Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cardinal Mahony and the illegals

I suppose that with his generally sound left-wing credentials, it shouldn't be a surprise that Cardinal Mahony has latched on to the cause of illegal immigrants, too. But I wonder if there isn't something else going on, too.

With his many liturgical abuses duly documented, his support for highly questionable speakers at his recent religious eduation conference, and his possible vulnerability to prosecution now that he has failed to keep records of priestly abuse out of the courts, the Cardinal has to know that he may soon be in the crosshairs for reassignment to some backwater, at best, for the rest of his career.

I wonder if he's thinking: I've paid my dues now to the forces that marshalled those hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of L.A. recently, in support of illegal immigrants. If Rome tries to move against me, maybe I can call in some favors and get a few hundred thousand of those same people demonstrating in the streets of Los Angeles in my support.

Now, I doubt that such a ploy would have any effect on Benedict, but I can certainly imagine it appealing to the very politically savvy Cardinal.

Just a thought.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Welcoming everyone, but not every behavior

The United Church of Christ has been patting itself on the back recently with TV commercials praising its own inclusiveness: "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." The commercials implicitly criticize other churches for what it claims are exclusionary rules that supposedly keep certain groups out.

Fr. Thomas Williams has a fine, succinct article explaining that to welcome a person is not to welcome everything he may do, too. Here's an excerpt:

There is a difference between a church saying “We welcome all persons” and “We welcome all behavior.” After all, two things distinguish Christian belief: a body of doctrine and a moral code. Following Jesus entails both. Jesus welcomed prostitutes, but he never welcomed prostitution. He was soft on adulterers, but unyielding on adultery. After forgiving the adulterous woman, in fact, he adds: “Go and sin no more.” And the tax collector Zacchaeus, on encountering Jesus, promises to pay back all those he has cheated — fourfold. Jesus never welcomed cheating, but he did welcome reformed cheaters. This is not just a matter of semantic hair-splitting. Jesus came to call sinners but to condemn sin, much as a doctor heals sick people but eradicates sickness.

Go and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Offering it up

Recently, when I was talking with my (non-Catholic) wife and daughter, I used the phrase "offering it up" when referring to some sort of discomfort. I think they both thought I was a little nuts, so I thought I'd write a little about the wisdom of the attitude that the phrase expresses.

When I was a boy in Catholic school in Southern California, and we kids were, for example, miserable and complaining in our non-air-conditioned classroom on some torrid September afternoon, the nuns (who, wearing the old black habits, must have been far more uncomfortable than we were) would tell us to take it patiently, and "offer it up." The idea was to take the suffering you were experiencing, large or small, and ask God to accept it along with the sufferings of Christ in recompense for sin. Since we all knew we had sins, and there was plenty of it elsewhere in the world, it made sense, and always quieted things down for a while.

I think there was a great deal of wisdom in that little practice. The problem of suffering is one that has troubled many great thinkers, and disturbs all of us when something bad happens to us, especially if we think we didn't deserve it. And one of the most desolate feelings a human being can have is that his suffering has no meaning. The fact that kids' sufferings are often small by adult standards doesn't mean that they aren't acutely felt. So "offering it up" gave us a way to attach a great -- and real -- significance to whatever we were going through; it allowed us to unite our little hurts, especially the undeserved ones, with the far greater hurts suffered by Him whose suffering was utterly undeserved, and participate a little in the great work of our own redemption.

To those of you who may be saying, "Oh, that evil, guilt-inducing Catholic Church! What kind of sins could you kids possibly have done that could merit feeling spiritually guilty for?", I would ask: do you really remember your own middle-school days? Do you remember the spite and cruelty that made school life a little hell sometimes? Seems to me those were plenty nasty enough to merit a little guilt -- and to motivate us to expiate a bit of it with a little patient "offering up" of the misery of those 100-degree dog days, late in summer.