The Wheat and the Weeds

The Citizen has been engaged in a forum discussion that has turned to the debate on ‘rightwing’ Catholics and ‘leftwing’ Catholics. There should be no such thing. There are only orthodox Catholics and heterodox Catholics. Any Catholic espousing positions or supporting politicians who embrace policies contrary to the Magisterium, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the traditions of our Faith are heterodox. Unfortunately for some, the Democratic party strongly supports several issues that place them outside of Catholic teachings. Embryonic stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage – all of these platforms directly contravene Catholic principles.

The Citizen has written any number of essays on intrinsic evils, the discipline of being Catholic, and the need to be compassionate and loving but draw the line on tolerating or supporting behavior that is contrary to the Magisterium. I have hyper-linked to some of these essays if you are interested. Some things simply cannot be supported, even if the party or person in question support any number of worthy causes. With the current Democratic party, those issues – abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research – are non-negotiable.

But isn’t there ‘room’ in Catholicism for all types? Sorry, no. Christ Himself illustrated that this would be a problem in Matthew. In the Parable of wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), Christ tells a story that reminds the Citizen of the predictment the greater Catholic community in the United States faces.

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.

The parable tells that the servants tending the fields tell their master of the weeds growing among the wheat. He knows that there is little he can do but to allow the weeds to grow among the wheat, and – when the time was right – to pull out the weeds and harvest the good crop. The enemy? Satan – or those seeking to divide us by misusing our teachings in a heterodox manner.

The weeds are those ‘Catholics’ who espouse heretical and unorthodox teachings who dwell among us and claim that they are like us. The fact is that the weed bears no grain, no sustenance and actually chokes out the healthy and life-giving grain. For some reason or another, the Church in America has allowed these weeds to flourish, weakening and dividing us.

It is time to prune the fields. We will lose the weeds, but we may lose some good grain as well. Better this then to allow the field to run wild with weeds that will never yield comfort to those in need. It is my prayer that this will not be so or that those we may lose will return to us when they see that the wisdom of Matthew 7:13:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

Hopefully, it is clearer that it shouldn’t be a ‘right’ thing or a ‘left’ thing – it should be a Catholic thing. That road is hard and the gate is narrow.  But those who brave that path and suffer through that gate will reap great rewards – not only for themselves but for countless others.

I pray that there are democrats who will take the party back from those who seek to choke the field with weeds. There must be solid democratic candidates who are in Communion with the Holy See. Find them. Support them. And don’t be surprised if other Catholics ignore the letter after their name and vote for them because they are good Catholics and good citizens.

 

May God bless you all.

 

Honoring the Sacrifice of the Innocents

In the time that it takes to read this essay, some 8 or 10 abortions have taken place somewhere in America. Despite a shift towards a pro-life position in this nation, some 3,700 abortions are performed every day in this country. This makes many pro-life advocates angry. In the case of some, it drives them to take ‘direct action’ against those who would take the lives of the most innocent and helpless of all people. Scott Roeder used this reasoning to justify killing George Tiller. James Kopp used this reasoning to justify his murder of Bernard Slepian. And there have been dozens of bombings, cases of arson, and countless more attempted crimes and threats of violence.

The question emerges – how can we take the moral high ground when we engage in such actions? Where is the justification for assassination, cold blooded murder, arson, bombings, and threats of violence? Is it to save the unborn? Or are there other – less noble – reasons?

Let’s take the ‘saving the innocent’ argument. The Citizen maintains that every one of those innocents taken by abortion are martyrs.  There is a precedent. Think of Matthew 2:16-18

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

    “A voice was heard in Ramah,

      sobbing and loud lamentation;

      Rachel weeping for her children,

     and she would not be consoled,

     since they were no more.”

And so, every year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the feast day of those children slain by the selfishness of secular power, by ambition, by fear, by ignorance. Innocents slain in the interests of expedience. Much like the 10 or so innocents who will be aborted while you are reading this. Against the arm of the State, there was little the people of Judea could do to save the children. Rising up would only result in greater bloodshed with no different results. In fact, armed resistance would only serve to justify greater violence and persecution rendered by the State. Sound familiar? It should. Eric Holder and Barak Obama used Roeder, Kopp, and the bombings of abortion mills to justify putting pro-life Christians on a DHS terrorist watch list.

I would like to see our Bishops approach the Vatican and consider issuing a statement that the victims of abortion are like those Holy Innocents. There is some canonical evidence to support such an approach. ‘The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without being Baptized’ was published by the Vatican in 2007, and provided a theological link between children who suffer violence in the modern day and those innocents who were massacred by the decree of Herod.  The text reads:

Just as those who took the lives of the Holy Innocents were motivated by fear and selfishness, so the lives particularly of unborn babies today are often endangered by the fear or selfishness of others. In that sense, they are in solidarity with the Holy Innocents.

One could – and there are those who already are – making an argument that the victims of abortion are unbaptized and carry original sin. To those, I answer with the doctrine of the universal salvific will of God. In the First Letter to Timothy, Paul writes that God desires all men to be saved. In Lumen Gentium, there is a passage that states clearly that the Church is a sacrament of unity for all mankind. The Citizen, though I am no more than a member of the laity, feels fairly confident arguing that God is perfectly capable of forgiving the taint of original sin the unbaptized unborn bear.  Our sacramental practice of baptism is certainly significant and desirable – as it assumes that we are bringing a living child of God into our community, one who will have a rich lifetime to grow in service and love of the Lord.

If the victims of abortion are granted martyrdom, imagine the impact that would have on the movement.  Imagine the power of being able to draw a clear relationship between the victims of Herod and the victims of the misguided policies of the current president of the United States and his pro-abortion administration. The Church has made a clear distinction that life begins at conception – by declaring every child whose life is taken by abortion to be one of the Holy Innocents, we would be making a powerful statement about our commitment to all life and the dignity of the child growing within the womb.

 

Violence is sometimes necessary. The Citizen has written more than one essay on just war and the theological justification of violence. In the case of violence against abortionists and their property, the Citizen argues that these acts fall far short of that justification. Matthew 26:50-54 reads:

Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

Christians are sometimes called to suffer, not to fight. We are called to bear witness to injustice and through our good deeds – not through violence – change men’s hearts. Imagine if the early Christians, persecuted by Rome, created a shadowy network of assassins, revolutionaries, and terrorists to answer the murder of innocents with the blood of those who persecuted them. What then would have happened to the Church whose foundations were laid by the Son of Man? Would it have endured to become the Church we Catholics enjoy today, a community of believers who share in an unbroken tradition handed down from man to man to the hand of our Lord Himself? I think not.  In time, the conviction and faith of Christians drew more and more people into the Church, until eventually the emperor Constantine himself submitted to the power of our Faith.

Those that succumb to the temptations of direct, violent action not only betray our Faith and those poor martyred souls of the unborn, they harden the hearts of those who disagree with us. The Citizen knows of several people who shifted from being open to a discussion of the pro-life position to a markedly more dismissive stance when Roeder killed Tiller. Their argument inevitably revolved around answering  violence with violence. Some argued that Tiller never broke the law while a pro-life activist was content to murder a man in his own church.  It is difficult to respond to such a  claim.  Giving pro-abortion groups the advantage of creating their own ‘martyrs’, of being able to call on the myrmidons of the law to take action in the wake of bombed and burned clinics, or threats of violence, should be unacceptable to us on a practical and strategic level.

 

Finally, we are called to be different then others. One of the most difficult qualities Christians need to inculcate is the ability to be charitable to those who hate us, who revile us, or who work against our beliefs. Often, we hear our Pastor or Deacon read and deliver homilies on Matthew’s famous Gospel passage on loving your enemy. How often do we really reflect on it?

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may  be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We live in a world that is flawed by original sin, flawed by human frailty, flawed by hatred, lust, greed, and envy. Flawed by the evil that whispers in our ear and the evil that dwells within each of our hearts. These verses from Matthew 22 illustrate one of Christ’s greatest lessons for us. Who more then Christ had justification to resist unfair persecution? Knowing that he would soon face the trial in the garden, Christ gives us this lesson to illustrate the importance of not succumbing to the temptation of anger, hatred, and wrath. All men and women belong to God. Scott Roeder took away any chance of redemption for George Tiller. James Kopp took away Bernard Slepian’s opportunity for a change of heart.  And there are changes of heart every day.

Think of Abby Johnson. At one time, she was the director of a very active Planned Parenthood clinic. Every day, she walked into the clinic and worked hard to advance it’s goals. How many innocents were sacrificed in that clinic? No doubt quite a few. During an ultrasound procedure, she saw the child in a mother’s womb move – and had a change of heart. She left the clinic, quit Planned Parenthood, and has emerged as a powerful voice for the pro-life movement. She is a prodigal – a child who was lost and has returned to us.

And if there was a Kopp or a Roeder or some anonymous bomber or arsonist in the wings, Ms. Johnson could have been nothing more than another victim of ‘anti-choice’ extremism. She had the time to see the truth, and to – like Lazarus – emerge from the tomb to awaken to new life.

 

As we approach Holy Week – the time we celebrate the darkest trials and the most glorious triumphs of our Lord – let’s think about the sacrifice of the unborn in a new way. let’s look at those who disagree with us with a more charitable and Christly demeanor. We should take the moral high ground not just for logistical and strategic reasons. We should take it because in doing so, we can show those – like Abby Johnson – that though they take the lives of the innocent, we still love them as our brothers and sisters. Our vigils are not just a prayer for the lives taken by abortion but for the conversion of the hearts of those who do those hateful acts.

 

In the time it took to read this, perhaps 10 Holy Innocents were martyred. Let’s make their gift meaningful by dedicating ourselves to fighting not with hatred but with a loving heart.

When Giving Becomes a Sin…

It is the duty of the Catholic Citizen to be charitable –  indeed, it is the duty of all Americans. And in fact, the citizens of the United States have often proven themselves to be among the most generous and charitable people in the world. Our willingness to help those in need – both domestically and abroad – is apparent in our response as a nation in disasters ranging from Hurricane Katrina to the earthquake in Haiti to the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. These are perfect examples of our charity – both as a nation and as individual citizens – of our acceptance of the virtue of giving. Many Americans realize that for those who have been given much, much is expected.

As the debate over America’s budget crisis grows, we see politicians and advocacy groups fighting over the nature of charity Unfortunately, many people are unwilling – perhaps unaware – of the fact that it is not merely the dollar amount, it is the nature of the assistance being offered. This is a subtle but important distinction – especially for Catholics. It is much easier to write a check or support policy than to reflect on the impact that it will have – both socially and economically. The current model of social welfare is to throw money into a problem. Creating new federal, state, and local agencies or augmenting existing ones with infusions of money and personnel will help correct the problem. Or perhaps the issue is the redistribution of wealth – taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the less fortunate is the way to correct imbalances. Since Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ was introduced – a social welfare program that recently celebrated it’ 40th anniversary – this has been the primary emphasis of social welfare. President Obama has argued that we need to increase our spending on these issues. I argue that after four decades of welfare socialism, we have not only failed to end poverty, we have created a hereditary under-class of the needy.

I have nothing but compassion for those in need and approach this topic with a truly generous heart. I am afraid that we as a nation have not done so in our current policies and programs. Indeed, we have denied people of a full and meaningful life by taking the easy route – throw money at a problem and ignore them. That hasn’t worked thus far – why would anyone think that throwing more would solve the problems of poverty?

Matthew 20-:1-15 is a perfect passage to begin our discussion on poverty and why our welfare system is broken. The essence of the reading is the generosity of a landowner towards workers. In the time of Jesus, workers seeking employment would congregate in a public place – a well, a town market, or other central location. Those seeking to hire labor would go to this place and select workers for the day at a daily rate often set by custom and usage. In this parable, Jesus relates the landowner periodically went to the well to hire workers throughout the day, sending them to his vineyard. Once there, they would be enrolled by the foreman and given their tasks. Morning, midmorning, midafternoon – even in the late afternoon, the landowner selected and sent workers to his fields. At the end of the day, he went to the foreman and instructed that is was time to pay the workers – the last first. All of them – even those who only worked a few hours – received the same rate. Some of the disgruntled workers, laboring since the morning, took exception to this practice and were chastised. The landowner argued that they received the wages they were promised and if he was inclined to show generosity to all workers, it was his money to spend. How does this Gospel passage relate to the topic at hand?

The landowner was demonstrating a Catholic virtue – compassion and generosity. God loves those who have a giving and generous heart. In a competitive working environment, the best workers would be chosen early, the least capable or competent may find no work. By returning throughout the day, the landowner was giving those who may have been unfortunate or perhaps were fired from another job a second chance. He gave them an opportunity to receive assistance without losing their dignity. He very easily could have simply given money to those at the well – would this not be the nadir of generosity? Would this not have been more kind then forcing them to go to the vineyards for an hour or two before getting paid? This landowner was wiser then our policymakers. He understood the value and dignity of work. He understood that people appreciate what they have earned and tend not to appreciate what they have been given.

Today, we have created a system where people are provided a modest amount of money on a regular basis to support their basic human needs. What could be wrong with that? Quite a bit. We have created a class of Americans who feel that they are incapable of making a contribution to society. By providing basic needs, we have removed the desire or the motivation for many to work to better their position – they have become content in what they have been given. Money has no human value – it is a means of exchange. It is easy to throw money at the poor, to create great monolithic edifices of public housing, and warehouse the poor in isolated and undesirable neighborhoods. And they are expected to do nothing of value, substance, or merit in return. Our policy cheapens and demeans people – we tell them that their contribution is so unimportant, we will pay them to remain marginalized outcasts. We are telling them it is easier for society to give them the necessities than it is to give them the tools they need to provide them for themselves. Lao Tzu is credited with the very appropriate maxim “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man a fish, he will feed himself for a lifetime.” If only President Johnson and his advisors had such wisdom. If it were so, we likely would not be grappling with this problem of generational poverty.

The Landowner also understood that not everyone is equally capable. By offering employment to the latecomers, he was showing compassion and generosity to those who – for a variety of reasons – were not chosen until the end of the day. By noontime, the only workers likely to be idling by the well were among the least skilled, least educated, or the least capable. Yet he hired them, sent them to his foreman, who put them to such tasks as they were capable of doing for the remainder of the day. Our system provides a sustenance-level existence for millions on welfare, and many of those are unemployed or underemployed. How painful must it be to be marginalized in such a manner? Who among us is comfortable taking charity – even from those we love and know well? I cannot imagine the shame in receiving such charity from strangers. Standing in lines, filing out forms, receiving checks and infusions of a subsidized debit card. These are not people. They are cogs in a vast, impersonal social welfare machine. Their dreams, their aspirations, their talents are not considered. They are a file, a number, a recipient of the largesse of an impersonal government. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program had a number of ‘workfare’ programs – the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and countless other ‘alphabet soup’ agencies didn’t just give people food and shelter. It gave them the opportunity to receive aid as part of their compensation for work. They learned skills and trades, they were educated, they saw what effects their labor had on our society. They were not simply beggars at the gate, they earned their keep, they contributed to society. The Landowner knew the dignity of work. Why don’t we?

The resentful workers had some cause. After all, if the latecomers were being paid what they who labored a full day were receiving, doesn’t that diminish their wages? Shouldn’t those who have worked longer deserve more? Could they have been wondering if some of the money that went to the latecomers rightly deserved to be in their pockets? Imagine their discontent if they learned the Landowner had simply given money to the ‘idlers’ at the well. They would not have been disgruntled, they would have been outraged.

Can we not apply this outrage to taxes? After all, it is our tax dollars that subsidize a number of programs, welfare among them. Catholics are – or should be – generous people. Americans as a whole are generous. Many of us don’t resent aiding those in need. But we have always been a ‘hand-up’ people. We don’t much care for the handout – nor should we. American and Catholic principles are forged on self-sufficiency and personal acts of charity and compassion. I would much rather see my tax dollars spent on job training programs then the dole. There is much that needs to be done in our nation. AmeriCorps and other agencies that provide assistance in return for work, job training, and counseling are the better investment in our tax dollars – and in our brothers and sisters in need. The fiscal policy of our present system diminishes the importance of work. These leads to resentment in many – on social, political, moral, and – yes – religious grounds. This creates a spiral effect. After 40 years of the welfare state, people have been born into a system that provides a limited lifestyle without demands on their time and talents. They grow up believing that this is because they have nothing to offer, that their lives have no real purpose. As they grow into adulthood, they continue to see no hope, no drive, no desire. This is exacerbated by the reaction of the working class, who looks down on them as parasites in the body politic. Their sense of self-worth is slowly crushed by the system and by the way people view them and their lifestyle. As a teacher, I deal with students who have already learned this behavior. There is nothing more tragic than trying to educate children who have no sense of purpose, no sense of their value, no hope for the future. They don’t see the value in education, they don’t have the drive to better themselves. They have learned one lesson thus far – they are unimportant to society.

In this short Gospel reading, we have derived many relevant teachings that can be applied to the value of work, charity, and welfare. The landowner seeks to give those in need the opportunities to provide for themselves and their families in a compassionate and Christian manner. Christ is using this story to tell us that generosity is a tool that must be used wisely. It is God’s plan that we be generous to those in need. It is His will that we aid those in distress. And while there are those who can do no more then to have the grace to accept the aid of society, there are many more that can learn to support themselves. It is right and good to employ those in need. I argue that Christ also tells us in this parable, that it is important to give them not just money, but dignity.

Judge Not and Ye SHALL be Judged….

The Citizen is undergoing yet another round of ‘stop being judgmental’ and ‘judge not’ remarks from the liberals of his acquaintance. While this charge is annoying when it comes from the secular lib, it is appalling when it comes from those who presume to be learned in theology and practicing members of one Christian denomination or another. The time has come for the Citizen to do what Catholics have done best throughout the centuries – apply the Magisterium and the philosophical school we have developed to refute the erroneous – and perhaps heretical –  interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.

The pertinent passage most often abused is found in Matthew. As the Douay-Rheims is the closest to the Latin translations, and therefore the most pure and undiluted text, I often use this Bible:

Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5

This is the entire passage – the liberal often uses only the first sentence. But, as with all reasoning from the ‘intellectual’ left, the use of Scripture is incomplete – indeed, the most important argument is omitted. The rest of the passage – and the most important message – is that those who judge must not be hypocrites. “…with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” This means that the judge will be held to the same yardstick he uses to judge others. Where in this passage does Christ condemn those who judge others? No where. He does tell those who judge without holding themselves to the same standards to be ‘hypocrites’. An example of this are those who proclaim that money is the root of all evil – yet surround themselves with the trappings of wealth. You can’t tell me that wealth is evil if you are blogging about it on your Iphone.

Throughout Christ’s ministry, he spoke often about those who were unfit judges. No where does he condemn applying moral values to hold people accountable. In fact, the Gospels are studded with Christ enjoining people to apply his teachings and hold people to those standards. Don’t believe me?

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment” John 7:24. Wow. Is that Christ telling us how to judge? Doesn’t much sound like ‘don’t be judgmental’, does it? Indeed, He is telling us that we must not look on the surface, but to reflect and discern before judging on an issue. Where does the ‘just judgment’ come from? The Bible and the Magisterium. The Catholic Church has spent two millennia reflecting, praying, thinking, and discerning on the Old and New Testaments. The embodiment of  Church thinking summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a solid intellectual and theological treatment of standards by which to judge ourselves and others.

Another passage expressly commands us to judge others who are in error.

Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day be converted unto thee, saying, I repent; forgive him – Luke 17:3-4

Can it be any more clear to the reader? It is our obligation as Christians to rebuke those who sin against God. It is also our obligation to forgive them when they confess wrongdoing with a contrite heart. So great is God’s love that Christ enjoins us to always be ready to forgive – even if one sins ‘seven times in one day’ and repents each time. Forgiveness is one thing, judging is another – and the two are far from contradictory.

Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,  Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. – Corinthians 6:9-10

Paul’s letters are considered to be a universal source of Christian thought. In this letter, he is clear and rather judgmental about those who will be worthy of Heaven. This is one of the earliest guides for the Christian community. In this passage, Paul provides a clear yardstick.

If a child were about to run into traffic, would we stand by and let it happen? If a child were about to plunge their hand in fire, would we stand idle? Of course not. If someone is behaving contrary to simple, basic codes of conduct, should we stand idle?

To do so would be dangerous – not just for the soul of the transgressor but our own as well.

It is simpler to not be ‘judgmental’. I have lost friendships and alienated acquaintances for exercising my responsibilities to my fellow man and to my religious beliefs. While it grieves me, I am content. Christians are called to a harder road. And the price is worth it. That passage of Corinthians ends with a warning and a promise – one that I will leave the gentle reader with….

For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.

God Bless!

A ‘New’ Gospel of Wealth

Liberals are generous to the poor. Conservatives despise them. Or so goes the logic of the mass media. Why? Because liberals believe that money is the answer. They believe that government has a responsibility to provide for the poor by giving them the necessities without personal investment or sacrifice. Conservatives believe in providing opportunities for all who desire success.

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