Our last Lent?

Our Last Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday.

We “do” this every year at the beginning of the season of Lent. It is a tradition and marker. Green gives way to purple, fish frys blosom, Stations of the Cross are observed, we will go to confession, Easter Sunday is in the distance. Today, don’t focus on all of that. Today, focus on the Big Picture™.

When you go to church today, look at the lines of people waiting to receive ashes. They are from every culture, rich and poor, young and old. Not all will be with us next year. For some, while they don’t know it yet, this is their last Ash Wednesday. I wonder how many truly understand that possibility. Most are probably in reasonably good health and believe it likely that their earthly pilmgramage has at least a few more years. I hope so, but have been to enough funerals to know how wrong that can be.

Consider too, this could be your last Ash Wednesday. If by God’s grace it isn’t, then know for certain that some future one will be. Today we should reflect on that.

Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

Unelectable

Unelectable

I have been looking at this, trying to understand it, and collecting my thoughts on it for months. You probably have been too. I am speaking of “the election.” Even writing “the election” now brings me a sense of repulsion.

Unelectable Candidates

I remember a time when just a slight history of impropriety would torpedo a presidential candidate’s chances. In more recent decades we would lament how bad our choices were and resign ourselves to choosing the “lesser of 2 evils” while hoping and praying, in the future, it would get better. False hope that. It got worse, then worse again, and now…

Any objective observer would agree we have two of the worst candidates ever. The history of each and the numerous revelations which have come out about each should completely disqualify both of them. Not only do they both have a long string of serious issues, from all appearances they are also completely unrepentant.

Regardless, one will be our next president.

If you happen to think that one is morally superior to the other, you are woefully uninformed or highly misinformed. On that later point, the always biased news sources have pulled out “all the stops” to manipulate your vote.

Representative Democracy

Recalling our grade school civics classes, you and I do not get to directly make governmental decisions. We do that only indirectly through our elected officials. In effect, we give our proxy to someone else. Choosing where to invest our 1 vote is choosing the overall outcome we hope to attain with it.

Whoever the president is, they are themselves a proxy for the bundle of policies they represent. For the most part, we are not choosing a person of high moral caliber to make decisions for us as unforeseen events unfold. Rather, we are choosing a proxy to implement a vision. You can count on that regardless of who is elected. This is key.

Popularity Contest

I am AMAZED at how many people fall for this (although I understand it as an emotional reaction). People completely ignore issues as big as a mountain and focus on candidate personalities the size of a rock in long-term importance. How often have you heard “I would never vote for her…” or “I would never vote for him…”? They are rejecting her/his character and history, which they should — but that is not what our vote is about. We are not choosing a prom king or queen. Using our vote in that way is missing the forest for the trees.

Speaking for myself, I could not endorse either candidate as a good, moral person. All indications are they are both far, far from that. Despicable is a word that often occurs to me. I would not hold either as a role model. I would not like to personally meet either candidate. I could not be friends with either. I want nothing to do with either. Neither is worthy of my vote…   or yours.

Regardless, one will be our next president.

Elections have Consequences

I have heard all manner of tortured explanations why one or the other will be a better “leader.” Neither will ever be my leader. He or she will however greatly advance policies which at this point are very well known and will not significantly change. Each has a base they depend on for power and will not deviate much from those positions.

Our vote is a POLICY decision. It is not a personal endorsement. POLICY.

Long, long after the next president is gone, our country and society will be greatly impacted by their legacy. It is NOT reversible (except, maybe, over decades). It will outlive the candidates and very probably us.

Choosing a Policy Bundle

Which policy bundle should we choose? Of course, they will each have at least some pros and some cons. Do they balance out?

Unelectable Abortion

If you are a faithful Catholic, not even close.

We might be tired of hearing it, but the one issue that should not and can not go away is abortion. There are over 1 million surgical abortions PER YEAR in the US. Many more if you include abortifacients such as “Plan B” and various contraceptives (and you should count them, BTW). No political relabeling changes the fact that a created person, scientifically a human being, with their own unique DNA — and completely innocent is killed. A human heart is forever stilled when its human body is violently ripped apart. Our Church calls this an “intrinsic evil” because the taking of this life can not possibly be justified under any circumstance.

Some would like to balance that against a presumption that one party or the other is more war prone. That is an assumption completely contrary to historical facts. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend it is true. 1.3 million Americans have died TOTAL in all the wars we have ever been in. 1.1 million of those in the Civil War and WWII (so 200,000 outside of those sad periods). While this is terrible of itself, it pales compared to the ongoing abortion of the innocents just in the US.

One candidate is enthusiastically committed to abortion, to overturning all restrictions, to using your taxpayer money to fund it, to support it worldwide. They have a perfect NARAL rating (a bad thing), the highest honors from Emily’s List (another bad thing) and the unqualified support of Planned Parenthood (the abortion giant).

This candidate is also strongly opposed to religious freedom as we have historically enjoyed in America. They are committed to suppression of religious liberties of constitutional “freedom of religion” to a far lesser novelty they call “freedom of worship.” That is a huge difference. In essence, freedom of worship is the concept that you can worship in private as you wish but may not bring your beliefs into the public square. If you attempt to do that, you will be harshly persecuted. There are numerous examples demonstrating this erosion of our basic liberties already. It can and will get much worse under this candidate.

The other candidate, similarly deplorable in their acts as a person, has very opposite positions on these crucial matters. This is not only about the laws these candidates will propose, but the Supreme Court justices they will nominate. Like it or not, future Supreme Court decisions will be 100% different on matters the Church has the highest interest in based on the 3 people the next president will very likely choose. That is, you will choose via your proxy of that next president. To be clear, YOU are predestining now the outcome of those future Supreme Court decisions for or against life and for or against the Church.

Choosing Based on 1 or 2 Issues?

Issues are not of similar weight. Issues of life itself and religious freedom are non-negotiable. All faithful Catholics must hold this. Most other issues are ones of prudential judgment in which we can differ in good conscience. Those are issues of security, healthcare, immigration, economics, and so on. Life itself and the freedom to live that life in good conscience must first be secure.

Clear Catholic Teaching

I considered giving you a raft of links, quotes, videos, etc. but respect your limited time (and tolerance to read further). You are probably also repulsed by this overall topic as am I. So instead I offer you only this recent video from Fr. John Lankeit (Diocese of Phoenix). Please spend a few minutes to view and reflect on it.

Amoris Laetitia conclusions

Amoris Laetitia conclusions

It has now been 11 days since Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) was released to the public. It is the Holy Father’s reflections and conclusions on the Synod of Bishops meetings on the family. Apostolic Exhortations in the hierarchy of document authority are below Papal Bulls, Apostolic Constitutions, Motu Proprios, and Encyclicals. They are not legislative documents nor do they contain dogmatic definitions or changes to discipline. Amoris Laetitia is unusually large, weighing in at over 250 pages.

Pope Francis has long been rightly concerned with Catholics who feel estranged from the Church. He knows, due to secular propaganda and poor catechesis, that fallen-away Catholics feel rejected and do not participate in the life of the Church. These include those in same sex relationships, those struggling with gender identity and – the largest group – those who are married but living in an attempted “remarriage” outside of the Church.

Amoris Laetitia in many ways is a beautiful presentation, and even defense, of the teaching of the Church. It is also an invitation to those who have separated themselves to return and join all of us in responding to the universal call to holiness. Additionally, it is a document for the faithful intended to strengthen marriages and families.

Much of Amoris Laetitia is very good. It could have been in the same league of Humanae Vitae, but it sadly falls short due to critically muddled messages. A small part of it (particularly in chapter 8 and footnote 351) addressing pastoral care are ambiguous and problematic to the point of overshadowing the rest of the document. The text in question leaves open, for those inclined to interpret it in a certain way (debatably including Pope Francis), “pastoral practices” which are contrary to the timeless teaching of the Church everywhere and in every place, the direct words of Christ Jesus and the explicit warnings of St. Paul on receiving (“taking” is a more appropriate word in this instance) communion unworthily.

That scandal has already begun. Scandal, BTW, means evil actions which occasion others to sin. “Liberal” minded bishops (particularly in Germany, but other places too such as Chicago) have already declared these ambiguous words to be a game changer. For their part in the scandal, the biased liberal media was quick to affirm the same. To wit:

Amoris Laetitia Headlines

While Amoris Laetitia officially changes nothing, certain priests and bishops through their own interpretations of the ambiguity, are quite likely to offer a path to receiving communion for the “divorced and remarried.” To be clear, these are people who are already married to others and either have not sought a declaration of nullity or whose previous marriages were found to be valid but are unwilling to live in continence (i.e. as “brother and sister”) with their new partners. This acceptance over true repentance may be devastating to their eternal souls. The scandal will be harmful not only to the partners, but their children, their parish and the entire Body of Christ.

Amoris Laetitia, for all of its true and beautiful text, fails to clearly identify such immoral unions as sinful. Quotes from prior documents seem to selectively exclude that too. Instead, the immoral unions are normalized as simply “irregular.” Yes, they are indeed irregular because of their mortally sinful nature. Calling them irregular is misleading.

Likewise, the clear teaching of Christ on marriage, while strongly affirmed, is referred to as the “ideal.” It is ideal only in that any lesser sexual union is mortally sinful. Then again, Jesus’ teaching is described as “proposed” which it is, in the sense of free will to accept or reject Christ.

It is understandable for a pastor to (initially perhaps) use gentle words like irregular, ideal and proposed to open a dialog with those who have strayed. When they appear in an official teaching document and facilitate an interpretation implying acceptance of sin, which some appear determined to do, then they lead to scandal.

Lastly, Amoris Laetitia gives prominence to the “internal forum” and the person’s conscience. A well-formed conscience (i.e. in concert with God’s will) is valid and ancient Church teaching, but internal forum is somewhat technical and readily abused by misunderstanding. Without giving clear direction, the text in Amoris Laetitia can easily lead to the heresy of relativism. Already, America Magazine has declared simply and without qualification “the role of [sic] conscience is paramount in moral decision making” as a key takeaway from the document. With all due respect, that is absurd.

FWIW, my predictions are:

  • Amoris Laetitia will fail in its goals, but will be seriously divisive for the Church.
  • Those who are “divorced and remarried” will increasingly receive communion (and thereby, as St. Paul warned, “eats and drinks judgment on himself”) — with and without pastoral guidance.
  • In areas where bishops tolerate (or worse, promote) this abuse, actual applications for annulments will decline in preference to this express approach.
  • Young people contemplating marriage, will have ever more reason to doubt the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. What they see in actions will speak much louder to them than the words to the contrary.
  • Likewise, struggling marriages will be weakened as a new acceptance for “remarriage” may appear to be normalized.
  • A future “pope of clarity” will have to unambiguously correct this and other official ambiguities which have appeared in recent years.

Amoris Laetitia has much to recommend it, particularly for those who will read it with faithful eyes. Many who have been closely following the shennigans surrounding the Synod on the Family have feared it would be worse. For that at least, they are relieved.

EWTN’s highly respected news program The World Over with host Raymond Arroyo had excellent coverage of the issues raised by Amoris Laetitia last Thursday evening:

I strongly recommend further reading:

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has insightful posts on the topic too:

What saves us?

What saves us

We Christians are a confused lot. All of us would agree that we are saved by the cross of Christ, but many are fuzzy on the details. That extends to what we must do, if anything, to be saved.

Some would say we need not do anything. Many say we need only have faith. A few accuse others of trying to merit heaven by their works. Many say it is by baptism or perhaps only through baptism of those who have reached the age of reason. Others say that baptism is symbolic and we are saved only by accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior, typically responding to an “altar call.”

They can not all be right! Yet, there is some truth in all of these conflicting ideas.

The short answer is that the baptized are saved by grace through faith. Grace comes to us as God’s infinite divine mercy, fully merited for us by Christ. It is a pure gift which we are free to accept or reject. Grace is not forced upon us. We accept it — we “open the gift” — through faith.

Faith is believing, but alone without a living response would be but an empty declaration. Faith without works is dead. St. James is quite direct and powerful on this point (James 2:14-26). It is indeed, the only place in scripture where faith and works are mentioned together and only to stress the futility of “faith alone”. As St. James notes, even the demons believe in God.

This in no way implies that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient or that we could merit salvation through our efforts. Rather, our faith must be fruitful (Matthew 7:16-20), reflecting God’s will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’

Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’

Consider two men, both of whom self-identify as farmers. The first man is a avid reader about all aspects of farming and knows the topic thoroughly. His fields however, lay uncultivated and bear no fruit. The second man may be less of a farming expert than the first, but works in the fields – plowing, planting, harvesting.

Both of these men know farming, but which one would we call a farmer? So it is with Christians.

Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

As it is written: “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Immigration

Immigration

The United States immigration system could use improvement, but is not as unjust or restrictive as many believe. A very strong case can be made for the exact opposite.

Did you know that our foreign-born population has tripled following the 1965 Hart-Cellar immigration act? Per US census data, in only 4 decades from 1970 it increased as follows: 9,619,302 to 14,079,906 to 19,767,316 and 31,107,889 (in 2000). By 2015 it reached 45 million and is on-track for a staggering 78 million by 2065.

Since the 1965 law, almost 59 million people have immigrated to America (so far). This is much more than at any other time in our history by a wide margin. It is 4 times more than any other country. We alone account for almost 20% of worldwide immigration per year.

Where are all the new immigrants from? Latin America mostly (51% – 30% from Mexico alone). When President Kennedy signed the 1965 immigration act, he said “it will not upset the ethnic mix of our society.” That was true of immigration before the 1965 law, but is far from true today. The ethnicity of the population has shifted significantly and will continue that trend. The ethnic makeup of 2100 will be nothing like 1900.

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

We are unique in the world by welcoming a flood of immigrants year after year. Many countries accept few permanent immigrants as citizens. Mexico, for instance, has had a terrible record on immigration. Even with our generous welcome, illegal immigration is huge, holding at a level of 10 million since 2004 (annual deportation is less than 5% of that). The US is one of only two developed countries that automatically grant citizenship to children of illegal immigrants (“anchor babies”).

Before the 1965 law, the poverty rate among immigrants was about the same as non-immigrants. Today it is almost double, thus requiring a significantly larger portion of taxpayer support.

Immigration to the United States is supported at a steep cost. A whopping 52% of legal immigrants receive welfare and, perhaps surprising to many, 71% of illegal immigrants receive this expensive taxpayer support. It costs California alone $12.3 BILLION dollars per year to educate just the illegal immigrants. The net cost (welfare, less any taxes paid) averages over $14,000 per household of illegal immigrants. This currently costs taxpayers about $113 BILLION per year. Of course, all the money spent in support of legal and illegal immigrants is money not spent on our veterans, on our failing infrastructure, on improving education, on healthcare or on our senior citizens. It contributes to our already monumental national debt. Let that sink in. We must BORROW over $14,000 per year for each of these households. That is money we do not have, debt that saps opportunity from the economy and a burden for us and future generations.

Additionally, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) reports that while illegal aliens are 3.5% of our population, they account for 36.7% of federal convictions. These convictions are primarily for drug trafficking, kidnapping/hostage taking, drug possession, money laundering and murder.

All this is not to say we should seal our borders, prohibit immigration or fail the persecuted. What this does say is that we are very generous and anyone who says otherwise is at best, irresponsibly misinformed.

Moreover, it is right and just that we consider who to welcome into our home and support by the sacrifices of our people. Should it be those closest to our borders and willing to violate our laws to enter uninvited? –OR– should it be those in most desperate need around the world who are literally perishing under the most extreme poverty or by the sword of radical Islam? Which is most just?

Consider also our capacity to welcome immigrants. It is not unlimited. Yes, we can always accept one more, but not without incremental risk little different than continuously adding just one more to a life boat — until it sinks. This boat is already packed and taking on water. If it sinks, no one is helped but many are unjustly harmed.

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