Sunday, May 31, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Life in General

It's been a while since I've blogged about myself, that's because not much has been going on. I've been babysitting and am now looking for work on a part time basis as I'm thinking of going to nursing school in September or late August depending on when the program starts.

I'm confused, perplexed and in essence disappointed that I haven't been able to get job in Church ministry. I'm tired of being too Catholic and conservative for the Catholic church and school. Seriously, I'm upholding the teachings of the Church, going to Mass like I'm supposed to and I get shafted for someone who's more ecumenical.

I'm torn between Masters of Theology studies and nursing studies. It's too late for most programs for Theology and I'm very picky about where I would go. Only a traditional Catholic school, by that I mean the likes of Stubenville or Christendom, will do for me. I'm sure I'd fair well in another Catholic school, but I don't know if I'm up for it. I dealt with Seton Hall for the 4.5 years that I was there and I'm honestly getting tired of having to defend the Church to the Church. I don't know the harder I try to get away from ministry the faster I get pulled back by Cornerstone Retreats, teaching CCD over the summer or something else.

Sometimes I wish life would just lay itself out the way you planned after college, but alas that is not how it works.

Bishop Serratelli's weekly column from 05/14/2009

Bishop Serratelli kept his political but not political streak going this week, it really makes me wonder what next week's will be on, I doubt it will be on Notre Dame, but one never knows.

Prayer: Power Beyond Politics

Storefront churches, stone cathedrals, synagogues, temples and mosques break the secular landscape of the United States. Their presence stands as a witness to the voices of believers raised to God in prayer. In fact, recent polls claim that 92 percent of Americans believe in God or an Ultimate Being and nearly six out of ten Americans pray every day. (Jacqueline L. Salmom, “Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds,” Washington Post, June 24, 2008).

Traveling to the Holy Land aboard his Alitalia charter jet on May 8, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the power of prayer. He said, “As believers, Christians are convinced of the power of prayer. It opens the world to God, and we are convinced that God listens and can work in history. And I think that, if millions of believers pray, this is truly a force that can have an influence and advance the cause of peace.”

In the United States, this belief in the power of prayer gave birth to a national day of prayer. In 1952, President Harry Truman first established it. Then, President Reagan signed a resolution in 1988 to make the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer each year. Every president thereafter has done the same. This year, President Obama proclaimed May 7 as our National Day of Prayer. He called “upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.” (I don’t know how I feel about this considering yes I do want our military to come home from Iraq but at what cost to the people over there. I don’t get how people can say Iraq was better under Saddam, I just don’t get it. I don’t get the feeling that Obama is a huge fan of our troops, don’t ask me why it’s just a gut feeling.)

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used to mark the day with a White House observance. Under previous administrations, the White House hosted an interfaith service. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders were invited for an event at the East Room. This year, the President chose not to have such an event. (Not too much of a surprise, so what type of event did he have for National Day of Prayer, no prayer at all?)

Some people found this decision an occasion to praise the President for distancing himself from our National Day of Prayer. The prayer service at the White House offends some because it is a public act of religion. (Isn’t Mass or any type of religious service a “public act of religion:, is my saying a Rosary in a park, or across the street from an abortion mill (clinic gives the idea of them actually doing something good, mill sounds more appropriate in my crazy brain.) a “public act of religion, how about when I make the Sign of the Cross when I walk or drive in front of a Catholic church, isn’t that also a “public act of religion.” I know I’m being petty about it, but really it makes me think.) It disturbs others because it is not inclusive enough. (Inclusive of what, the major religions are there, there was no mention of Islam, but that could have been an oversight. Do people want Satanic worship and Wicca included, really come on, people can be so strange.) On the other hand, there were those who expressed disappointment that the President did not seize the opportunity to unite people of so many different faiths in a common act acknowledging our need for help from God.

Lost somewhere in the cross fires of the discussion was another decision that the President made. (Bishop seems to refer to our President as President more than President Obama, I just happened to notice that, I wonder why.) Near the end of Bush's second term, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Madison. They petitioned the judge to put an end to the custom of prayer proclamations issued by presidents and governors. They view the day as disenfranchising the millions of Americans who do not believe in God or do not pray. Obviously, they do not follow the polls about belief and religion in America. (Nice little zinger in there at the end, considering Bishop Serratelli mentions said poll at the beginning of his column.)

The Obama administration has asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to dismiss the case against proclaiming public days of prayer. As the President said in his proclamation, “Throughout our Nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.” His words ring true at this moment of challenge and crisis for our country. (Obama’s doing something good and right, wow! He, Obama, might as well have tossed in the whole there are no atheists in fox holes when speaking of great challenges not to mention all the prayers being said for a change of heart for him.)

The real discontent with our National Day of Prayer is much wider than opposition to a public display of religion. The day is too cozy a relationship between Church and State for those who wish to put a chasm between the two. (From what I’ve heard the separation of Church and State was to keep the State out of the Church not the other way around, but I wasn’t around when this started and don’t know if it’s true, but I like the sound of it.) In a word, the opposition to the day springs from the desire to silence the voice of religiously committed individuals from the public discussions of major issues.

Since 1978, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of 12,000 atheists and agnostics, has been working to keep Church and State separate. Nontract #6 of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. states: “ Fundamentalist Protestants and right-wing Catholics (honestly, just say Catholics as if one follows Christ’s teachings one would realize that one should be conservative on certain issues.) would impose their narrow morality on the rest of us, resisting women's rights, freedom for religious minorities and unbelievers, gay and lesbian rights, and civil rights for all. (I always find this one amusing as all should also include the pre-born but obviously it does not as they mention “women’s rights” which if the fancy way of saying, “allow women to suffer as they let someone kill their baby”) History shows us that only harm comes of uniting church and state.”

Such a strong characterization of religious people fails to see that, when it comes to Catholics and the Catholic approach to common good, Catholics offer the wisdom of a 2,000 year tradition of ethical reflection. When speaking to the issues of public concern, Catholics bring their contribution based on the natural law. The natural law knows no religious boundaries. It is open to all. It is gross misstatement of truth to label arguments based on reason as simply the religious convictions of the narrow-minded.

We cannot let some make religion today the dividing social issue that race was in America in the past. We are religiously more diverse today than in the last century. Presently there are more American Muslims than there are American Episcopalians, Jews or Presbyterians. Los Angeles, with more than three hundred temples, has welcomed the largest variety of Buddhists anywhere.

With such religious diversity, a National Day of Prayer is a blessing for our country. Prayer places our country in the hands of the God “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Prayer that opens our hearts to God also opens our hearts to others, whatever their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Prayer is truly a power beyond politics. (It does, and I need to start saying some more prayers, not just for our President and country but for other things as well, such as good holy bishops and good holy men to enter the priesthood, and good, holy women and men to enter religious life and marriage. So much to pray for more than likely not enough time to do it.)

Bishop Serratelli's weekly column from 05/07/2009

Bishop Serratelli has taken the past few weeks to make his column not necessary political, but along those lines. He never came out and said Notre Dame was wrong and I am surprised and disappointed in that, but then again maybe he waited to see the whole thing play out and that is what the 5/21/09 column will be about, then again I have not read the column from 5/14/09. From the topic I see that the Bishop has kept the political, but not political stance. As usual my thoughts are in red and I have added my emphasis to it as well.

President Obama and Lady Justice: The Supreme Court and its Judges

In the Old City of Berne, Switzerland, there stands the famous “Fountain of Justice” (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen) . From the 16th century until modern days, Hans Gieng's statue of Lady Justice has graced the fountain. It is the oldest representation of Lady Justice blindfolded.

This image of Lady Justice traces its origins to Themis, the Greek goddess of divine order and law, and to Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice. In her left hand, Lady Justice holds a scale. This signifies duty to measure the strengths of each case, weigh the evidence and then decide the case. In her right hand, she wields a double-edged sword. This signifies her obligation to execute her judgment with precision for one party or against another.

Coins from the days of ancient Rome depict this image of Lady Justice without the blindfold. Her eyes are open and she sees all the evidence before her. But ever since the Renaissance, Lady Justice has appeared with her eyes blindfolded. In the dispensing of justice, there should be complete objectivity. Blind justice. No cowering before the powerful. No trampling of the weak. No favoritism to any party. Complete impartiality.

This symbol of Lady Justice blindfolded is found in our courthouses and halls of justice. Could this symbol lose its meaning? (I think it already has considering most times it’s guilty until proven innocent vs. innocent until proven guilty.) Should the very notion of justice in an era of change be redefined?

With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, our new President will have his chance at appointing his first Supreme Court judge. Other appointments will surely follow. The President has made clear his own understanding of the qualifications needed for the post. The President has reiterated the tried and true requirements of extensive legal training and experience as well as a devotion to the rule of law and a sound ethical record. But he also has added another prerequisite.

In July 2007, at a conference of Planned Parenthood, the President, prior to his election, had said this about future judges: “We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.”

On Friday May 1, 2009 during the White House press briefing, the President said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation… I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.” The President once again is remaining true to another promise that he made during his campaign for the presidency. (Obama’s consistent at least, he mentioned empathy both times. However he doesn’t know my struggles, the pain I have watching him and other politicians drag this country down by allowing abortion to happen. Yes I am a one issue voter I’ll admit that a person’s stance on abortion is what makes me vote for him/her, but I believe that life is one of the most precious gifts we can give someone and it shouldn’t be taken from the most defenseless, the pre-born. Yeah another promise that hurts the babies even more.)

For centuries, Western civilization has tried to achieve equal justice under the law. Does the requirement of empathy in a judge mean Lady Justice must now take off her blindfold? Is this a change for the better or not?

The President’s insistence on empathy as a quality in a good judge can claim biblical precedent. When Solomon began his rule, he prayed at Gibeon. He asked God not for riches and wealth, but for “an understanding heart, to govern [his] people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kgs 3:9). God granted him his request for empathy and his judgments became legendary. (Of course the Bible scholar would find something to quote and compare it too.)

In 1 Kings 3:16-28, the Scriptures relate an example story of Solomon’s ability to judge because he was empathetic. One day, two prostitutes came before Solomon. They both had a son, but one son died. Each woman claimed that the son that was alive was hers. Solomon was empathetic to the feeling of the true mother. He knew that she would prefer her son to live. And, so when he proposed cutting the live child in half and giving each woman half, the heart of the true mother was revealed. She preferred the other woman to have her son alive rather than each to be given half his dead body. (And he chose a story that most people will know.)

Solomon as a judge was empathetic. It was his “understanding heart” that saved the life of the child of a marginalized woman who was a true mother. “The wisdom of God was in him to do judgment” (1 Kgs 3:28).

Is Solomon the appropriate paradigm for the role of judge today? It is good to remember that the empathy that served Solomon well was not something he acquired on his own through training or experience. It was a gift that God gave him in answer to his prayer. Furthermore, Solomon was not limited to one role in governing his people. He was king and legislator as well as judge and last court of appeal.

Centuries have passed. Today in our democratic society, many people would be very uncomfortable in trusting to one individual, no matter how wise or spiritual, all the power that Solomon wielded in his day. We are in an imperfect world. In such a world, we have a system where the legislator is separate from the judge and where rights are guaranteed by law. ( Only the rights of some are guaranteed by some, the pre-born are forgotten by some laws; not the killing of a pregnant woman, then they are acknowledged. This country is so strange.)

Courts decide between the guilty and the innocent. Courts do not make the laws. They make their decisions on the basis of rights guaranteed in the law. Therefore, in a court of law, economic condition, sexual orientation, educational background can never be the determining factors. If a judge is to give special consideration in his decision to his own empathy, the question then arises, to which party in a case should he be empathetic? Would this be the death knell to impartiality? Will we suffer the tyranny of the courts where judges refashion our society according to their own opinion or political agenda?

Legislators elected by the people make the laws. Judges appointed by the government apply them. The distinction works. Lady Justice is blindfolded. But if the blindfold is going to be removed by a President who makes empathy a requirement for Supreme Court judges, will we have judges like Solomon? Will we finally have judges, as in the case of Solomon, with “an understanding heart,” judges who recognize a true mother always safeguards the life of her child? Will we have judges who protect the life of children, even those not yet born? Without empathy to those most vulnerable, there is no justice for all. (I don’t think I could have said it any better, that last sentence is quite true.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bishop Serratelli's weekly column from 4/30/2009

The second part of Bishop Serratelli's 2 part series on Tolerance. I've been slacking in posting because the pollen and the trees have been kicking my butt.

Tolerance: The Trojan Horse of Secular Liberalism- Bishop Serratelli’s weekly column from April 30, 2009 with my emphasis and comments.

In today’s society, the principle of tolerance has become the clarion call for people of diverse views, moral convictions and religious beliefs to live together with a sense of civility to one another. By its definition, tolerance is inclusive. It seeks to embrace all individuals in a society that does not condemn individuals simply because they are different. In terms of liberal secularists, tolerance is based on cultural diversity. It is a pragmatic way to keep the peace.

Yet, tolerance alone does not always work. The drive to equate same sex unions with marriage and to give them the same legal definition as marriage has also become an occasion for intolerance. Those who are committed to marriage as an institution designed by the Creator for a man and a woman are labeled discriminatory and unjust. (That we are.)

Most recently, this type of attitude surfaced during the Miss USA 2009 pageant. On April 20, 2009, one of the judges, Perez Hilton, who is quite open about his views, asked Carrie Prejean, Miss California, her view on legalizing gay marriage. Miss Prejean was not unaware of the trap that was being set for her. (Of course she wasn’t, this wasn’t your typical “beauty queen” question.) After affirming the freedom of choice (interesting choice of words, then again I’m on high alert with Obama being at Notre Shame next week.) that Americans enjoy, she went on to say, “…I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be, between a man and a woman.” Some in the audience booed her response, but others applauded even louder.

Miss California did not express an outrageous conviction. But Perez Hilton believes that her answer cost her the contest. His subsequent name calling of Miss California clearly revealed the inability to allow someone to disagree with the agenda that is behind the move to redefine marriage. (These so called promoters of equality for all, are so prejudiced it’s not even funny.)

Miss Prejean should be commended for her honesty and integrity. (I totally agree, God bless this young woman for standing up and not conforming to what society says she should believe and be.) Not everyone agrees. The Executive Director of Miss California USA/Teen USA has stated that he is “personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman.” In a word, there is no room for disagreement. Is this not a form of intolerance? (I dare to say it is.)

The issue of tolerance and intolerance on the issue of marriage is not an academic question. If society labels those who oppose the legalization of gay marriage intolerant and discriminatory, the trajectory is set to curtail religious freedom. Anti-discrimination laws can then be invoked to monitor and control churches in the areas of sex education in the schools, the hiring of employees, the use of church facilities and in many other areas. (Unfortunately, even in our own diocese, this is happening, because children and their parents are in the public school frame of mind and CCD or Religious Education programs leave a lot to be desired when it comes to teaching Catholicism. Often times I feel that I’m too conservative for a Catholic school or church or as I like to say I’m too Catholic for them, which is sad, as I do nothing other than my duty as a Catholic, go to Mass on Sunday and uphold and teach the teachings of the Catholic Church.)

In our culture, tolerance has come to mean different things for different groups. But it certainly does not mean neutrality. This is clearly the case in growing confrontation between the secularist agenda and the Catholic Church in terms of health care. (Yes, which makes my decision to attend nursing school an interesting one, however it is at a hospital affiliated with the Catholic Church. I have yet to hear about my application, in case anyone was wondering.)

The Church has always favored responsible parenthood and has taught natural family planning as the moral means to achieve this goal. (While I am not a fan of natural family planning, I understand why it is used by some, but it is to be used to plan a child not to say we don't want a child right now so we're going to use NFP to not have children.) Based on the objective nature of human sexuality, the Church teaches that artificial contraception contradicts an authentic expression of marital love between a husband and a wife and, therefore, is morally unacceptable. For this reason, Catholic institutions do not include contraception in their health insurance for their employees. (I remember wanted to call him, Bishop Serratelli with an issue I had with my coverage when I worked for the Diocese of Paterson, but I don’t remember off hand what it was. I know the Archdiocese along with Oxford offers Catholic care which falls under this, maybe things have changed since I last had health coverage.) Up until recently, the laws included exemptions for conscientious objections clauses and protected the freedom of Catholics to live according to Catholic teaching in this area.

Today, however, secular liberals are experiencing great success in removing this freedom. At least eighteen states have enacted "contraceptive mandate" laws. The laws bear names such as The Women's Health and Wellness Act or The Women's Contraceptive Equity Act. These laws mandate health insurance plans to cover the costs of contraceptives. Any failure to do is punishable as discrimination.

Without the freedom to express one’s views and not be punished for them, without the freedom to hold to one’s moral and religious beliefs and live according, the dignity of the human person is denied and the common good of society itself is diminished. Government does not have the right to treat believers as a “divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the minority secular agenda, especially when religious people are overwhelmingly in the majority” (Cardinal Pell, “Varieties of Intolerance: Religious and Secular,” Divinity School of Oxford University, March 6, 2009).

Both Homer in the Odyssey and Virgil in the Aeneid relate the story of the Trojan horse. After a long, unresolved 10-year siege of Troy, the Greeks built a huge figure of a horse. Inside the horse, they left their warriors and sailed away. The Trojans took the horse into their city as a trophy for winning the war. During the night, the Greek warriors stealthily crept out of their hiding place, opened the city gates for the rest of the Greek army that had returned under the cover of dark and destroyed the city. What, at first, was seen as the sign of victory actually became the cause of defeat.

Today, our society has happily overcome many prejudices that divide us. We have managed to live in peace with people whose views and religions differ from one another. Secular liberals, however, market a truncated tolerance that leaves no room for those who oppose their secular agenda. If society welcomes such tolerance within its city gates, will it not be the Trojan Horse that brings the demise of a free society? (Oh it probably will be, this country is so far away from where it was with morals, and the sad part is that we, America, are not as bad as other countries.)