Freedom Rider

My father would have been 90 today. He was an idealist, but also a depressive, so he rarely followed through with the actions implied by his strongly held beliefs.

He was a Platonist rather than an Aristotelean. But at least once in his life, he took great risk and really made a stand for his principles.

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In September 1961, he was one of 14 Episcopalian clergymen who broke the segregation laws of Jackson, MS, by eating at a lunch counter with a black man. They were held in jail about a week before the judge dismissed the case. Kabuki theater in the end, but at the time he was preparing to be sent to the kind of work farm depicted in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God, as we read in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. We are also all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who turned away from God in the Original Sin, as we read just a couple of chapters later in the same book.

Every person, every human life, is precious, and we must never lose sight of that fundamental truth. Likewise, every person is a sinner, imperfect in his behavior despite his profound dignity and importance to God. When Jesus invited the righteous to throw a stone at the sinful girl, nobody did because all recognized their own unrighteousness. Let us love each other as God loves us: through thick and thin, without judgment, risking our own lives.

CEO and NGO Catholics

Faithful Catholics have long derided what are known as CEO Catholics: Christmas and Easter Only. It is easy to conclude one is not really a Catholic if one only comes to Mass twice a year, when everybody goes to whatever church they belong to, if only to be seen going to church or because it is a nice thing to do as a family. There is another acronym-ic Catholic that is just as false: the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Catholic.

In the season of Lent, we are asked to commit to greater depth in our prayers, our fasting, and our almsgiving. Prayers and fasting are interior practices, but almsgiving rapidly shifts our focus to the recipients of our monetary gifts. That external focus may lead us away from the purpose of almsgiving: the reason the Church asks us to engage in almsgiving is to bless us, the givers. The recipient is also blessed, but that is not the primary reason to give money during Lent.

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The human person

I had a nice conversation with a young adult whose sister will be married in a few months to a wonderfully kind and fun young man. My young conversationalist is a man of simple faith, not one who attends church on a regular basis but one who believes in the Christian God. Like so many believers who don’t work particularly hard at growing in a intellectual understanding of their faith, my conversationalist does not have a good way to frame the various emotional struggles he sees in himself and in his family.

When these types of questions come up, they rarely come up in a quiet, thoughtful, convenient time and place. My conversationalist shared his observations at a cocktail party, where people were talking and laughing and drinking about surface things rather than deep things. I tried to share in ways that I hoped he would understand a basic understanding of who we are as human beings.

I shared with him, as I share with many, my reflection on the selection of St. Peter as the rock of the Church. On the night of Jesus’s passion, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. One can make a good argument that the sin of Peter that night was no less than the sin of Judas that night. The difference between Peter and Judas was that when Peter realized what he had done, he wept and eventually sought reconciliation with his God. Judas, on the other hand, despaired of reconciliation and took his own life. Yet it is St. Peter, a model of weakness, to whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of God.

I shared with my conversationalist that there is an Old Testament parallel to St. Peter in the person of King David. At the time of year when he as King should have been out campaigning, he was lounging around the castle and the sight of a pretty woman bathing led him to commit the sin of adultery. He compounded that sin with the sin of murder when he arranged for his lover’s husband to be killed in battle. Yet King David was the model King, the one whose heir everyone was looking for.

Just as Saint Peter sought reconciliation when he realized his sin, King David was filled with contrition when the prophet Nathan pointed out to him the seriousness of his crimes. Psalm 51 is the song David wrote revealing his sorrow at his sin and his confidence in God’s acceptance of his confession.

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I love you but No

There was a teacher at my kids’ high school who would often respond to the students’ persistent requests with an unassailable conversation stopper:

I love you, but No.

For the kids, it was the last word in that sentence which resonated. They didn’t really believe the first part. And that is understandable, for much of our teacher-student, boss-employee, or parent-child conversations operate in an atmosphere of power. Those with power may from time to time sprinkle nice words in their directives, but their underlings often hear only the directive.

As Christians, we have been given the two greatest commandments: to love God with all that we have, and to love our neighbor as we want to be loved. For us, then, the better wording of the conversation stopper might be:

I love you, so No.

Love sanctifies power. Our all-powerful God is also the God of Love, and we are called to be like Him. As a parent, as a teacher, even a boss, we should start and finish our communication with those in our care with love.

It is because I truly love my children that I don’t give them so many things they want.

It is because I love my students that I hold them accountable to the requirements of the course.

It is harder to see love at the heart of employer-employee relationships because of the transactional character of modern capitalism, but God is against an impersonal, transactional economy. At the center of the Church’s teachings on social issues is a reminder of the deep dignity of the human person made in the image of God. No economic or political system is valid if it ignores that fundamental reality. So, love should be why I say No to my employees.

When we live, learn, and work together, we must bind our instructions and corrections in love. It is the way, the truth, and the life.