Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Will I Be Punished If I Speak My Truth?

When the Archbishop of St. Louis announced that, in his Archdiocese, those self-identified , alleged Catholic politicians who, knowingly supported legislation antithetically opposed to Catholic teaching, would be denied the Eucharist, the prototypic howl of protest swept the land. He was called Fascist, overbearing, un-American, and even Conservative or Orthodox. (Heavens!) A group in Congress issued an indignant statement angry that their Catholicism should be questioned. They stridently pointed out their, at least occasional, Mass attendance as an index of the vitality and knowledge of their Faith. Severe ACLU-like criticism came from many non-Catholic quarters advising the Archbishop (and, by extension, all Catholic leaders) how to run the Catholic Church in the United States. On NPR the threatening axe was dangled: “Stay out of politics or give up your tax-exempt status.” And “Catholic Bishops should stay out of politics, clean up their own house……..” Another blog suggested that “the Church hierarchy’s meddling into electoral politics (has brought it) to a disturbingly new level…” The reaction was massive. There is, factually, enormous pressure to go with the tide. The not-so-subtle message is: Conform or else you will be punished in a way which we will devise.

Surprisingly, some criticism came from ostensibly impeccable Catholic sources. A priest acquaintance confidently assured me that statements such as that of the Archbishop were really useless and possibly even counter productive. He preferred that we “just go along” and make no trouble. He, not surprisingly, had a comfortable way of life which he apparently wished to be protected from any “rocking of the boat.” I wonder what “they” really could do or would do should our Leaders truly lead by speaking out. At the worst, we might ask ourselves: Is tax emption worth the loss of our very selves?

When a committed American Catholic considers the ugly list -- physician assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, legal pornography—it is difficult to understand the mindset of those who choose to look the “other way.” We have apparently forgotten the English observation of “The easiest way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Even a superficial knowledge of history indicates that evil penetrates “little by little.” The old Arabic parable of the Camel’s nose is always relevant. “Just a little bit”—“every one is doing it.”— “let us be practical.” Surprisingly soon, the Camel is inside the tent and the Rider is shivering in the outside cold.

Has the American Catholic Church succumbed? Have we, instead of accommodating to our culture, been converted to it? After all the high pressured “accommodation” we can still ask the practical questions: Are we Catholics (especially our leaders) any different in value judgments from our fellow citizens whom we allegedly commit to influence? Are we any braver? Wiser? Holier? Closer to God?

My concern is specifically the Catholic clergy and how consistent are we in our call to participate in Public Life? An immediate aspect of the priesthood, it seems to me, is that of the prophet. It is not to foresee and predict the future but to courageously point out in this moment in history the Will of God and any possible deviance from it. It seems to me that we have become timid and afraid. What ever happened to the idealism of Thomas More who, though not a priest, was more courageous and prophetic than any cleric? It is easy to recall his famous statement: “I love my King but I love my God more.” Where is the “in-your-face” directness of Ignatius the Martyr as he faced down the insults of the Roman Emperor? Where is that traditional Catholic bravery of the ages which scorned bootlicking and popularity for its own sake? Where are the Gregorys and the Bonifaces and the Pius Vlls? How I miss the “gorilla-like” thumping of the religious chest wherein those unapologetic preachers of my childhood bravely preached the Word of God as compared to the modern anemic homilists with their metaphors of waving wheat and shimmering mountain streams! Alas, political correctness has sneaked in everywhere—even into God’s own people!

While for the most part, American Bishops disappoint me[1] in their “rush” to please the liberal media, there are several leaders who do “draw the line”. Specifically, besides the gallant man mentioned above, the gentle, quiet Catholic leader of Boston, Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley, has, in effect, challenged the so-called party of the people (so-called because the only remnant of the true Democratic party is the name) on its acquiescence to become the party of abortion. Further, the Bishops had issued in 2007 a document called “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship” which addressed the political responsibility of Catholics citizens. One area of concern was Massachusetts where most Catholics support what the Catholic Eye calls the Abortocrat party[2] (i.e. Democratic party). So the Cardinal, as a member of the Bishops Conference, commented thusly: “I think, at times it (the Massachusetts situation) borders on scandal…” It, of course, caused a Boston uproar since Catholics have the power to transform the local politics.

I believe that there is a serious obligation to inform and not malform Catholic consciences. The liberal Catholic says: “I must follow my conscience.” We re told we must be “tolerant.” Part of the confusion stems, I think, from a misconception of the meaning of the world “Tolerance.” What does that word really mean? A popular Protestant preacher in Florida, James Kennedy, taught that “tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society.” This is perfectly true if tolerance means accepting anything anyone does without judgment or challenge. This clearly would lead to chaos and anarchy. The Catholic Church has been accused of “intolerance” in that we will not yield on matters of what we call Truth. Father Doctor William Martin holds that “Tolerance applies only to people, never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, never to people.” Father Joseph Kiturski S.J. says that we cannot simply pick our own Morality as we wish but rather that we must follow the morality as given by God. This is not a spiritual supermarket to shop randomly for “that which pleases.”

Are erring Catholic politicians punished for following “their” truth? Certainly not in this world or day…but there is another day and another world—i.e. that in which one faces God. There is objectively[3] no freedom for these pols to disagree with and even work against their Church’s teaching through an appeal to “conscience.” We believe that there is a right and duty that the Church through Bishops is the authoritative interpreter of moral principles for the formation of conscience.

A Director of Religious Education in a Catholic parish in New Hampshire wrote: “……..I work for the Church…I balance my freedom as an American to vote. I choose my own decisions. I don’t vote the way someone tells me…” It is important to reply to this misperception. The Bishops had no intention to tell anyone how to vote. They said: “...in today’s political environment...Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death…”

However, they are telling us that the issue is not so much whom we vote for as to why we vote for him. They are telling us that there is a moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience. With such a foundation, a Catholic would not fall prey to braggarts like John Kerry who during that presidential campaign proclaimed himself an authority on Church doctrine, contending that he (and hence Catholic voters) could support abortion and all the other evils mentioned above. The Bishops had no choice but to denounce this catechetical calumny. This is not meddling in politics. This is teaching the Catholic Faith. To let this pass without challenge would be monstrous and cowardly.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a memorandum to Cardinal McCarrick called “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion” in which he stated, to the dismay of “liberal” Catholics, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.” The seamless garment disciples have gone a bit bananas since they heard that “…….the destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception to natural death is always wrong and not just one issue among many…” So they dismissed it all as “political rhetoric.”

The noble American notion of free speech guaranteed to every man coupled with fair listening goes somewhat out of the window when it comes to abortion. Raging attacks, personal smears, harmful innuendos, mockery, shunning, and the like are all to be expected. There are no rules except to destroy the outspoken ones. The great Congressman Henry Hyde, champion of the innocent unborn, was, in his old age, the victim of a vicious whispering campaign. In his twenties, he indulged in a “youthful indiscretion” (one “count”). In his eighties, when he advocated compassion for the unborn, he was reminded publicly of this mistake of his youth. Was it mere coincidence that he was, at the time, defending the right to life of soon- to- be- born infants?

Can I speak out against the modern cultural machine which aims at de-toothing my Religion? Oh yes, I surely can but I, alas, must face the music of some form of punishment. Am I up to it? Am I too afraid and timid? God help me and all those disenfranchised ones who are threatened by the mask of smiling Evil which is so calculating and shrewd.

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[1] I am pleased with the release of the USBC’s statement on conscience of Nov. 14, ’07. More of this is needed.
[2] Nov.30, ’07 #262
[3] How God judges a soul is not easy to ascertain. This is beyond the ken of the human mind.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pope's Visit

The President can't be all bad. He is meeting the Pope at the airport and is not delegating to the VP. This has never happened before-- Queen of G.B. empire, Dalai Lama or anyone. But they say the Catholic Church is dead. Looks pretty much alive to me.... the Churches I know are not dying. Put your money where the smart guys are. With Jesus Who promised His Church would never fail or end. Even to the end of the world. The symptoms of imminent death seem to be quite absent --but please don't tell me the tired old line of the priest crisis and low attendance and vocations. We are deeply concerned but NOT anxious. See Matt.16 for enlightment. Tell me more. Fr. JBL.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Porno and National Well Being

Can you imagine what fun and excitement it would be to moderate a debate on Porno between the charming, intelligent, lively, liberal, confused Norman Mailer and the cool, intellectual, precise, conservative, Ernst Van den Haag, the Dutch psychologist/attorney? I had that privilege and good fortune some years ago taping that debate for airing on national Television. We were introduced to the viewing audience by Alexander Scourby, the actor, who, with a magnificent voice and intelligent verbal emphases, set the “stage” with a frightening description of the garish, ugly secret world, not only of the porno addict but even that of the periodic user.. Using powerful graphics to illustrate his point, he suggested that there must be an enormous national sexual appetite for illicit and deviate sex. He also wondered about the financial interest of certain Business types since Porno represents not millions but billions of dollars in “investments.” From other sources we discovered that the “mob,” or organized crime, is likewise interested in the exploitation of sex gone awry.

Norman thought that the proliferation of plastics was far more debilitating to the national well being than the porno of the movies, newsstands, computer or after hours television. He thought, as a former boxer, that it was helpful to watch boxing movies to learn “new moves.” He equated watching porno movies so that similarly he might learn new sexual moves. He did explain that he had been married multiple times and was always learning! Somewhat in contradiction, he declared that he is a puzzlement to his liberal friends when he opposes the practice of masturbation—which he calls “that dreadful habit” and which, he claims, leads to insanity. When he has discovered his children watching porno, he “hit the roof” because he believes it will lead them to masturbate and hence, in his view, to madness. However, every savvy porno marketer knows that successful porno is inextricably linked to masturbation which reinforces every episode and sets the Victim up for further purchases in an unending, plane-like, insatiable search for “something” Edenic.

Ernst Van den Haag thought that apart from the financial dimension with its criminal involvement and the rest, Porn was a destructive force for the Individual, the family and ultimately for society. He was more concerned with the vulgarization and the coarsening effect on society in general. He, as an attorney and psychologist and a strong supporter of public morality, was used by law departments to assess the “obscenity levels” of publications and movies. The Movie folk with their usual acumen knew that if they changed one tiny piece of the movie in each state, legally, the movie would then, in effect, become a new movie and in need of further evaluation. Ernst was assigned to assess a then hugely successful porno movie called Deep Throat. As he traveled to each state to assess this blatantly obscene flick, watching it day after day had a serious negative effect on him, the strong willed and moral man. He was, for six months, unable to fulfill his virile role as a husband. His argument, counter to Norman’s, was that porno will diminish healthy energies rather than embellish them.

I volunteered that porno actually plays into fantasy, not reality, and consequently will create real vulnerabilities for the mind in its search for balance and reality integration. I suggested that the good looking young models are photographed in provocative poses (after many shoots for the most seductive portrayal, and air brushed, of course), with the best of makeup and lighting to convey the fantasy of female perfection. The married man, for example, who loads his imagination with such unreal images can turn to his wife in bed and find someone slightly blubbery, lumpy, halitosis-ridden and who occasionally belches. Conflicted between his reality (his wife) and the young model who doesn’t even exist ---at least, in the fashion portrayed by the astute marketers of porno---he will often turn away from his wife to chase a kind of sexual “will o’ the wisp.”. Sex centered, such a conflict becomes even more debilitating when his evaluation of his wife’s virtue and goodness becomes secondary to their relationship. It does appear that a destructive component of porno is that it inclines the “viewer” to relate to a picture fantasy) rather than to a person. Good interpersonal interrelationships need total “beholding” of the person, not a picture.

Sometimes, porno users are unconsciously seeking some kind of intimacy or love with some one, almost anyone. Such a goal is normal[1] but the illusionary means to reach them are sick and objectivity stupid. This was clearly illustrated at a meeting of homosexual males who are seeking a life of self respecting chastity. One chaste same sex attracted person described his past in which porno played a great part, as is often the case with the same sex attracted person, perhaps slightly more so, proportionally, than in the Opposite sex attracted group. He places his porno “pleasure” in a tiny booth, with the blaring music and an ejaculate splattered floor, on the absolute furthest pole away from intimacy. He never felt lonelier. He, in fact, was conditioning himself to be unsuccessful in the very behavior which would help him be fulfilled. Attention is needed, not to fantasy images, but to live, interesting human beings!

While Ernst correctly disagreed that my argument goes too far in its implication, it is still true, however, that porno rather than equip one for dealing with life, in fact, dis-equips healthy functioning. In core, it amplifies the conflict between fantasy and reality which every knowledgeable psychologist understands, forms one major component of mental illness and much human unhappiness. As a professional psychologist, I have counseled several maritally troubled couples wherein the precipitating factor for dissension was the use (usually secretive) of porno materials by the husband. Automatically, if even unconsciously, she feels betrayed and deeply hurt by a kind of emotional adultery.

It is as obvious as the “Noon day sun” that porno usually disrespects females. Years ago, Pope John Paul II taught that a man cannot lust even for his own wife. Those old enough might recall the furor from unenlightened media which apparently did not know the meaning of Lust! The Pope taught that all persons must be treated with respect and cannot be treated as objects or things (which is exactly what porno does).Lust means that persons are reduced to things or re-ified. Legitimate passion is part of the sexual dimension but not lust! Porn feeds into lust and not loving passion.

And, obviously, for that male[2], married or single, who is more sexually driven and genitally centered, such a conflict becomes even more debilitating in heterosexual relationships again when his appreciation of a woman’s virtue, goodness and generosity becomes secondary. His interest is heavily physical. Experience seems to indicate that, despite the need and value of a sexual component, a relationship founded principally on the sexual, doesn’t stand the tests of time well.

Students of human nature can make a strong case to show the negatives of Porno. Edwin Meese, former Attorney General did a huge study showing the devastation from the use of these materials--- with strong expected protests from Special Interest groups. Yet, truthfully it is difficult to define exactly what Obscenity is. What does it mean to say that something is pornographic? Right up to the United States Supreme Court, through lower courts, through colleges and churches—the attempt has been made. There is not really a satisfactory definition. Interestingly, one Supreme Court Justice remarked that though he couldn’t define it, i.e. porno, when he saw it he recognized it as porno, obscenity, filth. Aren’t we speaking here of plain common sense and honesty?

However, if one places the sexual faculty and urge within the context of an Eternal Plan and a Divine Planner, it is possible to make some intellectually symmetric sense out of the mess. Pleasure is part of that plan and intended as an enjoyment granted by the loving Father of all. (Some commentators suggest that sexual pleasure is a kind of reward from the Lord for all the sacrifice and pain which parenting brings.) Such a component is common to all of us. Deep within the human being is an involuntary and powerful urge for the use and enjoyment of the sexual on physical and emotional levels, with pleasure being one of the main drives. The opposite sexes, providing all the “wires” are correctly lined up, will find an automatic attraction, interest and pleasure in each other, not only emotionally but physically. Such a dynamic can last life long—even when there is Snow on top of the Volcano! It is part of the Divine scenario.

So, a vulnerability to the pornographic is “there” both in its destructive power and its evil because it is pleasurable! Certainly, most healthy and normal male eyes would be drawn, even automatically, to the appearance of a beautiful young woman in the Buff! Yet, one wonders, if we can appreciate human beauty in classic art, (e.g. in the Vatican museum, loaded as it is with marvelous statuary and brilliant paintings of nudes without crossing the line of exploitation), is it not possible to “contain” the pleasure drive within the boundaries of modesty and true appreciation? Isn’t it possible for a male to enjoy the beach in those summer days where young women flounce around in very scanty bathing togs---without lusting? Or ogling and leering? Can one not enjoy physical beauty without lust? This is very far from the puerile allegation that the Catholic Church is opposed to pleasure and human beauty and is merely a gloomy and repressed enemy of human joy! The allegation apparently does not understand that joy is not only different from sexual pleasure as such but is far more profound in its satisfying potential. Some teenagers, (of any age, chaps like poor old Al Goldstein of Screw newspaper,) get their sexual “kicks” by writing their porno on bathroom walls and say they are just having fun. Does anyone think that such a practice (particularly in adults) is to be encouraged in the name of sexual maturity?

The sexual has the greatest sensual/emotional fulfillment possible. Coupled with profound curiosity, sex draws all people to itself. It is biologically and psychologically based and hence has enormous power. And this is good. It was so planned by God. However, as both Rollo May, the eminent American psychologist, and Plato, the Greek philosopher, remarked: Sex is like a powerful steed which must be kept reined in under the control of the rider. Such self control is what Christians call the virtues of Continence and chastity. Self control under God. But why should the May/Plato observation be taken seriously?

The Believer believes that this profound sexual pleasure is substantially linked to the procreation of children, not only for biological, physiological and social ends, but also for the reward to the couple for their sacrifice and love in rearing a child. Sexual pleasure, to a believer, belongs exclusively in marriage between a man and a woman. That pleasure belongs to spouses alone. Isn’t it fairly clear that parenting is the most enduringly demanding task of all human endeavors? It is the separation of pleasure from the reason for the pleasure that makes for human degradation. Sheer pleasure for pleasure’s sake can become disordered and inversely dissatisfying. And this is simply because the Creator lovingly designed it so. The human being functions more humanly and more happily if he follows the Plan which is deep within the human psyche, so often covered over by illusion and deception. Centuries of human experience attest to this point but mere knowledge never did make much sense. It is a deeper element than knowledge which sheds light on such a huge problem. That element is the Plan of God.

Still, the temptation is to divorce pleasure from its meaning and to seek pleasure for itself since it is so powerful and falsely “promising” in its sensate reactions. Every one is vulnerable to this temptation. Yet, Pope Paul VI long ago noted with exquisite prescience that once you separate love from sex, you open the doors wide--- for enormous destruction of the beauty of the sexual. Humanae Vitae has been furiously attacked as anti-love and anti-joy but in hindsight appears now to have been “spot on.” Sex has become trivialized and neutral while the Plan of the Creator is that sexual love is priceless and beautiful for use solely according to His plan. Porno is not real but what the psychologist calls the “ir-real”. It has no true place in the life of the Real Lover who understands reality or the Plan. We can probably never extirpate porno from society but we can, with God’s help, act with chastity and continence and substantially reject the Pornographic. Not only is the individual benefited but also the family and finally the National Well Being. This is a story which should be told.

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[1] Normal for true interpersonal relationships but certainly not for anything that just comes along!
[2] Female “porn” has a different complexity and a different pornography. It focuses more basically on relationships, “romance” and feelings.. The above clearly adverts to the male who is the major consumer of porno.