Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Mess at Gaza

The wise old Sigmund Freud said among other witticisms that nothing is all that it seems. The Hamas/Israel tragedy, for example, fairly screams  “complication.”

To Israel, it is an obvious “given” that they are  a duly, lawfully constituted nation with an indisputable right to a peaceful existence equal to the United States, England or Pakistan. Consequent to that right is a further one which is not only a right but a duty. That consequent right and duty is the protection of the lives, properties and liberties of its citizens, even, if by severe military force. This is, to them, non-negotiable.
To Hamas, however, Israel has stolen Arab land. Israel is an occupier. The land  must be returned.   Unless this happens there can be no peace. This is, to them, non-negotiable.  
In any event, a necessary point must be noted. All rights have real limitations. The response against an unprovoked attack has to be measured and cannot morally go beyond the minimum damage, collateral or otherwise.           
The defending nation will claim that that such force is necessary for legitimate  protection. This factor similarly operates in the difficult area of the “just war” analysis. What is the criterion whereby one can justly argue that the force used is beyond the restraint of the common moral position?

When non-combatant civilians, including children, women and senior citizens are killed or seriously injured in large numbers, when their lives are totally uprooted, when their homes are devastated, it would appear, even though in war there is often unavoidable collateral damage, that the force used was beyond “measured.” 

However, on the other hand, if the attacking  force, in this instance  classified by many as “terrorist” hides its rockets in  schools, hospitals, mosques, residences as  behind a  “human shield”, Israel is placed in the intolerable position of simply enduring the cascade of rockets  from these protected places with no defense but their own  “dome” system, awesome but not perfect. This means that civilian  Israeli lives are not only endangered but open to widespread death.   Hence, the “other side” morality of the Israelis. Yet, Hamas publicly denies any kind of   human shield activity claiming that the charge is manufactured for American propaganda. What does one do with such a dilemma? Whom does one believe?

Of course,  the placing of armaments in such nonmilitary places is highly unethical and would suggest,  if true,  that the Hamas cares  little for human lives, even of their own people. There has been some grotesque reporting that   civilians are advised NOT to leave a building designated for attack so that the incident can be used as an anti-Israeli propaganda tool. 

While Israelis claim that they notify Palestinian residents before the destruction of a certain building which houses rocketry, by leaflets, radio, internet, the question then arises:  Where do the endangered local Palestinians go? Get out, they are told, to place of safety the existence of which is nebulous.

Some truth is to be found everywhere. But is one side all right and the other all wrong? To listen to the debate, depending on which side speaks, one could believe that there are not two sides to this story. As frustrating as it is, more talking and listening are required. There have been so many “peace” talks in the past that one becomes some what cynical of the whole  situation. We have seen the warm cozy handshakes in the past with “sincere” hopes of a peaceful side by side arrangement. Again and again the agreement is broken and hate, not peace, emerges.

The reality of life teaches that rarely does one get all that one wants. Legitimate compromise does not diminish nations.  Intractability does.   When nations write into their charters that Israel is to be eliminated from the face of the earth, it forces that Nation into a defensive national posture with heavy emphasis on a powerful military, ready to fight in a moment for survival.

When Israel constructs a world for Palestinian Arabs who whereby are (in their view) deprived of a just share in the world’s goods, when they are subjected to what they see as an unfair, harmful and unjustified embargo, when  they suffer perceived disrespect and discrimination, they rise in protest. When, however, that protest is co-opted by fanatics such as Hamas, the legitimacy of the protest is sullied when otherwise the protest might have some credibility. Further, Israel contends that the embargo is necessary to inhibit the flow of arms from hostile nations willing to underwrite the attacks on Israel.

In a world of intractability, hopes for peace are scant if not impossible. The catastrophic possible outcome is that there is no solution except unconditional war. The war will be ever present until one side is totally crushed and eliminated. This is a horrendous possibility. This carries the frightening possibility of an expanded, world wide conflict which would make past wars seem puny by comparison.  This is why efforts for a resolution must be pursued. As useless as it may seem, the talking must continue. And the listening.

And the praying. The Pope must be involved and the President and the Queen and all people of good will. And the essential question must be answered:  Do the two sides really want a resolution of the tension?  How serious is the concrete desire for peace?

Some media say: If Israel lays down its arms, the next day Israel ceases to exist. If  Palestinians lay down their arms, the next day we have peace. Is this so? In spite of what I write, I am sure if I lived in Tel Aviv, I would be with the majority who seek survival. I would be all for  aggressive  but defensive action. The first law of  human nature is probably self survival. The Manhattan liberal may proclaim lofty platitudes but as the old Indian adage goes:  Don’t judge until you walk in the other’s moccasins. Sermonizing is counterproductive. So is “Second guessing.” Israel is a strong ally. Our leaders should refrain from criticism of Israel as they fight for their very existence.  But on the other hand, if I am Muslim and Palestinian,  I see my people diminished and brutalized, I go with the other side since I feel there is no way to justice and peace in the present arrangement.  So I fight and sacrifice and protest!!

It will take the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Ghandi and the help of God/Allah to craft a fair and lasting agreement.  I wish them well.  I am content that they do not ask me for an answer! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chastity and the Anger of the Catholic Left

                       Chastity and the Anger of the Catholic Left


                       It is and always has been the explicit and unequivocal position of the Catholic Church that Chastity, as considered under the Virtue of Temperance, is the obligation of everyone. There is no exception.  Fully aware of the failures of  some of its own members,  even those of  very high  standing,  nevertheless the Church  has taught perennially that it is the Will of the  loving and provident Lord that all persons must restrain, and correctly direct but not repress,  the sexual drives which all human beings possess.
“Catholic”  anthropology  (and, of course, theology) believes in a great aboriginal calamity , technically termed “Original sin” which is  deep in and integral to fallen human nature. It is described by the Blessed apostle Paul as doing what I do not want to do and not doing what I want to do.   It has been likened to an inner tension which must be  properly controlled or even in Plato’s thought as the powerful horse one strides which needs the  strong management of the rider. It is described as one font of seven negative inclinations called “Capital sins” one of which is lust or the inappropriate use of sexual drives. Lust is considered as antithetical to love in Catholic thinking. Actually, these inclinations are merely inclinations and not sins as such but which can incline the person to actual sin. Hence, Catholic spirituality has always been sensitive to “occasions of sin”, i.e. those specific factors such as  people, places, things and which are to be assiduously avoided because  their specificity  might lead a person to sin.   This is a basic, elementary Catholic attitude and very deep in the Catholic psyche.
In the light of the above, it is difficult for the average, especially well educated Catholic to fathom  the anger or what borders on rage which surfaced in Toronto, Canada, about a chastity  focused activity offered at the Catholic Student Centre ( or Newman Centre). This Centre while not sponsored in any way by the University of Toronto, offers a wide variety of optional programs to students which are meant to foster deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His own Catholic Church.
Surprisingly, though clearly distinct from the University, one of the academic Vice Presidents strongly urged the Parish to drop this basic Catholic activity which is totally congenial to the Church’s thinking and simultaneously optional to students. One wonders what led this academic to invade religious space with the weight of a high Campus position.  The activity is a religious and optional program, called Courage, presenting a Chastity program for Same Sex Attracted persons.   Courage was personally blessed by Blessed Pope John Paul ll and Cardinal Trujillo of Family Life Office in Rome. The anger/rage reaction comes from persons portraying themselves as “Catholic” with protestations only of concern for the well being of the local Parish.
The negative reaction is surprising because of the clarity of the official Catholic thought (Catholic Catechism) which is as follows:
   A)  Under no circumstances can they (homosexual acts) be approved CCC 2333
   B)   Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. CCC 2358
   C)   Homosexual persons are called to chastity  CCC 2359
   D)  Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman CCC2360
   E)   Sexuality by means of which man and woman  give themselves to one another through acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses is not something simply biological…….it is an integral part of the love by which man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death…
To ignore the Church’s teaching is surely one form of disrespect for Christ and His Church but to misquote, misinform and even calumniate is totally unacceptable. A former helper from the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas and an openly homosexual Catholic is quoted with a series of appallingly false allegations about the Church approved  movement of Courage.
He is quoted in the local newspaper with the following  allegations:
  1.   Courage people are taught that they should pray to be made “straight.”
This is utterly false. A few seconds perusal of Courage literature would enlighten him that Courage works for the attainment  of Chastity. It does not “re-make’ people psychologically. Should some one pursue heterosexual orientation possibilities, such a choice is personal and not any stated goal of Courage which seeks only the attainment of living out God’s will for living chastely. The basic human needs for friendship, intimacy and love are accomplished in chaste relationships with God’s grace and the sanity of sexual sobriety.
  2.   Courage teaches the young, confused and frightened that they are damned, i.e. going to eternal hell.

This is also false. Deep in the structure of Courage, as in the  universal Church, one finds the  palpable awareness of the Mercy of the loving God. Courage, like the Church, always speaks of the ever present welcoming by God Who yearns to offer forgiveness for any sin. Like the Church, Courage will speak of the mercy offered to the woman caught in adultery but always with the necessary and often omitted requirement of Jesus---“Sin no more..”  or don’t do it again. Renovation of sinful ways is necessary. This is quite different from saying that being homosexual by orientation sends a soul to hell. Again nowhere in Courage does one find anything even remotely resembling the charge published in the paper.

One wonders if the person quoted is simply following his own agenda. Some persons can twist facts, realities or truth attempting to harmonize their personal behavior which conflicts with universal Catholic norms. Perhaps, they do not accept the Catholic teaching as noted above that homosexual acts are sinful. If that is the case, then, they are in real trouble with conscience strictures and integrity issues. This involves moral dissonance which ultimately, under honesty, demands either submission to what The Lord teaches or personal severance from the Church whose teachings one rejects.

 Such inner confusion and turbulence is sometimes found even among clergy who struggle personally for the homeostasis of inner drives, One such sad priest whom I knew insisted that he would stay in the priesthood with the hope that he could change Church teaching from the inside. He was totally blind to the whole notion of unchanging truth. We hear constantly from the Holy Father, now Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, that the true modern danger is Moral Relativism, and that there is Truth beyond evolution or personal desire. There is an Absolute Truth woven into the very existence of God. Overall we are facing the creeping advance of De-constructionism which means, ultimately a world of no essences, disorientation and  an idea/emotion Tower of Babel.
   3.   The same person mentioned above claims that Courage teaches     homosexuals that they are defective.
If the accuser attended even a backwoods school of journalism, he might remember the elementary rule of “checking your sources and facts.”  Courage ( in other words reflecting the official Church teachings) teaches that  homosexual persons have a disordered  tendency which is disordered only because it  can lead to that  which is intrinsically evil, i.e. homosexual acts. Again tendency does not mean sinful any more the tendencies stemming from the Great Aboriginal Calamity, called original sin are sinful. Tendency to anger or laziness or greed or lust or envy is not sin. It is merely tendency which does need struggle, with God’s grace, for pursuing His holy Will.
Courage, then, specifically notes that the tendency in itself is not evil, nor is the person, only the behavior. Nowhere does the Church, nor Courage, say that the homosexual person is defective any more than is anyone else. For further research on this point, the accuser might consult Cardinal Ratzinger ( who later achieved an even more clarifying stature on this point) in  his Pastoral Letter to Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (PCHP).
The meaning of Courage is the same meaning as the Official Church, love of God and fellow human beings. Courage exists to help persons who wish it the support that Christ can give to open hearts. It is not suppression or discrimination Courage offers but Love. It is an offering accompanied by the Cross which some reject as impossible. When Jesus offered His own Body and Blood, some walked away murmuring  “This  is a hard saying” Jesus did not modify His Words to stem their walking.  The Eucharist is here to stay no matter how hard it is. Analogically, so is Courage.

Challenging a Bishop


            On the only time I ever theologically challenged a Bishop

He was a warm, friendly auxiliary Bishop of a very large Eastern Archdiocese. He loved priest parties especially when he sang melancholy Irish Ditties. He never pulled rank but joyously relished being a Bishop, especially  a teaching  one. He was enormously popular with clergy and laity, Catholic or otherwise. His open, life loving spirit was instantly attractive.   Surprisingly to me, he had a powerful, lifelong, pervasive love affair with a young nun from Normandy who was called the Little Flower or St Therese of Lisieux. He read every book, article, comment, letter or evaluation of her he could find. He devoured and savored her remarkable skill in finding a simple way to love God pragmatically with intensity and profound passion. In our priestly circle, he was known as the ‘Guru’ of the Little Flower. He really “knew” The Little One.

Today I shudder and tremble when I recall my incredible adolescent gall in challenging him on what has become known as the “Little Way” of St. Theresa. My professional training was hardly a theological one beyond the sketchy, minimalistic four year charade required for ordination.   My spiritual insights came from my  Grandmother who was beaten and roughed up by life but who had  suffered and loved, with the Faith and Trust one sometimes finds in  the hearts  of those with only  a  third grade education.  With the help of the Baltimore catechism the Holy Cross Sisters imbued me with a love of Jesus, the Eucharist and the saints.  This faith I was totally unable to justify intellectually.  The compelling Irish Christian Brothers gave me a slant on God which is intuitional and transcendent but which did not qualify me as a “theologian.”   My professional training was in psychology where I spent
years probing, questioning, challenging, thinking, experiencing reality. One of the occupational hazards of studying the psychological is that it sets one up for imprudence in entering mine fields. Psychology can make one over confident and hence vulnerable.  This was so in my case with this wonderful Bishop.                                  

I had met the Bishop one day at a local restaurant where I was feting my mother who was visiting me from Seattle. Since they were both loaded with Gaelic charm, laughter and an inbuilt tendency to outdo any other, they spent what seemed to me to be a bit  too much  time jousting  and competing.  My mother was pretty and loved  to flirt with handsome men  (in or out of dog  collars).When  they finished  their little game of  Irish interpersonal competition , I eagerly and somewhat impatiently leaped into the conversation with what I considered “important”   insightful  material about the French saint.  I had recently read a fascinating book on Therese written by a woman psychiatrist who made a core point that this young girl was the perfect model  for this tormented and highly  neurotic era. I was anxious both to impress and please the Bishop by expanding his repertoire of “The Little One” and exhibiting my own understanding of her depth.  But instead of impressing and pleasing   him, we wound up in a debate and a vigorous difference of opinion on his specialty !!!   Our meeting was so intense, we continued it by mail. In one of his letters he skillfully patted me on the head with a little implicit praise while simultaneously negating my dogged resistant stance. He wrote “I feel almost silly in daring to explain Therese to Jim Lloyd. I hope I have her right.”  He then proceeded in a scholarly, objective and convincing way to show me what a dumb-dumb I had been about this marvelous young nun. 
I had argued in the fashion of my childhood wherein I gloried in the collection of  do-good goodies. When some jackass of a kid insulted, harmed or slighted me in any way, instead of whacking him in his big fat mouth, I had adopted the practice of  “offering it up”   fully  believing that each time I made such an act of  the will,  the Good Lord by some kind of  celestial accounting was adding it to all my good works.   Similarly when I did the “good” things,  helping the ungrateful,  sacrificing  for someone more needy than I, the healthy submission to His Will, offering unsolicited help to another, there was no need for exhibitionistic behavior since I believed  a la the gospel reading on Ash Wednesday,  God knew all about it anyway. Those yokels (as I saw  them in my arrogant manner) who trumpeted their virtues on the street corners of life, already had their reward. In that way, I thought, on my “superior” intellectual plateau,  I was cooperating, substantively in some way, to my eternal salvation.  I saw the whole structure as a kind of  bank into which I deposited what I called my “ brownie points” which I believed  ( and probably still do) would be  trotted out, on my behalf, when I appear before the Lord  for my personal  judgment. However, while, as I note, my theological expertise is pedestrian, I do understand the absurdity of both the quietistic and the pelegian.  How nonsensical to think I need do nothing after making the great act of Belief and Trust in the Saviour! How primitive to think that I can effect my own salvation by the force of my own will and my powerful good intentions with little or no Divine aid!  My Protestant friends almost faint at my simplistic reductionism.

To assume that my salvation is assured  simply in the light of  my “accepting” Jesus as my personal savior without any responsibility for my own actions or inactions thereafter,  seems to me, prima facie, to be unbelievably immature if not  manipulative. “Leave It all to God” is a cosmic cop-out.  But my Episcopal opponent admitted that –in his view—Therese abutted, somewhat, a near Lutheran Position. He claimed that Therese taught that good works condemn us and make us displeasing  to God. Wow! That statement, I thought, blasted my life long spiritual view. Was my Brownie Points theory now blown to bits? The Bishop explained: “…….IF we THINK  they please Him and thereby earn a place in heaven.”  The consequential point is incontrovertible. God’s love for us is utterly free and absolutely gratuitous and undeserved. Of course, of course.  I concede the obvious.    Further, the Bishop  said,  Therese taught that God wants us not only to sense our  littleness but also to love it.  By so doing we put all our trust in Him and none in our works or merits.  What do I make of this?

I know, Bishop, that no human being, could make the sacrifice needed for the healing  of Adam’s sin. Not St. Francis of  Assisi  nor St. Teresa of Avila nor Mother Teresa nor Paul or Peter. Not Ignatius of  Antioch  or St. Sebastian. Not even our glorious Blessed Virgin, the very Mother of God. No collection of many or all  the  holy ones of all time would be enough to  make adequate atonement.  To offer God back to God clearly needs a Divine constituent.  Jesus on the Cross, to be specific!

But I have balked when good works” are apparently tossed overboard as in  the almost contemptuous dismissal of the beautiful epistle of James  as an  “epistle of straw”  when it  collides with Luther’s personal life. I am aware, for example, of Erikson‘s “Young Man Luther” wherein  psychologically it is strongly suggested that Luther’s personal self  concept of  his inner depravity leading  to his self  loathing,  could explain the formulation that absolutely nothing good can come from within this awful mess.  How could anything stemming from such muck  have any value? Hence all my good works are Practically meaningless with no real impact on my personal salvation... I find this abhorrent and contrary to my  Hell’s Kitchen pragmatism. Of course this is simplistic but something of that simplicity vibrates in my soul as I debate my betters. But of course I realize that my salvation comes from Him alone and the sacrifice on the Cross. He alone can save me. I know that.   I know that I must trust completely in Him. Of course, I do.    I hear Therese’s message coming   through the good Bishop, loud and clear.  We, I- are all so puny and sinful that we could never earn salvation. Claro! One doesn’t  wring  blood from a stone. But there are honest dynamics coming from my wounded ( I don’t believe “corrupted") soul. He searches my heart and my mind so that He can give to me what my beliefs deserve!!  Beliefs connected somehow to what I do bring me closer to my Lord or the opposite. Or more specifically, Psalm 62, verse 13, the phrase “according to our deeds” (relative to reward from the Lord) seems to me a clear index that God will treat me as I treat His law. Are not deeds within the genre of “work”? Or are we into more profound complexity about what grace goes where and to whom and what Jesuit makes a fool out of what Dominican? Nevertheless, does not St. Paul  speak of “achieving your salvation” as in Philippians, 2?

How often during Lent the prayers at Mass speak of the Reward for acts of virtue. How often the word ‘Achieve” appears in Scripture, in spiritual writings and commentaries of spiritual directors…as in 2 Peter where   he, our first Pope, clearly states:   “You are achieving, Faith’s goal, your salvation”.  Can I be blamed if I see such proximity here between achieve (work) and salvation?   Are my poor attempts at pleasing God  “nothing” in my hope for everlasting happiness?  ‘Scusa me’ my dear Bishop, my abject apology, my beloved Little Flower, but I have to say Balderdash!  Pragmatically and existentially, it is my own insight which has, under God, and with His gracious help, given me courage to reach beyond my grasp throughout my long life.  It is for this precise reason that the woman psychiatrist mentioned earlier in this essay sees Therese as the model for the buffeted soul of this era.  Therese can give some courage to the little guy, so that in the colossus which is our world, he can  become really aware of  his own value before the Lord. 

I blink when I realize that there must be something of my own neurotic self which inclines me to debate my betters!  But, also, obviously there must be some kind of congruence between these apparently opposing positions. Wasn’t I taught to work as if everything depended on me and to pray because everything depended on God?   But do I misread Luther? Arrogant shrink that I am!  Of course, I do. I am no scholar.  Perhaps it is my over developed tendency to want to see good and the worthwhile in everything?  Perhaps a   principle of logic might help---the principle of the excluded middle!  Or something.

However, my resistance is re enforced when so much of my Scriptural prayer seems to hit me again and again with calls for synchronicity between my behavior and my reach for virtue! I boggled this  morning at  Mass when  I read in the second Eucharistic prayer  that  “we may  merit to be co heirs in  eternal life.”   I boggled this morning as I heard confessions of wonderful religious women and heard myself say:  “ whatever good   you do  and evil you endure may be cause for the remission of your sins, the increase of grace, and the rewards of  eternal life.”  Good works and salvation?

And yet….and yet…

Perhaps, if I even remotely imagine the inscrutable  goodness and power of Almighty God  and His love for us crummy, punky and self absorbed human beings, I might begin to savor a touch of what Therese and her gallant  Bishop are saying. Perhaps, if I were totally absorbed in the thought and feeling of the gratuitous love of  God for me, I could   toss off  my Brownie points concept and automatically  do them all  --just for the love of  the glorious God of Therese and her Bishop   Well, I can try….tough  for a dirty necked kid from Hell’s Kitchen.  Why not give it a whirl?