conservative Catholics are appalled by left-wing politicians such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi who talk about their Catholic faith and then defy the Pope in matters such as abortion and gay marriage. What they don’t see is that they are doing exactly the same thing by joining in with those who excoriate the Pope over right-wing economic positions.

A Pelosi of the right who only follows the teachings of the Church when those teachings are the same as their politics is not different in substance or fidelity from a Pelosi of the left who refuses to follow Church teachings when they conflict with their politics.

I didn’t plan or want to write about this. But the slime about Pope Francis just keeps rolling in. I reached a personal tipping point over an article that was published by Fox News attacking the Holy Father. It made me so angry that I had to stop and pray and then pray some more before I could even begin to write.

If I had hit the keyboard in that first flare of anger, I would have ended up like St Peter, cutting off someone’s ear and not doing any good at all.

The right-wing blogosphere has been littered the past few days with attacks from Breitbart, Limbaugh, Fox News, some guy named Mike Norman and another called “the agonist,” all claiming that Pope Francis is a Marxist, or something worse, an Obamaist. They used ridiculous headlines such as Pope Francis Attacks Capitalism, Calls for State Control, (Breitbart) Pope Francis’ Latest Document is Pure Marxism (Limbaugh) Pope Francis is Giving Obama an Orgasm (Limbaugh again), Pope Francis is the Catholic Church’s Obama. God Help Us (Fox News) and CNN’s entry from the left, The Pope as Marxist: Is Limbaugh Right?

Just in case I haven’t made myself clear, let me explain something to you about all this caterwauling and attacking of the Holy Father:

It’s about money.

It’s about power.

It’s about politics.

It has nothing to do with morality, truth, the facts, Marxism or even Obama.

It is about these punsters using your fidelity to them to destroy your fidelity to your Church so that when the Pope disagrees with them, it won’t matter.

These things they’re saying about Pope Francis are not true. They either did not read Evangelii Gaudium, or they are deliberately distorting what it says. When they say that the Holy Father “attacked capitalism, called for government control and is a Marxist,” I am hard-pressed to call it anything other than a slanderous lie.

I’m going to go over what the Pope actually said in a series of Cliff Notes posts. I’ve done one already. But I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this economic issue for the simple reason that it’s not that important to the overall message of Evangelii Gaudium. You can either take it from me, or read the document for yourself. These claims are absolute garbage.

From some of the comments I’ve seen, I would guess that a number of Public Catholic readers are drinking this Pope-hating Kool Aid. That is your choice.

But I am a Catholic woman. This is a Catholic blog. And I am going to stand with the Pope.

 

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