Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The First Nine Months of the Obama Administration - My Impressions

When Barack Hussein Obama was elected in November, 2008, my first reaction was one of delight in that our Country could finally put to rest the shibboleth that a Black could never be elected President. We had elected a Catholic to that high office and walked taller for it. Now we said, Jews and Blacks and Women. Obama was bright and likeable, possessing a spectacular gift for public speaking and stated concern for the “little guy.” I had a few repressed intuitional fears but I thought “ Give him a chance beyond the classic honeymoon period. Let’s move on…!” Let us forget what skin color he has. Let’s judge him on his actions! Is he white? Or black? Who cares? My immediate question was: What kind of leader is he?

I remember that Secretary Eagleberger of a previous administration had labeled him (before the election) a charlatan. I remember Dennis Miller, the radio talk show host had joked: “To call him (Obama) an empty suit is to insult the clothing industry.” I remember the African American author, Shelby Steele cautioning us that Obama was all flowery generalities with little specificity. I remember hearing all kinds of warnings that he was inexperienced in foreign affairs, that he was a near Socialist, and the most liberal Senator in the Senate, that he had very thin knowledge/experience of running any organization, that he had little interest in building national defense, that he was a Giant Government advocate, that he was for redistributing personal holdings, that he was soft on extremist Muslims, that he came from a questionable religious background, that his early life was a strongly protected mystery, that he was Pro-abortion even pro late term abortion and on and on. But—I insisted—Give him a chance. He eloquently promises much after the ordeals of a wearying war, a threatening economic state and a President who fumbled on his words. Fresh. New. Young. Promising healthy change! Go for it, Hussein!

What happened?

Little by little it became uncomfortably clear to me that this man is an American disaster! How did I get so snowed? I am reasonably intelligent. I have a Ph.D. in Psych. I have taught college level for many years. I think and keep up with current events. How did I get so confused? If so for me then how much more for those Americans who respond with a knee jerk obedience to either a Party line or to “pretty” words delivered with a pre planned smoothness and confident tilted chin! Even those Americans who have a profound wish to be of help to the “underdog” whatever form he assumes.

My initial uneasiness, coming from somewhere deep within me, had centered on Obama’s view of abortion. He voted always with the Pro-abortion group even voting against saving the life of an unwanted child who survives a botched attempt to send him to the trash can. He seemed to be open to rational discussion about this fundamental aspect of life. He seemed to be fair—until he pulled the same disingenuity even with the Pope when he promised to work to limit abortions in the USA. A week after meeting with the Pontiff I was told he was preparing to sign a Presidential decree making funding abortion practically mandatory. All with public monies. I became more uneasy when I heard Dr. Charles Krauthammer, psychiatrist turned public commentator, refer to Obama as a “classic narcissist”. Kraut hammer urged us to judge the President on what he does and not on what he says. So I looked and was aghast at what was right under my “nose.”

It had been loudly trumpeted that , in compliance with a promise he made to NARAL, that the first ting he would do , would be to sign into law the infamous FOCA act which would remove all restrictions on abortion. NARAL was strangely quiet during the Health care debate. There was a reason for this reverential hush. All they could wish for in making abortion completely unrestricted was already in the Bill. There was no need for them to do anything. Yet Obama smiled and talked of a rational common ground for this evil. Compromise? Can one be Half pregnant?

Some of my colleagues in religion and psychotherapy speak of how brilliant he has been so far. I am astonished. Brilliant? I found some of his behavior either stupid or terrifying. His meeting with the Queen of England was, in my view, naïve and clumsy, making Harry Truman look like Beau Brummel when he attended the then young Queen. Why did he have to make a grovel-like gesture before the King of Saudi Arabia? Or the Emperor of Japan? Why praise the Marxist Ortega? Why kiss Socialists Chavez on the cheek? Why endorse Socialist Morales of Bolivia? Why this repulsive apologizing for America? What benefit does the USA gain from his adolescent need to be loved by the World? How is human tolerance and forbearance furthered by his rolled up shirt sleeves/ beer-drink scene with the boys –with careful pre planning of the inevitable camera ?

In fact, I am embarrassed at his naiveté in dealing with seasoned and pragmatic world leaders. I feel we are a laughing stock behind the closed doors of diplomacy! His Nobel Peace “Prize” is a farce. He is awarded an egotist’s bone. Not for what he has already done but rather for some Christ-like feat he might hopefully do in the future! Further, he is becoming—to me—more mean spirited when I see his reluctance to praise others who are not his lap dogs. The “Surge” which ultimately set us winning in Iraq can never get his approval. It came from the plans of others. He seems utterly incapable of listening openly to others. He goes completely berserk when others blatantly criticize him. Fox News which broke many of the corruptions of his administration has become an obsession with him. When there is a White House meeting for Media, everyone is invited except Fox News But during his campaign he boasted that his groups would be transparent and open to all. He is a boy-man way out of his league but still titillating young women and still cheerleading as if he were campaigning for state senator! After the election, he states in an interview on Television (which I have filed on my computer) that he is grateful that, during the campaign, John McCain didn’t not bring up the matter of “…my Moslem Faith.” Transparency? Moslem? He has as the right, under God and elsewhere, to adopt any Faith he chooses—or none at all. But in the face of his oft repeated promise of transparency in his administration, his disingenuous behavior in this and other areas becomes a real characterological flaw. It further annoying to be duped again by smooth talk which is really hiding “something else.”

Even granting that the previous administration was responsible for some of the contemporary financial mess, he has doubled the national debt. Is there ever an end to his school boy practice of blaming some one else for his woes? Did he have anything to do with the sad state of economic affairs we now face? No uneasiness for him yet he urges more and more trillions/ burden for the future. We were told that unless Congress passed his Trillion dollar Stimulus Bill, our economy would falter worse than in 1929.So we tremblingly passed his Bill. Result? Almost nothing. Don’t bother to read it, he says. Just pass it. He promised unemployment would never go beyond 8%. It is now at least 10.2% Trust me, he says, and in effect. I know better. Further, why does he terminate our new missile system after North Korea launched an ICBM? Our European allies are troubled. Many American patriots are troubled. Why does he so act ? Why? Why?

Why am I so troubled about his association with people who represent what is abhorrent to me? A rhetorical question! Van Jones, a near Communist? Lloyd, my namesake who advocates repression of a free press? And Ayers, the bomber terrorist, who attempted to destroy American life and American property. Pastor Wright who bellows in a church service God damn America and reiterates the same message everywhere he goes? And Obama after sitting on front of this rabble rouser for twenty years claims he never heard such talk! He has divided the country, probably into worse racism than before. He has terrified Citizens about their future—especially for their children’ s future.

My simplistic naiveté of last November exists no longer. And apparently it is the same for multitudes of Americans. On November 3rd of this year two State Governors favored by Obama have been defeated by the people at the polls. An unknown Conservative, a meek looking accountant, in the 23rd Cong. District of upstate New York came out of nowhere and almost defeated the Obama-like incumbent. After a squeaker which had the Liberal Democrats tweaking their noses at the prospect of a defeat by an uncharismatic, politically inexperienced Conservative, the message has gone out. Americans are beginning to see something. To wit! Even his beloved Health care project came hobbling through a Congressional vote of 220 to 215! A squeaker for sure. Jobs mean little to him, apparently, as does the fate of our beloved men and women overseas fighting to protect our way of life.

His own hand picked top General, in the field in Afghanistan,, urgently requests more troops and the President, the military Commander in chief ,“dithers” for four months without a decision. With the military situation worsening and our fighting people becoming more and more stressed and vulnerable.. His limited political history has shown that he is a fence sitter. Like any classic narcissist he wants to look good to everyone. However, Americans are beginning to speak up. But he cares not. He has total power and plans to use it his way. Polls show that more and more Americans disapprove of his mode of handling the country. His approval ratings plummet. Damn the people. Full speed ahead to Socialism!

Incidentally, Sarah Palin is not completely wrong when she speaks of “Death panels”. It is debatable what he really feels but it looks like the old and the terminally ill are apparently disposable in his eyes. The carefully worded handbooks in VA hospitals insinuate “oldies” might be sacrificed in favor of younger ones who can contribute more to society! How this bothers my deep rooted and inflexible feeling that all human life at any stage is precious and is to be protected---by any means available!

Don’t give me rhetoric and classy phrases, Mr. President. Do something. Something American. Most of all, get out of my way. Let me fare for myself. I don’t want your political fish. I want my own fishing rod without inappropriate interference from you. Let me bless my God and be proud of my Country, both historically and currently. Go back to Chicago, Hussein, and do your Un American ward heeling there.

[1] This is so unlike me who trusts his own initial instincts or “gut" reaction.

Monday, August 31, 2009

When Was I Most Happy In My Life?

A former sixty-ish American President, of the early Twentieth century, was asked at a formal White House dinner, when did he think his wife was “the most beautiful.” Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: “why----right now.” No doubt his “bride” must have beamed with radiance and pleasure. Yet, in effect, that moment was the only real slice of Time that existed! The past did not exist except in memory and the future had not yet come. Or might never come. Such a perception of Time is essential, I think, for us human beings who desire to exploit properly the priceless gift of the gracious God which is, of course, Life. Life which includes the dimension of appropriate fun among others. It would be difficult to live a “full” life if one were plagued with resentments, angers, guilt, and self depreciation about one’s past history and concurrently worried about unlimited fearful possibilities of the future. How could one experience the needed “playful”[1] dimension one finds in the mature, developed personality (of any age) if one is emotionally constricted by living in any time zone but the present? In a conversation with his alcoholic brother, a friend of mine (likewise alcoholic) discovered all they were talking about was the past and the future. The “present” had no rooting in their psyches, which significantly contributed to their current unhappiness.

With the lead given by Jesus Who taught us that “evil for the day is sufficient thereof…”, serious practitioners of the Art of Living such as the 12 step program leaders, have trumpeted the Mantra “One day at a time - One day at a time - One day at a time” with startling good results! Most of us do feel capable of tolerating pain or misery or heartbreak for a day—especially those who believe that God helps all of us with His “amazin’” grace. And even more especially for those who believe that God never gives us more than we can handle since His grace is always at our immediate disposal. From a theological standpoint, God gives grace only for the present moment since with God there is neither past nor future but only the eternal Now. Consistent with this view, the outspoken St Teresa of Avila wrote that for her, it had to be one minute at a time. Anything more would be too much to ask.

Obviously, almost any attitude can be carried to extremes. Sorrow for past misdeeds or sins is clearly appropriate. A sense of atonement coincides nicely with a healthy spiritual life. Making amends for past misdeeds is appropriate not only for A.A but also for an appropriate approach to God. Sensible prudence for the future is wise. Indolence of any kind is hardly consonant with an elegant life of the Spirit. In the Catholic spiritual tradition, the laid back, laissez-faire view tumbles dangerously close to the heresy of Quietism which leaves much of personal responsibility to others especially to the Lord. There is much of our own destiny which is in our own hands.

And of course one can wander pleasantly back to the “Good ole’ days” which have been decorously festooned with the passage of time. Most of us are inclined to re-do our own histories in the light of our present state of mind. I can do that. I can re-do my history so that it cannot compete with my present! I can remember my sense of well being as I, a youth given to contemplation, sat in a row boat, alone, in the middle of gorgeous Lake George in New York state. The sense of peace and closeness to God were priceless. The mountains, the clear fresh air, the comforting warm breezes combined in my soul to allow me to feel something of that elusive quality---happiness. I remember the soaring sense of joy I felt as I raced over cold snowy streets to the Lake on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street to ice skate. The feeling of free movement, the sparkle I felt from the stinging weather, the joy at being part of a laughing and deliriously youthful crowd - and so much more - gave me what I thought was happiness. I won a gold medal for achievement in grammar school. I walked on water emotionally when my family seemed so proud of me. Being in the “bosom” of family brought so much warmth and love and acceptance that one could easily say that human intimacy is the basis of happiness. But with whom? I scored 100% in the State Regents exam in Geometry. I was exuberant! I was accepted into the exclusive honors club in college and given a golden key which I still cherish. I was in 7th Heaven when I made my First Holy Communion. I was euphoric and certainly on the edge of ecstasy when I was ordained a priest.

I thrilled to the beauties of Europe sharing those delight with dear friends. I so enjoyed being at sea with the endless horizon always beckoning me to gaze at infinity. I almost burst with “happiness” when my public speaking stints brought me applause and praise. Oh yes, I keenly appreciate how satisfying it is to look back on one’s life, with satisfaction, and “enjoy” pleasant memories. The list of positives for any human being can usually be substantial if one wishes to float in re-painting history. But I, like most people, am inclined to eclipse the difficulties which I had in those days. Gilding the lily is everyone’s choice. But, nevertheless, nothing is so dead as yesterday’s news. It all passes. Or does it? What really does not change? The eternal Now never changes. I mean God ----- with me at this very moment.

The past is over. It does not exist and can never come again. There really is only now. As stated above, the Catholic Faith teaches that with God there is only the eternal Now –all is before Him—what we call past and present and future. Jesus, it seems to me, is telling us “Carpe diem” or seize the day! This day.

To exploit appropriately. To drink deep of the Nectar of God’s world. When was Life most beautiful for me? If I really could hear the Lord’s Voice in my soul, I would say “right now”!

[1] How often spiritual writers and mystics write about God’s pleasure on seeing His children laugh and sing and dance and enjoy life according to His Will!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Obama-Care for Dummies

Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News who identifies himself as “The Factor,” recently made a most unusual (and for him, humble) admission. He said that although he was a graduate of Harvard, he could not understand Obama’s Health Care bill. So, with a subtle tinge of intellectual snobbery, O’Reilly in effect asks how could the “dummies” of the nation possibly grasp what the President had in mind! If the top 1.2% of intellectuals in our midst are confused, especially the cognitive giant we have at Fox News, what must it be like for intellectual pygmies? Like me. How could I ever read a House Bill of over 1,000 pages or a Senate Bill of over 600 pages when most of Congress, who have been pressured by the President to sign these Bills unread, don’t even know what is in the Bill? Am I just one of the many Americans burdened with naiveté? I want reform in Health care. I want every American to have access to medical and pharmaceutical help. But I suspect Obama’s way is the wrong route.

Somebody Help!

Even though I am a political dummy[1] it seems to me that we have a quantum or space/time problem. Presently, we wait in a Doctor’s office to be seen --- for hours after our appointment time. Emergency rooms all complain about the glut of patients to be seen. Nurses are frazzled. The whole system is groaning under the weight of health care need. And our Omniscient President Messiah plans to add up to 47 million more persons for Health care with the same number of Health care professionals or possibly less. Is there some kind of misfit here? Doesn’t it seem that the numbers do not add up? How does one squeeze so many into so limited a “space”?

As a consequence of this misfit, the time spent on patients simply has to be more limited than at present. It means longer waits for appointments, for MRIs, Ct scans and all the items of health care. In effect it is time which cannot co-exist with the problem raised in #1. This probably means worse care for all than we now have. It necessarily means the implementation of the frightening horror: Rationing! I can make an analogy to priests hearing confessions. When there are long, long lines of Catholics waiting to make their personal confession, the confessor becomes stressed and is inclined to rush the penitents in order to serve all. The quality of his spiritual care necessarily becomes minimal as he attempts to serve everyone. There is no way that care can improve under that restriction. It can only slump. And who declares who needs care the most? It isn’t even physicians. It is, probably, a Board of “almost clerks” who make decisions without ever seeing the patient but who work from protocols in some office far from the scene. What openings this leaves for corruption as well as political nepotism!

The panels of death: It is alleged that persons of advanced age with serious medical problems will be seen by a physician (paid “adequately” by the Government) who will assist them in arranging for their final hours with “dignity.” In plain language this means ending the life of the senior by pill or injection. This makes great sense if one shares the slant of the Speaker of the House who explains away funding abortions as “cost effective”. A significant amount of health care costs does center on care for the elderly. So why not cut down on elderly care and save huge amounts of money which then would be available for younger and more productive members of society? This is excellent thinking if one espouses the Communist, Socialist secularist ideal. But for people who believe that life is sacred from conception to natural death, this is the acme of immorality. The lame defense by “Mug wump”[2] Catholics that Catholicism already allows such dialogue with the seriously ill, is absurd in that we strongly prohibit any active move to hasten death. To any experienced therapist it is plain that by carefully chosen words one can influence a vulnerable person to one direction or another. Such skill used for “dignified death” is seriously immoral. Who is more vulnerable than the sick, confused, weakened, frightened senior person before the calculated approach of a professional who might be at that bedside to influence a quicker solution than a drawn out illness which is costing the Government more money? I don’t think Barack has this in mind, but once we open legislative doors it is difficult to stop excesses.

My conscience as a health care person: There is very strong pressure to remove all conscience clauses from the Bill. In effect, if I refuse, as a physician, to perform or assist in something I find utterly unconscionable (e.g. abortion) I will be chastised or fired or blackballed. Nurses, aides, and others who find the dismemberment of a child monstrous will have no protection. (This is already happening. N.B. Nurse at Mt. Sinai in NYC)

Hospitals and other health care centers which do not abide by mandatory abortion requirements will be refused funding. This clearly points to Catholic institutions. To my simple mind this means closure of these centers to the detriment of the public which is heavily served by Catholic run institutions. Is this true? If the President signs the FOCA act (which he promised to do when addressing the NARAL group prior to his election) does this not mean the end of Catholic health care as we know it?

The assertion that it is better to go along with the immoral dimensions of the Bill in the hope that “common ground” might be found eventually, not only limps but is a fantasy wheelchair. It is obvious that the Administration with deep obligation to the extreme Left of this country has every intention of implementing forced abortion, assisted suicide, and experimentation with human embryo stem cell research. It is oxymoronic to speak of a “common ground” when one discusses abortion. How does one dialogue in this case? Is it like being “half pregnant”? Does the King have any clothes on? Or are hordes of us, including well meaning Catholics, even nuns and priests, well intentioned but seduced by high flown rhetoric and the ever elusive carrot at the end of a stick?

The question of real cost: I am staggered when I hear of the 12 zero figure called “a trillion.” It is beyond my capacity to grasp the unbelievable financial burden to be placed on the shoulders of ordinary (?) hard working Americans of two generations who follow us. When we are experiencing economic strictures of a major sort it seems totally irresponsible to raise serious financial prisons the like of which we have never seen! Is it because of the 10 million illegals we have that we re-design the American system of Life? A solution is needed there but not the one which cripples the Country for generations!

Finally, I am aghast at the thought that this highly skilled American medical establishment is about to face demolition and about to be reduced to the level of Sweden, Canada, or England which groan against the bureaucratic limitations shown by history to be unable to serve everyone as they had hoped. The statistics of waiting time in Canada (for example, for a knee replacement) are unbelievable - 12 months on the average!

Conclusion: It has been noted that the Bill 3200 is not basically about health care. It is about Power. It is the strange drive of some extreme “leftists” to control our lives. I am now becoming alarmed. Our Founders believed that when Government fears the people, it is democracy. When the people fear the Government, it is tyranny. No wonder there are Tea Parties and outraged Town Halls!

[1] Even though like O’Reilly I am educated (perhaps beyond my capacity) with a PhD in Psych from NYU and a license from New York state to practice, I don’t get it either!
[2] In the early American political scene the term “Mug wump” was coined to describe those who refused to take a stand. Their face (mug) was on one side of the fence and the rest (wump) on the other. Their studied non-position was supposed to protect them no matter who won the election. Like Senators who vote “present”—(not yea or nay) lest they be tied to a specific position.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Does "Practicing" Mean, As in "Practicing Catholic"?

The speaker was discussing his own book called “The Practicing Catholic” in a midtown New York City parish. He is an ex-priest, married, living a most comfortable life with the proceeds from his books and many well-written articles. Because of his stances, sometimes antithetical to and widely dissident from traditional Catholicism, he has been classified a “fallen away” Catholic. Yet he strongly insists that he loves the Church, cherishes rich emotional memories of his childhood and is practicing the Catholic Faith.
It leads one to wonder what is a “practicing Catholic”? How big is the Big Tent of this religion? One of the many strengths of Catholicism is its flexibility and breadth of embrace wherein one finds the simple but powerful influences of Mother Teresa, Mother Angelica and Padre Pio uplifting thousands of devout Catholics to meaningful, beautiful lives and at the same time one can find slightly cynical, semi-doubting, irreverent, hostile Catholics who would never “leave” the Church they criticize. Mysteriously, the latter group would be affronted should anyone dare to suggest that some more “modern and liberal” denominations might be more congenial to their views. However, such persons might have more direct Faith in basic Catholicism than they admit even to themselves. Perhaps, since many of this group have been educated beyond the level of their parents, we might be observing an interesting situation of non-resolution of an oedipal conflict. In fact, this speaker acknowledges that his personal relationship with his father (although a well educated brigadier general of the Vietnam era) was one of long term conflict. Could this be transferred unconsciously to a conflict with “Mother” church? Are dissident Catholics really fighting their Parents?

The man in question allegedly held at various times great differences with his own Church. He argues publicly, so goes the scoop, that women should be ordained priests, that there must be married priests, that gay marriage must be accepted, that opposition to contraception must be dropped, abortion should be allowed and roughly do away with the whole Bishop thing. The Church must be continually castigated for anti-Semitism, for the Inquisition and the Galileo affair. It seems odd that either he didn’t know of the many statements of Pope John Paul II on this subject or else he deliberately glides over the truth. I would prefer that he be ignorant than malicious. Some wit suggested that there is already such a Church which the speaker seeks. The Unitarian church where all his values are preached and upheld where it seems almost anything goes, doctrinally speaking! But he wouldn’t leave this Church---ever. Why not?

In his talk he referred at least twice to the crowd rouser mechanism of “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” It was as if he was blasting the Church for holding such a barbaric stance. The penumbra, the nuance, the unspoken, was that Catholics teach the damnation of all people—except themselves. He knows full well that is simply not true. What is true is that the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople articulated the belief that it is only through Christ that one can be saved. This is vastly different from what he said. Every Hindu and Buddhist and Jew and Methodist can be saved but ultimately only through Jesus. If certain unsophisticated persons spouted such distorted and misinterpreted views as he mentions, then, it was not the Faith talking. But individual dissenters!! He knew the clarification of Pope Pius XII in his monumental encyclical, Mystici corporis which taught that anyone in good Faith belongs to the level of salvation. His statements bordered on the dishonest or disingenuous which perhaps may be explained by the impromptu question and answer style he was using at that moment. Perhaps, his shooting from the “hip” would not surface if he had a quiet moment to think. He surely must have heard of the Jesuit priest (Fr. Feeney) in Boston who was “excommunicated” for holding exactly what the speaker claims was authentic doctrine. One would hope that on review and with the grace of God, he would revise his sloppy use of terms.

Relevant to his rants about Jews, it is interesting that the many converts of Jewish background didn’t seem disturbed by the use of the word “Perfidious”. The word means “unbelieving” as describing those who have not accepted Jesus as a Personal Saviour. Any amateur theologian might easily make a powerful case from Scripture Tradition and Reason that any one who does not accept Jesus is “unbelieving.” But since Perfidious has developed an “emanation” of insult, most of us are pleased with the Church’s deleting that word from our sacred Liturgy. But I, as a Catholic Jew, am not sent into some kind of frenzy by the word. Jewish converts like Edith Stein (St. Benedicta of the Cross) or Raissa Maritain or other intelligent Jewish converts do not miss the forest for a tree! A mature approach to the Catholic Faith is highly preferable to the vitriolic obsession of the speaker with this subject.

In his relatively small audience sitting in the front row was an older man who self identified as an ex-priest with deadened and lost ideals. He described himself as being reared in the era where Pat O’Brien and Spencer Tracy were omnipotent and noble screen priests, way above the maddening and mediocre crowd and whose role he wished to share. His real life priest experience never matched his fantasy so he left the priesthood. Then he could be “honest”. (?) His voice was full of hurt and anger but with the accusing tone of the typical aggressive dissenter (typical, that is, of my experience). A woman stridently criticized the American Catholic Church of dragging its feet while justifying her right to criticize since her husband had founded the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal organ for Catholics unhappy with the history of the Church in this country.[1] She asked “Where are the leaders?” To my ears she was asking for enthusiastic dissident Catholics who would challenge and change the Church in ways congenial to the Speaker’s views. He replied that she could find such leadership in the Paulist Fathers whose company he had left for “truth and honesty” and even beyond that for money and a wife. I was personally piqued by this recommendation since I myself am a Paulist Father and I have found in this Society strict loyalty and devotion to the Church. I don’t enthuse by being grouped with some unhappy critical clerics who remain “on the job” with lukewarm adherence.

Even though the word “myth” is a legitimate one for historical research and analogic illustration, the speaker noted practices of some Catholics, less articulate than he, as being naïve and sheeplike. Again, he underscored all religion as principally how one treats the “neighbor.” I found little, if any, reference to God in his remarks. Indeed, a psychotherapist colleague who saw the same Television presentation thought that the speaker “hated the Church.” I am hesitant to go that far even if a case might be made in that direction. And I presume should that be the case his “hatred” would be unconscious.

It brings one back to the primary question: the clarification of the meaning of “practicing”. And the viewpoints are highly variant. Some are content to say that making one’s Easter duty suffices to meet the requirement of the practicing Catholic. Personally, I find such a stance highly inadequate and almost insulting to those fervent ones who struggle, often at great emotional and physical cost, to maintain their Catholic identity in an open and persistent fashion. As I recall Jesus said something to the effect that not those who cry “Lord, Lord” enter the kingdom of heaven but only those who do the Will of My Father…….

There are others who occasionally attend Mass, some what mechanically, want their children baptized as Catholics and who certainly want their weddings to be in a Catholic church especially if it is “pretty.” They are, however, tepid in their support of Catholic views in “the public square” and glaringly superficial in their knowledge of Catholic fundamentals. They simply don’t know. The knowledge of the Faith was not the speaker’s deficiency. His was, rather, one of deep emotion (and which perhaps, in nature, could be redacted, unfortunately, as spiritual). Yet, the huge majority of these tepid ones hinges, I think, on poor catechesis and unlovely example.

Some Catholic leaders, of course, suggest that we should simply adopt the dissenters and those who pick and choose Faith ----- in the hope that they will come back. Unfortunately, it rarely happens the way some would wish. Besides it does not take much energy for that stance. Read the paper. Watch TV and see what happens. Leave it to God.

Yet, it would be likewise superficial, in my opinion, to portray the practicing Catholic in mere measurement or statistics. It is not about how many schools and hospitals we have. It is important to see that Numbers are not our goal here. It is something far deeper. It is about identity, belief self concept. In my work with converted SSA people (homosexual persons) I have been struck by their recalling their active “gay” days when they saw all things through a kind of gay lens. Everything was understood and interpreted in terms of gayness. In a sense, the “practicing” Catholic sees, similarly, all things through a Catholic lens. The real Practice does call for a permeation of the faith through one’s very being. Catholicism is, indeed, in a sense “totalitarian”. It is supposed to affect every area of our lives. This explains, at least in part, the enormous negative reaction from the believing Catholic community upon the bestowal of high public honor by the University of Notre Dame on the Number 1 political Pro-abortionist in the country. It seemed as if the academic community did not care at all for Catholic principles. This was not a case of not knowing any better. It was worse. It freely and without hesitation ignored or dismissed Catholic teaching, practice, history and authority as irrelevant.

In all our Catholic history, we have observed the norm of true Practice: “Sentire cum ecclesia” or think with the Church. Feel with her. Obey her official teachings. Remember where the “Church” is. We have always believed that “Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia” (where you find Peter ---and his successor--- you find the real Church). There is no room for the cafeteria Catholic in this structure. When one disbelieves a single basic Catholic teaching, it is no time when he believes nothing, practically speaking, of the Faith. On the other hand, practicing the Faith means more than the external. It is the interiority, the wholeness, the submission to God, the living it out in all things that makes the term “practicing Catholic” meaningful.

Archbishop C. Chaput noted in his article in First Things (June/July 09) that Catholics have to begin admitting that we have been lying to ourselves, to each other and to God by claiming to oppose personally some homicidal evil--- and allowing it to be legal at the same time. Strong words and yet worthy of serious consideration. He fears that many of the 65 million American Catholics simply do not care. Such an assessment is more frightening than mere ignorance. If we cared, he claims, we wouldn’t be wasting our time arguing whether legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow balanced out or excused by other social policies. He startles the Catholic reader by accusing us of forgetting how to think as Catholics. And that there is nothing more empty headed in a pluralist society than telling citizens to keep quiet about their beliefs. A healthy democracy requires the opposite. It is not of the practicing Catholic’s world to create one’s own truth and then baptize it with an appeal to personal conscience.

St. Paul, the apostle of Truth, was ready to pay the price for his fearlessness and fidelity to Christ. We do need the sense of his urgency. This cannot be a question of elegant academic discussion or smooth public oratory. The only thing that matters is truth. Obviously, it is painful for the millions of truly practicing Catholics to watch so many persons who call themselves Catholics compromise their Faith. To see them submit their hearts and consciences to the Caesars of our day is not only sad but burdensome. We feel like St. Paul that “we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles—but God’s folly is wiser than men and his weakness more powerful than men” (1Cor:23). May the remnant of truly practicing Catholics become the ultimate beacon in the darkness.

[1] I had interviewed one of the founders of the Reporter on Television and had indeed found him critical, unsmiling and unhappy with the Church in those days. Apparently the emotional level at the paper remains about the same today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mafia and Those Who Mess Up Their Chance for Happiness

Joey Columbo, the Mafia guy, had just been whacked near the statue on Columbus circle. There was a flurry of gunfire in the dense mob which had gathered to celebrate an “Italian” awareness day. The “shooter,” a black man, was instantly killed by some one unrecognizable in the crowd. Joey was rushed to nearby Roosevelt Hospital for treatment where “shrines” of endless votive candles were lit around the hospital. No one dared to protest. Near my Rectory (opposite the hospital) a “watch dog” group set up camp. The “soldiers” were haunched on boxes and foldable camp chairs in crushing New York heat. Some were bare to the waist. Others were slicing up cantaloupes with huge scary looking knives.

An anxious looking woman, obviously a member of the “family”, seeing me and my clerical collar dashed to me and tearfully said “Please pray for Joey, Faada.” With my fearful heart pounding away, I hurriedly assured her that I would approach the Almighty immediately and tried to run as fast as I could. But one of the soldiers, with a bared hairy chest and a Bowie like knife, said to me, “Have a piece of cantaloupe’ with a menacing wave of the knife. “No, no thanks,” I said as I started to move away. He raised his voice and shouted “HAVE A PIECE OF CANTALOUPE!” Suddenly I found my taste buds craving for cantaloupe. I gratefully accepted the grimy slice, wolfed it down and mumbled excessive thanks for a crummy piece of fruit.

In back of my semi jocose remarks is a serious observation. There was a complete lack of happiness in that crowd. No one smiled. There was an air of suspicion, defense and paranoia. No one seemed happy, even granting the sadness of Columbo's assassination. These people had money, power, control, expensive clothing (when they wore them) but they had an air about them which just shrieked "incompletion". If they showed me anything, it was the ancient rule that the elusive "something" called happiness is more than these baubles.

I recall the gruesome movies about the Godfather, and Donnie Brasco and the Goodfellas and of course the unending saga of The Sopranos. They all depict the criminal story of unbelievable violence and vicious selfishness and lechery and foul mouths and lies and degrading control of others and basic hidden self loathing. They care little for love, only lust. Their notion of God surfaces only at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Having a mistress is matter of fact. "Whacking" a recalcitrant soldier is no problem. Just business. There are no morals. No spiritual norms. Only insatiable wants. And their lives add up to one huge misery and profound sadness.

Not just sadness but pain, disillusion, confusion, rage, loneliness, paranoia and guilt. Does this observation not coincide with the basic and unfortunately forgotten ancient rule? Love God. Do His will and you will find peace and contentment in this world and happiness for ever in the next? Flaunt His Will and ultimately you will destroy yourself.

This dynamic is deeply etched in the human reality----even if unrecognized. It is not just Mafia types which offend and consequently suffer. It is the ordinary Joe or Jane who shows up at counseling centers and mental health clinics seeking some kind of emotional relief and rescue from disorientation/alienation. And their number is legion. Part of the experience of human misery is the good old fashioned trick of rationalization; namely, the attempt to impute goodness and nobility and right to intrinsically evil behavior. We all engage in kidding ourselves in order to justify what we are doing or what we want. Usually little things with little cosmic consequence. However, it can go much further. Disaster often follows just "little" things. The slippery slope is probably the experience of us all.

For example the wife who at 35 with four children decides that she has been emotionally abused by having to do what she did for the children or what mothers traditionally do. She suspects that she has missed the fun of being with young people. She decides for her own good she must "find herself"[1] and begin living out who she really is. With the encouragement of an extreme feminist therapist, she starts her search by hanging around with 20 year olds, staying out until 3 am, by neglecting her children, by gym exercise two hours daily (to restore her figure to her fantasy), by spending prodigious amounts of money on her cosmetics, by buying lacey lingerie, by carrying birth control pills in her hand bag (allegedly for acne) and the like. She buys herself $240 dresses while the family struggles with huge debt. She lies about her whereabouts when she is missing for many hours. Obviously and ultimately she has to confront the "bad guy", the husband, the guy who is responsible for all of this. The "abuser." This becomes her crisis.

How can she square things within her own head when she has graduated from a prodigious Catholic college and taught NFP[2]? Festinger, the famous psychologist, coined the term "Cognitive dissonance" to describe a situation wherein there are two or more conflicting factors in one's life. It is necessary to drop out the conflicting factors and go with one. Otherwise one is driven to extreme guilt and disorientation. Which factor is chosen? The one I think I want the most! Or is it simply that this woman's emotional structure is weak and vulnerable?

Clearly, most relationships are "two way." No one spouse is totally responsible for a marital breakdown. For example, the husband who constantly works over time - probably, among other motives, to give a good life to his family. But he is away! The burden of raising young children falls to his wife who tires of little kid babble (even if charming) and longs for adult conversation. If he is over expectant of what his wife does or can do (in his mind), if he imposes his viewpoint when he is home without seeking hers, if he forgets that all human beings need to be praised at times, (especially young wives), if his vocal tone is dictatorial and businesslike to an emotionally fragile wife, she will begin to experience the devastating feeling that she is basically unlovable and worthless, especially if she has a foundational problem with self esteem. She will turn elsewhere for consolation and down the slippery slope she goes.

They are both wrong and in some ways both right. But nothing justifies the breaking of God's law. He might very well believe that he is keeping God's way by forcing the children to say the Rosary with him each night which the wife refuses to attend. She might consider her coldness to him (and certainly her rejection of connubial rights) completely justified. She might feel perfectly "right" when she refuses to let him meet her "friends". She might go so far as to reject her own religion which conflicts with what she wants to do! However, she says that her new religious stance is totally intellectual. Such a statement sounds hollow in the face of the enormous data amassed over the last 50 years indicating that most of human behavior is largely emotionally based.

Is the Mafia misery much worse than this? Two young people with a reasonable hope for a happy future mess it all up and dedicate themselves (and their children) to suffering not intended by the Lord but also basically avoidable. What is this so common phenomenon in human affairs? While we can safely assume that most human beings seek some kind of "happiness", an incredibly large number of us almost deliberately sabotage a truly good life. Is it Original sin? Is it an unconscious feeling that we do not deserve happiness not matter how much we yearn for it? Is it just plain stupidity? Is it infatuation with fantasy?

The Lord has made it known. Keep My commandments. Do the Will of God and your reward will be great. But the Lord teaches also that along with the Good is the need to carry the Cross which repulses the human being existentially. We want it comfortable and pleasant—all the time! Is there an evil force obscuring the "Good" and masking what is evil by presenting it as most desirable and productive of this happiness we seek? Whatever it is, Pogo said a long time ago, "We have found the enemy and it is us..." And Caesar in Shakespeare's language suggests that "The fault, my dear Brutus lies, not in the stars, but within our selves." Certainly, it does no good to blame others for our woes and pain. The human struggle cannot be resolved by blaming parents or church or government or climate. The real question is what do I do now to help my life? The directive for the mature is: Seek solution, not blame.

The dilemma is: On the one hand, I wish this which critically undercuts the clear will of God, indeed is antithetical to it and on the other hand, if I follow the Will of God which makes me feel peaceful and right, I must give up that which I am drooling for. In effect, no one can have it both ways. No one has it all. Ultimately, one must choose: "Choose life and live..." or choose the unholy and be alienated. It is the all too present human drama out of which great theatre is made and great novels and even great prayers.

Two Catholic men, intelligent, spiritual, generous, deeply involved in their respective professional expertise, "fall in love" with each other. While an overwhelming majority of American people finds such a statement either perplexing or revolting, there is a noisy minority fiercely campaigning for accepting same sex "love" as normal, healthy and even holy! To be perplexed or revolted is unacceptable to this group which almost gleefully labels such dissenters "homophobic." The use of this clumsy term usually is applied to anyone who does not find such same sex behavior as beautiful, or an obvious healthy variant of the traditional coupling, normal, and utterly American.[3] The average reaction, opposed to this view, is neither one of fear or hatred - but perplexity. From one's earliest years, we have heard, in effect, that the parts simply do not fit. One simply "knows" that the anatomical, biological, physiological, even the psychic differences between males and females are "wired" by nature and nature's God. What could be more obvious?

But to place this "anomaly" within a more powerful matrix for these two men, traditional Judeo-Christian life would label such SSA[4] behavior as intrinsically evil and which never can be approved.[5] These two men are well-read in their Faith. They know that if they "marry" they are no longer Catholics in good standing. This would mean a great sense of privation for them who depend on and delight in the Eucharist which would be absent from their lives immediately. Yet to forgo the SSA relationship (read: sexual behavior) would be a great hardship for both who seem to have a powerful need for the physical. The fatuous advice given by ill informed and overly sentimental well wishers that they should become Episcopalian[6] does not resolve anything for them.

Their attempt at resolution is "rationalization." God wouldn't ask this of us! How can it be bad when it feels so good! I am 98% sure that God understands! I have never had so transparent and loving relationship in my life before! It's not hurting anyone. I am only looking for happiness and so on and on. Each of these men has had wide experience with same sex behavior. Both of them have attested to empty and debased post-experience feelings. They both know that sinful behavior brings only misery and sadness. They know better but still do it. How come? How many eminent Media preachers in spite of their noble rhetoric, and their knowledge, have muddied their lives by totally inappropriate behavior? Remember the sadness of Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Baker who patently, but secretly, turned their backs on the God they so devoutly preached?

Why do we do "things" that make us miserable even though we know full well that the consequences can be nothing but miserable? How many times have I said "How stupid of me" or "Why did I do that?" after behaving in some utterly irrational manner? Isn't it once again the ancient truth that what we do, we don't want to do, and what we want to do, we don't do? Isn't it once again the presence of Original sin in all of us, giving us limited or darkened conscience? Isn't it the surfacing of the Catholic anthropological insight?

The great apostle Paul wrote that we seem stupid and foolish to the world when we do God's Will and carry His cross with him. In the long run the holy (and pragmatic) mode is to do His will - as painful as it is. The positive consequence of such a decision is peace of soul. And that is not something to be scorned. The forbidden "goodies" of temptation seem Edenic but two people found out a long time ago that things are not only what they seem. There is often enormous and senseless pain in following one's own instincts when they are conflictual with the Lord's will. It does seem more sensible to trust God than the comedians on late night television. No matter who is involved, we are better off following the painful way of the Cross than ingesting the neologisms of Page Six or the way of Madonna.

[1] Jack E, Leonard startled a beautiful immature ingenue who was gushing on the Tonight show about "finding herself". He told her that after years of searching with psychiatrists and others she would find herself and be very disappointed. Common sense from an old raconteur?
[2] Natural Family Planning
[3] According to their categorization, Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Laura Bush and 90% of the world's population must be homophobic.
[4] Same sex attracted rather than homosexual or gay. Both these latter terms have a disrespect attached which is not found in SSA.
[5] Catholic Catechism
[6] Episcopalians have no difficulty in admitting practicing homosexuals to their form of Eucharist. These two men know the dubious nature of Anglican orders and reject the suggestion out of hand.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The American Catholic and His Problem With A Secular Culture

George Weigel, the author of the monumental biography of Pope John Paul II, wondered whether Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and Pope Benedict XVI attended the same meeting (Feb. 2009). She had requested a private audience with His Holiness since she considers herself a devout Catholic. Weigel’s wonderment is quite understandable when one exams the after-meeting statements of the speaker and Pope. These statements are in complete disconnection from one another.

The Pope’s statement with his usual clear and precise language spoke of the obligation of Catholic public servants to ensure the well being of the unborn and to follow Justice as is taught by the Church. On the other hand, the speaker said they talked about climate change, social work and the like, with absolutely no reference to the central point of the meeting. It was as if she never heard such a statement or that he never made one. Weigel and thousands more most certainly question the legitimacy of her “statement”.

The Pope’s statement was in writing and made public shortly after the meeting. The Speaker never put anything into print but only gushed to the media that it was a wonderful experience for her and her family. Was it just that she dozed off when the Pope spoke or was she distracted by the attire of her family or did she shut out his teaching for fear of any possible interior conflict for her? Or was it that Catholicism can be interpreted her way—or what she deems the American way? Is she saying that she can select what teachings she will follow and not others? Or is she lying? Or suffering a temporary mental problem? Or simply has a “nostalgia” for the Catholic memories of her childhood? Or was she enveloped in the misunderstood and distorted notion of “separation of Church and State”?

Actually, she and the other “Catholics” of her ilk may have serious difficulty reconciling their personal interpretations of Catholicism with the basic teachings of the Church. As one witty television commentator said (after the meeting) “The cafeteria[1] is now closed.” One basic position of the Catholic Church is that God’s Will is primary and must be followed as best one can. The clarification of God’s will (for Catholics) belongs to the Church through Tradition and Scripture and which is articulated by the Bishop of Rome (read: Pope) together with Bishops, particularly in a General Council. The Nancy Pelosi type Catholic does not accept the Church’s articulation of God’s Will, but prefers her own view as the basic criterion of what it means to be a Catholic in modern America.. They, themselves, will decide what is God’s will, which is usually compatible with their personal objectives, aims and personal gain. Hence, the criterion of truth and morals is whatever they wish. Such a position certainly shouts at least the traces of narcissism and arrogance. It is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI has been teaching for years i.e. that the enemy of God and holiness is moral relativism.

Apparently, until recently, the American Bishops have been slow to point out to Catholic politicians their obligation not only to not support immoral injunctions but also to work to change whatever evil may exist in their world. While this applies only if it is possible, it is this very loophole which has made it possible for many to avoid confrontation. The Pope’s statement to Pelosi, however, may ultimately be the death knell for those Catholics who may, for political reasons, support and articulate agreement with intrinsically evil measures. While the choice is theirs, choosing the evil puts them in effect outside the Church. This even if they attend Mass with prayer book in hand, show up on Ash Wednesday with ashes on their foreheads, always have their Marriages in “pretty” Catholic churches and have parties for a baptized infant. So, they consider themselves “practicing” Catholics. I wonder what genius instructor laid out such a life plan for them?

Once, in a jocose mood, I raised, at the common table, the question with fellow religious whether a famous Senator from New England was a Catholic. The responses ranged from indignation to patronizing instruction that, of course, the Senator was a Catholic who went to Mass, had his children baptized as Catholics and probably gave “something” when he was at the Holy Sacrifice. However, in back of my apparently light hearted statement, I was raising the fundamental question beyond the cultural and social appearances:

What is a practicing Catholic? Or is that view an abstraction that has no image in reality?

One clue to the correct answer lies in the recent situation in Kansas. President Obama (who has been called the “abortion” president by Cong. Smith of New Jersey) appointed the Governor of Kansas, K. Sibelius to the Cabinet post of Secretary of Health and Human Services. This is a pivotal appointment since it controls, to a great extent, hospital regulations and certain forms of Health care relative to abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research[2] and other such items. Gov. Sibelius has been notorious in her support for abortions[3] in her state and has publicly posed with the grisly physician who has the Moniker of “Dr. Abortion.” This “Doctor” will kill a baby at any stage of development. His gruesome practice is well known in the State and there was no move from the Catholic politicians to protest his practice. Certainly not from the Governor. Yet she considers herself a devout Catholic and had been receiving Holy Communion at her parish openly without any question as to her right to receive the Lord.

Ignoring possible secular disapproval, her archbishop, Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, courageously confronted her. First, he called her in for a private conference with him where he outlined the Catholic positions relevant to her situation. She disregarded his teaching and continued her previous behavior. The Bishop, then according to our protocol, publicly stated his opposition and told her not to present herself for Communion until she would accept Catholic teaching and morals. Reading between the lines in the diplomatic wording of the Bishop, it is, to me, patent that she has been “excommunicated” from the Catholic Church. Even perhaps she knowingly excommunicated herself. My observation in the light of this development is that Gov. Sibilius is not a practicing Catholic regardless of her personal view. Factually, to her credit, she stopped going to Communion. The Archbishop’s action was highly influenced not only by concern for the spiritual fate of Gov. Sibelius but also for the Faithful Catholics who are often confused by ambiguous clerical mouthings and who can be profoundly scandalized by such flagrant violation of God’s Law. In my view, to keep silent would be negligence.

This procedure is gaining more and more support among those Catholics we consider “practicing.” In a recent telecast on Fox News a senior business manager, Neil Caputo, interviewed Archbishop Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver. The Archbishop discussed what he would do should there be a “scandalizing” Catholic politician in his archdiocese. He replied in a way that seemed a copy of Archbishop Naumann with Sibelius. First, he said, he would invite the person for a private conversation in which he would outline why it was so serious a problem. If the person refused to comply and continued in his/her defiant behavior, Chaput said that he would then publicly suggest that the scandalizing person refrain from receiving Communion. The choice and consequences obviously belong to the Politician who might choose simply to ignore the Church’s teaching. What would not be acceptable would be that such a person would describe self as a devout and practicing Catholic.

Catholicism is a “totalistic” religion requiring its adherents to accept all that is in the C reed and the Councils of Catholic history[4] at least in matters of Faith and morals.. That is why the term “Cafeteria Catholic” is oxymoronic. Such a stand contradicts itself. As with the unbelievable attempt to give abortion via Catholics for a Free Choice, a good name, so is it with those in public life who opt not to believe certain doctrines and positions of their own Church. These people try to justify their behavior by appealing to “Separation of Church and State”, thinking that such an appeal immediately shuts off all criticism. Perhaps there ought to be a Seminar on this subject for members of Congress. Apparently, few officials understand the meaning of the term “Separation of Church and State.”

So far, cafeteria Catholics self identify as “good” Catholics. Of course, legitimate dissent and challenge are appropriate from the members of this Church about practices and attitudes around the world. Supportive challenges are rich and useful. But no one has the right to dissent from the basic teachings of our Faith.

For example, a priest from my own community left the priesthood, married and pursued a successful career in writing. So far, so good. For some reason he became an activist ‘left winger’[5]. While he passionately declared his love for the Church, he began a crusade of attacking the Church he allegedly loves. Because he loves the Church, he says, he will crusade for reforms within. These include accepting same-sex marriage, ordination of women, the abolition of all Bishops, turning over all authority to the laity, and other measures so antithetical to Catholic thinking. It has been suggested to him that the church he envisions as more perfect and superior already exists and it is called the Unitarian Church. He could hardly be called a practicing Catholic, in my mind.

It is interesting to note that strong unwavering Catholic positions have occasioned some commentators to make the unmentionable observation that Catholicism and the American political structure might be incompatible. There may be some truth in that wonderment even though we have been enormously successful in this country, prospering in an environment not always favorable to us. How does a ‘Monarchy’ like Catholicism meld with a secular Democracy and still maintain its personal identity? Some observers believe that balance has already been achieved in spite of Pelosi and her “Catholic” colleagues.

John Courtney Murray, of the Jesuits, made a monumental attempt to reconcile the two dynamics in his book “We Hold These Truths”. His work was admirable and pragmatic but it is being challenged in the modern era. Mario Cuomo as Governor of New York State apparently without guilt approved some legislation on pro-abortion approval. His rationale was that he represented all the people of the state. Democratically, by vote, he said, they had indicated their wishes about abortion. Hence he voted against Life, representing (he said) the people of New York. He came up with a Janus-like accommodation whereby, he said, while he was personally pro-life, finding abortion gruesome and wrong, he approved abortion as a state executive because he represented the people, not the Church.

Such a questionable stance was decimated by the now Judge John Noonan in California. When he was at Notre Dame, I invited him to appear on my TV show, Inquiry to discuss the whole abortion and contraception matter. He was clever, knowledgeable and articulate like Cuomo. He demonstrated how impossible it is to function in the manner described by Mario Cuomo who was not personally in favor of capital punishment while the overwhelming public vote was for such a measure. He overrode the people’s choice and refused to implement capital punishment. While most of us hold the same position, his contradictory thinking was difficult swallow. He had no problem attacking that which he considered wrong---i.e. capital punishment but was reluctant “ to impose” his religious view regarding abortion. This is disappointing to me since I recall his Diary in which he said that the most important thing to him is the salvation of his own soul. I wonder, then, what mental mechanism he uses to justify his apparent disobedience.

I wondered how his thinking, as an American, would fly in the matter of slavery. Would he say “I am personally opposed to slavery, but as Governor of some State, passionately pro-slavery with the overwhelming electorate finding slavery a needed good, I officially approve of slavery because I represent the people, not the Church. Whether or not slavery is immoral is academic. The people want it so I have to give them what they want, regardless of my personal values. This is America where the people decide not the Church"?

The conflict will arise. How will it be settled? Accommodation or enculturation? Will more and more Catholics excommunicate themselves as they pursue the Faith in “The American Way”? Will Catholics insist on Cafeteria Catholicism or on the Catholicism propounded by Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John 23, St. Pius X? It has been said that everyone has a right to his opinion and to change it should he so will. But no one has the right to change the facts. The facts about Catholicism are what Catholicism teaches and believes independently of any culture or trend or political affiliation. Our definition of practicing Catholics stands regardless of appeals to contemporary viewpoints. The number of committed and practicing Catholics may become small but this would symbolize the notion of the Remnant, so frequent in Catholic history. Practicing Catholics who are in public life, must try to persuade others to the good and moral and to oppose the wrong and the evil. There is a need to verbalize not impose. Silence is unacceptable.

It has been said in objection to this point that should Catholic politicians follow the norms outlined above, their numbers would diminish and the Church would be out of a Voice? But one asks what voice? One political commentator noted that although Congress has a high percentage (40?) of Catholics, their impact on implementing the Church’s social policies is unremarkable. He noted paradoxically that should all these Catholics be replaced by Mormons the Catholic programs would be far better served.
We are in a dangerous time. Let us pray for the intervention of the Lord, His Blessed Mother and the saints and angels of heaven. We need it.

[1] Those Catholics who believe that they have the right to ignore or deny some basic teachings of the Church want to pick and choose what suits them. Hence, the term “cafeteria” where one can chose a doughnut rather than an éclair. This selective style puts the person in a shaky position as to whether or not he/she is a practicing Catholic.
[2] The Church is completely in accord with 4 of the 5 possible procedures with cell stem research and treatment. The medical potential is enormous. Using embryos for research is unacceptable because it kills the human in the process. Nothing has ever been proven about embryos having any more impact than the other 4 procedures.
[3] Official Catholicism considers abortion the primary, most profound moral problem of our time. The Church is deeply involved on programs for the poor, health care and universal education. Abortion trumps all. Without life, what is there?
[4] This does not mean that all Catholics must believe in Fatima or any thing like it. The Church insists on basics on faith and morals.
[5] That he never resolved what looks like an Oedipal conflict with his father, does suggest some dynamic for attacking any kind of parent figure. Mother Church, for example.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Will Those Catholics Who Voted for Obama Have "Second Thoughts"?

Many Catholics were amazed, even appalled, when they discovered that a large percentage of Catholics voted for Barack Obama for President of the United States. It was startling that fellow religionists would support a candidate who so clearly ( even if with clever and studied ambiguous rhetoric) advocated positions antithetical to Catholic teaching and tradition. His first few days in office saw him shedding his planned cloudiness to blatantly (by Executive Order) implement some of the most “far left” political, cultural and moral stances in the country’s history. Some of his “vision” seems exciting and right. But others are frightening and dangerous.  The new President approaches his role with a quasi majestic, almost canonized tilt of the jaw, slightly reminiscent of Il Duce in Italy. His self concept conveys a sense of an all knowing, superior, all powerful, benign, elitist Father Figure. It seems that he, in his own mind, knows what is best for the rest of us (the masses?). Perhaps, this is the earmark of History’s successful Dictators.

Obviously, the chief concern for practicing Catholics would be Obama’s position on abortion. During the Warren debate in California he did a verbal tap dance which could make Professor Irwin Corry[1] jealous. He was responding to the question of the beginning of “life” but gave us the old routine of “Some say this and some say that” never pointedly saying what he really believed. To those, however, who listen well and who can read between the lines, the message was clear. He was not Pro-life. Politically and culturally, he is the opposite. Such a conclusion is easily reached when one reads his statement to NARAL prior to the election, promising that one of the first things he would do, on assumption of office, would be to abolish and abrogate all restrictions on abortion.

A 13 year old girl needs no longer to get parental permission to “terminate” her pregnancy. Botched abortions will legally allow the child to die without help. The barbarism of late term abortion is to be fully lawful. The inconvenience of an unborn child can now easily be handled by quick and available recourse at all institutions funded with Government monies. There is now no limit to what one wishes to do relative to abortion. Kill the unborn child with impunity. “It” is not a person legally but only some kind of cluster of blobs and cells. Further, in effect, Obama and his policies will mean the probable closure of all Catholic hospitals and medical facilities. If Catholic hospitals cannot, in conscience, provide abortion services, they will then be ineligible for government funding without which the facility cannot continue. Did Catholic voters know this?

One concrete example of the force of “funding” is that of the Archdiocese of Boston, where adoption agencies which refused to provide adoptive children to same sex couples, were denied public funds for their religious beliefs. There was no option for the Archdiocese but to close the facilities thereby depriving the Public of the valued services previously supplied by Catholics. How can any Catholic square his euphoria at Obama’s election with the recent Vatican statement certainly implying that the American political scene is one of the most perilous situations ever. The assumption that Obama will support embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is widespread. Cloning research is not far off.

Further for decades the Catholic Church has stood hard and fast against the political philosophy called “Socialism” because it devalues the human being. If one digs deeply enough, one finds the Nazi horror to be, at base, a Socialist society. Such a society, in effect, owns all modes of production and, practically, controls the lives of the members of that society on most levels of function. The many faces of Communism have frightened us for years as they devoured more and more of our individual freedom. To Catholics this philosophy is inimical to our Faith. It assaults our key notions of unique human value and the free will to make decisions for ourselves.

The seasoned political commentator, Dick Morris recently likened the Obama victory to a “Trojan Horse.” The application to modern politics is that, like the huge legendary animal which contained a hidden group of Trojan soldiers who would leap out (once the horse is within the walls) and destroy the defenders, Obama might have pretended that his interests are just for the common man and for a more equitable redistribution of wealth. But once inside the ‘walls’, he will drop the mask and expose his full program of total control and loss of freedom. He did subtly warn us of an intent take over our lives but few heard him. An end unattainable by millions of sophisticated and deadly foreign military but reachable by the art of rhetoric and political dexterity! This was and will be done, however, on an incremental basis with the public being relatively unaware of what has happened. Recall the story of the frog and the boiling water? Put the frog in lukewarm water first. Then increase the temperature gradually and soon the poor little frog doesn’t even know he is being boiled alive!

.Of course one might note the incredible tax burden he is placing on the shoulders of future generations among other perceptions. But the personal concern raised here is the opaque (or puzzling) viewpoint of the American Catholic who voted for this man. But is he to blame? The American Catholic is not guiltless! How does one explain a Catholic Vice President who speaks not only with substantial ignorance of the Catholic Faith but who defends values utterly opposite to our Tradition? And who is applauded when he goes to Communion in his local church? Who is this Speaker of the House, allegedly a Catholic who blandly holds that the Catholic Church is unsure as to when life begins? Are we weasels that we grovel before political power and pretend that there is no disloyalty to the Faith? How do we explain anti-Catholic behavior of the Pelosis, Harkins, Leahys, Durbins, and that 50% of the Congress which is nominally Catholic? At least, Obama never claimed allegiance with Catholicism. These others indignantly profess deep love and appreciation of the their “Catholic” Faith while at the same time supporting, protecting and applauding positions utterly counter to our Identity. “My patriotism allows me to represent those who do not share my faith, standing with them in matters my Faith says are evil.”

How explain this strange dissonance? Immediately before the election in November of 2008, a Catholic magazine, run by a prestigious religious Order published an article which ought to create an uproar! It held that allegedly a Catholic can vote for a candidate who upholds intrinsically evil programs--- this was to be done by the great art of “Distinction.” It is moral “providing some essential factors are present.” It struck me as sheer balderdash and a lame attempt to persuade “undecided” voters to back the Radical. “See the other side.” In some situations, there is no other side! Nazi genocide, South African Apartheid, destruction of defenseless human beings in abortion! What other side?

Did Catholics not know this? Or is it that Catholics are ignorant of their own Faith? Apart from massive Diabolic intervention, massive ignorance seems the only believable answer.

It might originate with the foundational work of John Kennedy whose identity as Catholic seems much more cultural and social than spiritual and theologic. The “acceptable” behavior for the Catholic politician apparently means that one can jettison values when necessary. The goal is to win the campaign. No matter how one wins, one must win. Winning is everything! Does Right matter? Does Truth? Or does loyalty to a political party trump everything –including God’s Will?

Who is this “average and nominal” Catholic who while blaming others for the ills of the world, does not feel any obligation to articulate his Catholic Faith? Perhaps it is we who are really to blame. Perhaps it is we who have lost our identity as Catholics. The facile dismissal of Catholic thought as an attempt to ‘impose’ our values on the Country sounds hollow here!

My guess is that within one year into his presidency Obama will lose the support of those millions of Catholics who somewhat blindly jumped onto his bandwagon seduced by a strong speaking voice, rhetoric and the promise of earthly paradise. Let us hope that our country and our Faith will not be permanently devastated by an acted out fantasy! I hear as of date (2,3,09) a faint hint that the Honeymoon will dissolve faster than is usual.

[1] “Doctor” Corry made a fortune in show business pretending to be an intellectual by using a combination of nonsense syllables and meaningless word formations. He drew up a complete miasma of word fog and fast talk. He was funny but he was not running for public office.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Was Michelangelo a Homosexual?

I was sitting in a little Italian bistro with my longtime friend, a Retired Big Shot in the NYPD whose marriage I witnessed and whose kids I baptized into the Body of Christ. While enjoying s bit of pasta and glass of Chianti, I found myself defending those historic figures (like Michelangelo ) who, for one reason or another chose not to marry. The assumption, in the mind of my friend, was that “non-married” translates into homosexual. Starting with Jesus, through Paul and the long line of saints, I argued that, while marriage is the right and ordered pathway for the overwhelming majority of the human race, celibacy can be a healthy option for some people. Being unmarried does not, ipso facto, necessarily indicate a same sex proclivity. It, in fact, might mean something else. But in certain walled off bubble cultures, it is thought that the Catholic priesthood, for example, means homosexual, and that the majority of priests have the same-sex orientation. “They simply are not interested in women, they have no feeling for marriage and hence they become priests.” This is so absurd that I would belly laugh if it weren’t so damaging. I know there are homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood. I know that most of the hurt from the scandals came from the repulsive behavior of homosexual priests. But I also know that the overwhelming majority of priests is striving for holiness with a sexuality attuned to God’s Will. My observations are confined largely to this slice of the population. So, these observations are basically to challenge the facile notion that “unmarried equals homosexual.”

When I responded to my buddy, I did not argue that all unmarried and celibate people are healthy, peaceful and enjoying life exceedingly. However, I related a story about one of my students from a large eastern major seminary. As he was nearing ordination and wrestling with the reality that he was about to promise publicly that he would never marry, he began to feel nagging doubts. Was this pattern-style for all candidates for the celibate life? Does every one go through such a soul searching process? My young student friend was fearful lest he might be unable to “handle” celibacy and perhaps would forever be regretful of his choice. In effect, he asked “Will celibacy hurt me?” His very question signaled his vibrant attraction toward females. This was a full blooded young American with a full supply of testosterone as well as a mature appreciation of female beauty. He had, in lay life, practiced as a lawyer, dated attractive women and lived the free life style of so many young people in New York City. Today he is the Pastor of a flourishing parish and continually delighting in his choice to be a priest.

The real underlying notion of the doubt can be both psychological and spiritual. Will a life of celibacy “hurt me?”—“will it make me unhappy?” As a reasonably experienced psychologist, I had to reply: “It might.” The reason for my caution centered on his (or anyone’s) state of legitimate self regard---how did this young man view himself? This is basic. If he viewed himself as significantly inadequate on the profound level of “Can I find a mate who would deeply love me”, he would probably have interpersonal trouble, homosexual or otherwise. He would have the underlying inferiority feeling that no woman would want him! He would constantly be using the privileges of the priesthood to assure himself that he is lovable and worthy. His insatiable needs of assurance could be so great that he would “use” others, young or old, not for spiritual motivation but for selfishness. This unfortunate tendency can, of course, occur in the psyches of heterosexual as well as homosexual people. They all should be discouraged from entering the priesthood. However, on the other hand, if the candidate for priesthood (even unconsciously) knows and accepts his own personal gifts, particularly his confidence that he could certainly find and mate with a wonderful woman, he can make a healthy choice for not marrying. He makes the Promise or Vow of celibacy sure of himself. He chooses to be a chaste celibate. The fearful, insecure person makes, not a choice, but fearfully backs into a way of life which does not really suit his psychological structure. Since he, on his own, doesn’t usually “Make it” with others, (given his personality and character) he enlists in a structure which does it for him! His low self esteem does reduce his freedom but which, at the same time, might seek some kind of sexual satisfaction. In a sense he is unable to do otherwise. In this case, my friend is right. The man who fearfully becomes a priest because of his own sense of inadequacy, particularly with interpersonal relationships with women, does contribute to this distorted perception of the ‘unmarried.”

And of course there is a high possibility (in this case) that such a Priest will be same sex oriented. Yet, it must be insisted. Celibacy can be a healthy and joyful way of life—for some! The late Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, psychiatrist, of the Identity Clinic of New York Hospital made this point again and again. From a psychological point of view, there was no argument!

How many priests I have known who become priests with strong attractions to females! How many of them value the innocence of children which they desire to protect! How many of them believe in their own physical possibility of grandchildren and the delight of owning one’s own home! It is not fear of women which induced them to become priests but rather an overwhelming sense of God which gradually clarifies and strengthens as time goes on. This is a free choice between two goods! This is not homosexuality. This is a huge expression of love for the beautiful God. Whom he senses but cannot see. Such men are not homosexuals. They are in Love with God. But probably unless one has been there such a statement is incomprehensible.

Persons making vows of celibacy and chastity (there is a difference) believe that this donation of self is by invitation from a Higher Power (God). They believe they have a “call” or vocation to the celibate state. Implicit in this belief is the conviction that God will help them, with His powerful Grace, to fulfill their vows with generosity and joy. There is Grace for every life call for all of us, regardless of the type of call. Holy men and women live in different times and places and speak different languages. Each found his “home” in a place suited to his desires. Mother Teresa once advised a candidate to seek “your own Calcutta.” You don’t need to come to India to be holy! We don’t have to be like any one else. We have to be who God intended us to be. We believe that the Lord made us in His image and clearly He demands chastity from us all. If God expects us to be chaste (and we believe that homosexual practice is unchaste) then chaste is what we must be.

Certainly, such a call is not fully answered solely by one’s own strength. It is with the power of Grace that one “does it.” The clenched white fist approach generally and understandably fails. There are two basic points at issue here: a) authentic celibacy can be healthy[2] and b) authentic celibacy flourishes with the help of God’s grace. The history of the priesthood, for example, is replete with data. In the scandals of the early 21st century, it is interesting to note that over a 60 year period, the data suggest that of all the outrageous behaviors of delinquent priests, over 80% were from homosexual priests. Obviously, some infidelities were from heterosexual priests. Whether these falls came from sexual orientation or not, is difficult to discover and may be moot. However, despite the unhappy and crushing reality of these infidelities, the dominant history of the priesthood has been one of love, fidelity and respect.

Dr. Freud significantly pointed out that the sexual drives of the human psyche can be healthily and productively redirected in ways other than genital discharge. This is called the mental mechanism of Sublimation. The non-use of the genital power does not, in itself, demonstrate that same sex attraction exists in any given person. Such an assumption would be a monocular view. In fact, some authors suggest that Freud himself, some time after his fortieth year, became celibate in order to invest himself totally in his work. In my own work as chaplain of the Retired Detectives of the NYPD I met more than a few men who, totally dedicated to law enforcement, were unmarried. These men were so involved in the fascinating work of investigating crime (getting huge emotional and spiritual reward thereby) that, in a sense, there was little room for the “goods” we associate with marriage. These were masculine males with minimal self centeredness but with strong outgoing dynamics for the social good (and often spiritual development). Deficiency of testosterone and fear of women simply do not apply here. Their basic fulfillment was elsewhere.

But much of real discovery and understanding depends on securing authentic data. While jumping to conclusions might be fodder for late night comedians twitting exercise, serious students of human behavior know that no one has X-ray vision. Much of what drives human behavior is not easily available for scrutiny. It is risky to say (especially when said with supreme confidence) that artists such as Michelangelo were homosexuals not only because they were unmarried but also because many of their male models were handsome and lean while their females models were muscular and masculine. It might be true—maybe these people are same-sex attracted! But for reasonable certainty more factual evidence is needed to justify such “shooting from the hip.” If we believe we argue from a scientific point of view, it is essential that we know the difference between correlation and causation! Even a casual knowledge of history shows that often “apprentices” lodged with a Master of a specific Genre---Paint, stone, sound, architecture---- in order to gain as much expertise as possible. To assume that it meant more easy access to sexual deviance is really “drawing on the long Bow” as is said in County Cork to describe the process of reaching conclusions beyond premises.

Answering the question opening this essay requires some serious thought. And some modest caution. While, one can honestly argue about the complex nature of homosexuality, there is no other side to the implication of my friend. Non-marriage, per se, does not equal homosexual. To insist on such an awkward conclusion is not only intellectually cloudy but is basically academically dishonest.

[1] Michelangelo may possibly have been SSA but that is as now speculation. However my point is to challenge the immediate assumption that Unmarried means homosexual.
[2] It is the Catholic contention that, regardless of the 1973 APA statement, the homosexual or same sex attracted person has an intrinsic disorder.