Monday, November 4, 2013

Pro-life + Pro-migrant Memorial Service

Pro-life + Pro-migrant Memorial Service, January 19, 2013

In 1986-87, eight people retrieved hundreds of bodies from dumpsters in back of four abortion clinics in the DC area.  The bodies were buried respectfully: one outside the Portiuncula at Franciscan University in Steubenville, most at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax.  But before we lined up church support, we buried 75 bodies in unconsecrated and unmarked land.

There will be a memorial service for these children, including prayer for their mothers, on the Sunday before the March for Life.  The service will be from 1 pm to 3 pm, Sunday, January 19, 2014, at St. Paul Catholic Church in Damascus, Maryland.  The service will include (1) Mass, and (2) a time of reflection and prayer, with music and speakers. After the service at St Paul, anyone who wishes to visit the grave site is welcome, weather permitting.  Then there will be an informal reception near the grave site (details to be announced).

The service is principally a pro-life (anti-abortion) event, but it will include prayer for all people buried in unmarked graves.  That is, it’s a memorial service for unborn children, but also for migrants.  There will be several speakers, including a pro-immigration speaker.

January 19 is the 100th World Day for Migrants and Refugees.  Each year, the Vatican leads and encourages a day of prayer for peace, a day for youth, a day for the sick, a day for vocations.  There are a dozen such days; it is a short list.  The best known are World Youth Day and World Day of Peace, but the World Day for Migrants and Refugees is one of the oldest, going back 100 years.  So it is especially appropriate to remember migrants on that day.

In Maryland, the unfortunate division between pro-lifers and pro-migration activists was made obvious in our two referenda in 2012.  Immigration and same sex marriage were both on the Maryland ballot.  The Catholic bishops took very strong stands on both issues, but their combination of positions was not common; they were pro-immigrant, and against re-defining marriage.  The leaders of the fight against immigration, opposing the bishops on immigration, were well known pro-lifers.  And most of the leaders of immigration advocacy, supporting the bishops on immigration, took clear positions in favor of same-sex marriage.  (Abortion and marriage are not the same issue, of course; but there is a very high correlation of positions.)

I find the split bizarre.  Nothing in Scripture or the history of the Church or the teaching of the popes and bishops for the past century encourages such a split, pitting personal morality against social justice.  So it seems important to me to re-build ancient links.  And on January 19, 2014, we will re-shape a pro-life event a little, and reach out to pro-immigration activists.

The Church is one.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Testing the Cardinal's Guts

God give me the strength to explain this clearly.

Cardinal O’Boyle was an extraordinary man, but one of his best moments is generally forgotten, and when it is remembered, it is more often than not by people who resented what he did.  In August, 50 years ago, he threw away a large portion of his fan club, because he had to get a job done.  The civil rights movement was wrestling toward real strength, but could still be undermined and destroyed from within.  He saw the threat, confronted it, and prevailed – pretty much alone – and he was reviled for it.

The problem was violence within the civil rights movement.  To this day, after the world has seen nonviolence prevail in Gandhi’s India, in the American civil rights movement, in Solidarity’s Poland, in Aquino’s Philippines, in Mandela’s South Africa – still! still! after a list of stunning victories – most people are blissfully ignorant about how this thing works, totally unaware of the fragility of a campaign of nonviolence.  A huge campaign of nonviolence can be destroyed from within, by violence within.

Years ago, there was a great movie produced about Gandhi, entitled simply Gandhi.  In it, there’s a scene in which the British governor is confronted by civil disobedience all over the country, and asks a subordinate if there has been any violence.  The officer goes over a very short list of incidents in which the police had cracked a few heads.  No, stupid, the governor responds contemptuously, I’m asking about violence on the Indian side!  The officer responds with some embarrassment that there has not been a single incident of violence among Gandhi’s followers.  This is a disaster for the British rulers.  A little violence amongst the Indians would justify a military response.  They didn’t need much violence, but they needed a little, and Gandhi’s campaign had maintained discipline nationwide.  One incident of violence on the Indian side would have been a sweet gift to the British rulers, a bitter defeat in India’s drive toward independence.

One generation later, O’Boyle showed that he had absorbed the lessons from India.  When the March on Washington was taking shape, there was a broad coalition making things happen, and some of them were ready for riot – or at least ready to threaten riots.  One of the speakers for the event was a young hero, a courageous leader, articulate and fiery John Lewis.  He had led lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville in 1960, and he had been one of the Freedom Riders in 1961.  In 1963, Lewis became the chairman of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).  Now he was on his way to Washington, and he had earned a spot on the program.  But in the speech he had prepared, he seemed to threaten that if nonviolence failed, civil rights activists would move on to violence.  (And in fact, in 1969, after King’s assassination, SNCC changed its name, replacing “Nonviolent” with “National.”)

O’Boyle confronted the challenge, and demanded that Lewis tone his words down.  O’Boyle had desegregated the Catholic churches of Washington, and he understood how poisonous a threat could be.  O’Boyle had the credibility to intervene, and he prevailed.  Had he not done so, it is possible that Lewis would have dominated the event.  It was possible that Lewis’s threat would have overshadowed King’s dream.  If O’Boyle had not made Lewis back off a little, the whole event, King’s speech included, could have disappeared into the sands of history.  Sure, historians would remember that there was a march, but no one would remember or celebrate the transformative spirit of that great day.

Years later, Lewis was still annoyed at the arrogance of that white guy who demanded moderation in the middle of a revolution.

But the list of nonviolent campaigns that have failed is far, far longer than the list of campaigns that have succeeded.  A campaign of nonviolence cannot be destroyed from outside; you can kill every single participant, and still their blood cries out eloquently from the grave.  But from within, it doesn’t take much violence to poison the whole body.

I make this claim based in part on personal experience.  I helped to build a campaign of civil disobedience that was larger than King’s, if you measure by arrests.  But the campaign I was in turned sour and failed.  I helped build the rescue movement, protecting unborn children and their vulnerable mothers by a campaign of nonviolent action.  Gandhi said that nonviolence is never a failure: it is measured by fidelity, not results.  And even judging by the results, it had measurable success.  Not a total failure: we saved many lives.  Not a total failure: the story is not over yet.  But it was a campaign that involved hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands – and then disappeared. 

Many observers and even participants and even leaders would argue that the rescue movement was defeated by FACE, which increased the penalties for rescues dramatically.  That’s nonsense.  Are Americans congenitally weaker than Indians, Poles, Filipinos, South Africans?  We could have continued a campaign in the face of long jail terms.  But we could not continue when the violence in our midst scrubbed our claim to nonviolence.  In the 1990s, across the country, rescue leaders blurred the difference between violence and nonviolence. 

When one well known activist shot and killed an abortionist, pro-lifers tut-tutted; but not one leader had the grit, the guts, the self-sacrificial determination, to demand a solid front movement-wide against the drift into violence.  And the rescue movement sank into obscurity.

My hat is off to O’Boyle.  He was smart and tough and effective.  And when he was tested, he held his ground.

On August 28, remember Cardinal O’Boyle’s work, and celebrate his courage.  Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech fired the nation, and King deserves the credit he gets.  But remember that we met him astride the shoulders of giants, including Cardinal O’Boyle.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Remember Cardinal O’Boyle, and Celebrate!

Cardinal Patrick A. O'Boyle:
Stand firm in the faith!
Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle was a civil rights pioneer, and a strong voice for personal morality. In a time when the nation is so bitterly divided that we don’t expect Congress to pass a budget, let alone any other significant bill, we need a Church that is capable of love and justice.  It’s crazy when the right (pro-family, pro-morality) and left (pro-immigrant, pro-justice) wings of the Church attack each other!  Every single healthy bird on the planet has two wings!  Every single prophet in the history of the Church has called for morality and justice, both!  How did we get so polarized?  Can we stop it?

Recall Cardinal O’Boyle, and celebrate his work!

On August 28, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of a great event in our history, the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It was a great event in the midst of great change.  Understanding the speech matters.  It was about America, not about African Americans.  It was grounded solidly in Scripture (particularly Amos and Isaiah), not neutral secularism.  And it was a culmination of decades or labor, as well as a call to a new future.  It had roots – including the work of Cardinal O’Boyle.  When King spoke, honest observers across the country knew that desegregation without violence was possible – because O’Boyle had done it in his archdiocese. We should celebrate King’s speech, but not forget Cardinal O’Boyle!

O’Boyle was a civil rights pioneer.  After he was appointed as the first archbishop of the newly independent archdiocese, one of his first initiatives was to de-segregate the churches.  He worked hard to avoid publicity, because he thought the glare of cameras tempted people to adopt rigid postures, but he never stopped pressing.  He was a strong voice for justice.

He is also remembered for his determination to protect the Church’s clear teaching about human sexuality and family life.  In 1968, after Pope Paul VI published his encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae, O’Boyle fought fiercely to ensure that Catholics in his archdiocese heard the teaching proclaimed without ambiguity or apology.  If sex and babies are unrelated, if sex is merely a game and babies are optional, then a deep aspect of human life is downgraded, women can become toys, and families can be smashed apart.  He saw clearly that the work of King could be undermined completely by a new assault on family life.
O’Boyle was a far-left liberal in 1967.  He was an ultra-right conservative in 1969.  Without moving.  Or (maybe) he was just an honest and consistent Catholic leader in a time of deep divisions.  

In August, remember his work!  Celebrate his life!  Embrace his vision!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Golden Venture aground 20 years ago

Today, Storycorps has a 20th anniversary vignette from one of the most revealing episodes in American immigration history, the Golden Venture.  Restricting immigration here supports forced depopulation there.  "There," of course, varies -- sometimes China, sometimes Africa, most often today latin America.  Anti-immigration propaganda encourages Americans to feel that we are crowded and being pushed beyond our capacity to help, even though we the richest country in the world with a population density that is about 2/3 of the global average.  If we are over-crowded, then the world is tremendously over-populated!  But beyond the propaganda, when we refuse to accept immigrants and refuse to offer an escape, we are complicit in the brutal depopulation policies of emigrant nations.

Shengqiao Chen, left, met Zehao Zhou while in prison waiting for asylum. Zhou was his translator. Here, Zhou shares memorabilia with Chen — twenty years after the Golden Venture arrived in the U.S.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Feast of Hospitality

When I was teaching at Montrose a decade ago, one wonderful student posed a challenge.  She was smart, accustomed to getting A’s without much work.  In class, she often pulled out a mediocre novel she was reading for fun; asked to come on back to class, she said she had done the reading, and asserted further – accurately – that she was ready to write an excellent essay on the assigned reading.  I didn’t pull rank; I argued.  I said that the first time you read a great book is a good start, but no more than that; subsequent re-reading gets better and better.  Then I said I could offer a new and interesting insight about the same short reading every day for 30 days.
Maybe I cheated: I chose the reading from today’s Gospel, the “Magnificat.”  It is a simple and moving song of love, attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, and the two pregnant women share insights and joy.
Around day 28, I came to class unprepared, and had to wing it.  I had had a glimmer the night before, but my mind was blank when we started the passage.  I had 60 seconds to get it together.
What I said was, Mary says that God’s name is holy, but I have almost no idea what “holy” means.  A Georgian firebrand (that’s Caucasus Georgia, not America’s South), Boris, promptly offered a dictionary definition: “dedicated to God, belonging to God.”  Great, I said, but what doesn’t belong to the Creator of everything?  That definition seems to cover every single thing that exists.  So it’s not a particularly helpful definition.  I need something else.
Mother Teresa is (was at that time) not physically attractive: knotted hands, twisted feet, outsize nose.  But when people look at her face, especially her eyes, they talk about her beauty.   What are they talking about?  I am not sure, but I think they are talking about her holiness.  When you look at her face, you see that she sees joy and beauty.
So for now, I take “holiness” to be a subset of beauty, referring to a visible quality that is related to a perception of joy.  That’s not a satisfactory definition; it’s a stumbling first step.  But it’s better than pious fuzz.
One student responded: “Best yet, Mr. O.”
Thanks, Matt.
Happy feastday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

True Matriotism

Matriotism!  May I try it?
At Mass this morning, the first reading was from Sirach, about his love for Israel.  Fr. Martin asked if we love the Church with the same passion that Sirach had for Israel, or even a fraction of it.  That was his question, which I mangled into ... am I a good matriot?  Do I love Mother Church?
I was in a fight recently with a pastor, but my conscience is pretty clear.  I could have and should have done better, but do not think I should have done otherwise.  I’d like to restore peace, especially since the long-range task of protecting children (who are a significant part of the church) from Maurice will be easier, for the next three decades, if Montrose Christian School assumes some responsibility and helps out.  That fight troubles me, but is not evidence of a total failure as a good matriot.
In the 1960s, the feminist revolution was taking shape.  In the 1960s, there were still two quite different strands of thought, intertwined, both called feminism.  One strand has, by now, pretty much taken over; the other strand is hard to find and recognize today.  The revolution began with a clear sense that there was a definable evil to resist, that “sexism” existed and was a serious problem.  In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII wrote of three evils that were challenged in that time (1960s) and could pass away and become extinct: slavery (or abuse of workers), sexism, and colonialism.  (He did not use any of those words; he described them.)  One challenge to sexism – one thread of feminism – focused on employment, ensuring that women could enter the workforce without facing discrimination.  The other thread focused on values, working to ensure that traditionally feminine values were given as much respect as traditionally masculine values.  In other words, one strand of feminism in the 1960s worked to ensure that home-making, child-rearing, peace-making and healing were all valued as highly as competition, economic success, military (and other)aggression, and I forget what-all.  I read and loved the work of John XXIII, and I remain a committed feminist (emphasis on the forgotten strand).
Pope Francis has worked hard from the first minutes of his papacy to change the way we understand the mission of the Church, returning to the teaching of Jesus.  Leadership, as Francis (following Jesus) understands it, is service.  If you do not serve the poor and the vulnerable, you are not a leader.  It’s not only that if you don’t serve, you don’t deserve to lead; more: quite simply, if you don’t serve, you aren’t a leader.
What does this service look like, this old/renewed leadership?  Well, “home-making, child-rearing, peace-making and healing,” in large part.  There’s not a lot of money to be made in those activities, but they are good routes to holiness.  In the church, there is a power structure that controls money, and men hold a monopoly there, unnecessarily. But the real authority in the church, underneath the silly surface, is sanctity. Men do not have and do not claim a monopoly there. Top spot, other than the Lord himself, is held by a woman. 
The greatest power in the life of the Church is to bring the life of God into the world.  Prototype: Mary's pregnancy.  I too claim to have been pregnant; my pregnancies include books, insights, contemplation leading to action. In my life, "pregnancy" is generally a metaphor, but maybe sometimes more.  The goal of contemplation leading to action is to embody the Spirit of the Lord; perhaps that’s a little more than a metaphorical pregnancy.  But Mary’s claim is complete on every level including literal. No competition!
The institution in which the church trains men for the priesthood in called a “seminary.”  Root: semen, Latin for seed; a seminary is a kind of garden, in which the seeds of the word of God sprout and take root and grow.  That’s not a bad metaphor, but a better one is right there.  The place where human and divine seeds grow is not a seedbed; it’s a uterus.  I don’t want to HAVE a uterus; I want to BE a uterus.
But one new word/metaphor/image at a time.  I am determined to be a better matriot.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hospitality in the Last Judgment

There are six specific kinds of service that Jesus mentions with urgency in his remarks about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), one part of the Sermon on the Mount.  He says: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers (xenos: immigrants and other strangers), clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned: rewards and penalties apply.  Most people who recall the list remember five of the six, passing over the third; of those who do remember the third urgent command, most use well meant but quirky and somewhat misleading translations (“shelter the homeless” or even “harbor the harbourless”).  Getting the third right is fundamental – indispensable – to clear thought about how to follow God in America today. 
If you look at the whole passage through the lens of hospitality, focusing on hospitality, there’s much to see.  If you restore the third injunction, it may seem trivial or even meaningless at first: just as you don’t see a lot of naked people on the streets, maybe strangers don’t knock on your door, ever.  But if you look at Abraham as a model of hospitality, and see how Moses uses the principle of hospitality, and let the idea of hospitality take root, new insights pour out. 
Suppose, recognizing the difficulty of translating the third of the Six Final Tests properly, we translate it imprecisely but concisely: be hospitable.  Then there are three specific details of hospitality: food, water, and clothing.  And the last two – visit the sick and imprisoned – are also about hospitality, but about pro-active hospitality, visiting others and offering hospitality where they are, acting as a host although you are not at home. 
It’s not just the general command to welcome strangers that’s about hospitality; ALL SIX questions on the final exam can be understood as aspects of hospitality.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day meditation

Some decades ago, Communist leaders in Moscow challenged the May celebrations surrounding Mary by launching a new celebration of workers, International Workers Day.  The Catholic Church pushed back, making today the “Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.”
Joseph has a place in some of the central icons or images of Christianity, in art presenting the “Holy Family.”  These icons present some of the Gospel, of course; but they also challenge us to put aspects of human life into right relationship.  For example, the image of the Holy Family can be the beginning of a meditation on three central questions of human life: identity, marriage, and labor.  Jesus, the central figure, challenges us to recognize the immense dignity of each and every person on earth.  Mary invites us to understand what it means to bring a child from God into the world.  Joseph, a carpenter, invites us to see the immense dignity of work, as an expression of the person and not merely a trap and a curse.  The icon of the three is (in part) an invitation to keep identity and family and labor in balance and harmony.
In our time, we have seen some huge changes in social arrangements for work.  Women are in the workplace in ways that were hard to foresee in the 1950s.  The feminist revolution pushed back hard against systematic oppression of women, and developed new patterns of cooperation.  Hallelujah!
My wife Betsy and I consider ourselves feminists.  One detail of our understanding of the change is in our name: she kept her name (Cavanaugh) and I kept my name (O’Keefe), but we have the same name (Cavanaugh-O’Keefe).  But our intent, when we took each other’s names, was not just to indicate support for the feminist revolution.  It was (and is) our understanding that we became a unit, that two became one.  Henceforward, to see me alone is to see a fragment of a unit; the other half is Betsy.  We understood the change to be God’s work, and (therefore) to be permanent. 
Shifting cultural patterns of labor must change family life.  Not long ago, almost half the intelligence of the human race was focused on family life and child-rearing.  Now, with two parents working, some families turn huge portions of childcare over to uneducated, low-paid, over-worked non-professionals.  That’s not an obviously good thing.
The shift in work patterns is not inherently destructive, but it is definitely a challenge.  If both parents work outside the home, dad must do much more work inside the home than grand-dad did.  In practice, what happens often is that wage earning is split 50-50, and diaper duty is split 95-5 – and dad wants credit for doing his “share.”
For many feminists, the way around this challenge has been to de-emphasize children.  “De-emphasize”?  Kill.  So we have a born/aborted ratio around 70-30.  That solves the diaper problem.  This is so common that many people today equate feminism and abortion.
It would seem to me, considering the balance and harmony of the icon of the Holy Family, that when women take on more labor, men must become more family-oriented, and more protective. 
When Herod set out to quash a rumor of a new king by killing children, Joseph had dreams that he believed to be the word of God, and he took his family and fled into Egypt.  No Hamlet he, he took the visions of the night and translated them into prompt action in the day.  To protect his family from becoming a widow and an orphan, he became a stranger in a strange land. 
Recalling Joseph the Worker, I am re-committed to protecting the dignity of each person, including the rights and dignity of workers and mothers and children.
Happy Feastday!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

accidental oversight - three examples

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to spend time with some of the best people in the Washington area, the social justice ministers from parishes and agencies in the Archdiocese.  What a great group!  I am going to criticize a detail, but you can’t understand the point if you don’t believe that these are great people.

The day ended with Mass, celebrated by Bishop Francisco Gonzalez.  He issued a moving and pointed call to action, including two references to the corporal works of mercy, the list of specific tasks that Jesus mentions in his description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25).  Jesus mentions six specific opportunities to serve: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome immigrants and other strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned.  The people in that room had done all these things with great generosity, and the bishop acknowledged that.  But twice, the bishop ran through Jesus’ list, omitting one of the six.  Twice, he skipped “welcoming immigrants.”  Bishop Gonzalez serves the immigrants of the area, with great love; he walks the walk far better than I.  But somehow, the teaching gets overlooked, repeatedly.

The day’s sponsor, the Department for Charity and Justice, had their banner at the podium in the space we used for general sessions; it, too, listed the corporal works of mercy.  The third one was not omitted, but it was translated from the Greek as “shelter the homeless.”  Emphatically, I support sheltering the homeless!  But that’s not a very good translation of the text.  Jesus said we should welcome the XENOS, and there’s no perfect translation for that in English.  It means someone from another land who comes into your land – an immigrant, a foreigner, a visitor, or some other stranger.  That would include the homeless, I guess; but the word refers most clearly to immigrants.  It’s not as if we there aren’t any immigrants in need.  I mean, Jesus asked that we clothe the naked; but in Washington, that’s pretty well done.  The idea of naked-ness can legitimately be extended to include people who are homeless and need more clothing or blankets in the winter, and that’s a real need.  But most of the time, we’ve got the naked covered pretty well, except for nudists who have made their own decisions freely.  Immigrants aren’t like that: the whole country is gnawing on the challenges posed by ten or twelve million undocumented immigrants.  If we are going to tinker with Jesus’ list, because English and Greek don’t fit together neatly, and we want to get the homeless into the list, let’s swap them for the nudists, and keep the immigrants on the list.

The third item is not from Saturday’s conference; it’s from Catholicism, which George Weigel calls “the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America.”  It is a stupendous series, created and hosted by Rev. Robert E. Barron.  I have to check this, and check it again and again because it’s painful and weird, but I’m pretty sure that Fr. Barron, like Bishop Gonzalez, talked about the corporal works of mercy – and skipped one.  Guess which.

My point is not that these good people messed up.  I am talking about the best of the best.  Somehow, for some reason, systematically, church-wide, we are all skipping over a line in Scripture.  It is a line that cries out for care in today’s confrontations.

Jesus asked us to welcome immigrants.  If you do this, he says, you will meet his Father.  If you don’t, well, that’s a different story.  It’s about immigrants.  Other people too – but it’s about immigrants.

We can’t overlook this critical verse!

It’s about IMMIGRANTS. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

One small brick for man

I have set out to cross-fertilize, left and right, encouraging pro-immigration folks to talk to pro-life folks, and vice versa.  Talk is a small step for man; listening is a large step for all mankind.

In the short run, that probably means I will bother friends on both sides.  To build a bridge, you need a pile of bricks stacked up, available, on both sides.  It’s a lot easier and arguably more fun to throw them at the other side than to build the bridge.  That’s an occupational hazard of bridge-builders. 

Another hazard is the temptation to pontificate.  “Pontificate” is a Latin word, which means “to build (facere) a bridge (pons).”  In English, it means to be pompous and verbose.  Uh-oh.

Anyway, here’s a brick. 

I don’t think that it makes sense to tinker with our understanding of marriage in the middle of an unresolved crisis involving 40 million (plus or minus) smashed families.  That is, in the past 40 years, there have been about 60 million surgical abortions in the United States; some were repeats.  One secondary facet of an abortion is that a man fails completely in his key role on earth: his own child gets killed.  He fails abysmally because of a prior failure: he failed to ensure that a woman he loved (or screwed, anyway – if he didn’t love her, that’s another problem) trusted him.  To protect his child, he has to make sure that the mom feels safe, secure, and hopeful.  If she doesn’t trust him, the baby dies, and it’s largely his fault.

How to deal with this?  Re-define baby.  Re-define sex.  Re-define family.  Re-define marriage.  Problems all solved.  Be happy!

But then, we still have 40 million guys wandering around, feeling like worthless drones. 

One of the puzzles in education today is a growing and unexplained achievement gap.  Educators have been working hard to close the achievement gap between blacks and whites, between Latinos and whites – with some success.  There remain some stubborn gender issues in employment gaps in the highest rungs of society: much angst and discussion remains, but there’s been much progress.  Unresolved: few people have started thinking about the steady expansion in the numbers of rootless and hopeless white males – smart white guys with no ambition.  A growing problem, approaching crisis – measured everywhere but not understood at all.

What did you say, you bleeping chauvinist pig? Did you say we have to preserve an uptight straight patriarchal hierarchy that subjugates women just to protect the tender bruised egos of rich fat white guys?

Not exactly, but …

Bricks in the air.  Let’s pick this up later.

Monday, April 15, 2013

re-de-re-defining boundaries of sex and death

Last week, a student from Rockville High School was killed by an Army recruiter, who then killed himself.  I never had her in class, but taught many of her classmates and friends.  I knew her only from a friendly distance, but the grief of her friends and my students is my grief too.

The middle of grief may not be the best place to attempt clear thought.

The country is in the middle of an angry fight about marriage.  Part of the fight is about who defines this ancient word.  Once again, it seems to me, some partisans are convinced that the separation of church and state means the separation of church from reality; nothing of substance can be left in the hands of the insubstantial spiritual church of wiftiness.  So marriage, which has had layers and layers of meaning for centuries, is now so degraded that if two levels of meaning – just two, emotional attraction and sexual arousal – come together, we are supposed to rejoice.  The many other layers of meaning and life are optional – up for grabs, or out for disposal.  Children: optional, and anyway if we decide to get one I want a factory model with a five-year warranty on parts.  Prayer: optional, and anyway let’s define that word too.  Teleology: what’s that?  The yin and the yang: what’s wrong with the yin and the yin?  Scripture: it’s all in your interpretation – or, better, mine.  Trinity: that’s your religion.  Eschatology: long since replaced by a simpler-ology – scatology!  Pledge my troth: can’t you hear how olden-timey fairy-story those words are?  Troth, what’s troth?  An oath of fidelity: what for?  You and you only: how narrow!  Integrity, putting it all together: society disintegrated during World War I, or earlier, and Humpty-Dumpty doesn’t trust your in vitro gene-splice specialists. 

But some truths are stubborn, including the simple assertion that sex is confusing.  Nothing else in human experience leads to more self-deception than sexuality – nothing else, ever.  The idea that we can define it in a new way would be funny if it weren’t so destructive.  People re-define it every time they want to fornicate, and that’s a lot of re-definition. 

So this beautiful student had a sexual relationship with her recruiter, current or pending.  She thought it meant something deep or lasting or exclusive or permanent; but he married some other pretty recruit a year ago; didn’t she know that?  Of course he loved her, so much that his entire attention was focused on her in powerful excitement, for an earth-shakingly long earth-shaking time, and probably right through repeated earthquakes.  But just because he “loved” her didn’t mean she was supposed to think he “loved” her.  Right?  Obviously.

Why did he shoot her?  Only two people ever knew the details, and both got shot.  But the general picture: dear Lord, we do know that.  She thought X.  He clarified Y.  But she couldn’t understand it; what about Z?  They couldn’t put all the pieces together in a way that made sense.  Bang.  A little more clarity, then bang again to make egg-shells dance.

Why did she think his emotions and hers were in the same place, just because their bodies were?  They both wanted, with fiery passion, and the same time.  Doesn’t that mean they wanted the same thing?

Can we talk it through? 

Can we re-define it? 

If we are smart enough about a new definition, can she live again?

Friday, March 8, 2013

A unified church: it’s hard to imagine such a thing!
The Sign of the Crossing is a new organization devoted to building bridges between the left and the right sides of Catholic Church.  Our starting point: we are pro-life and pro-immigration.  We believe that the right to life is paramount, but that the right to migrate is also an inalienable right.  The leaders of the Catholic Church have upheld these rights steadily and faithfully; but in the pews, the pro-lifers often sit on the Epistle side, and the pro-immigration people sit on the Gospel side.

We pray:
... that 40 million Catholic missionaries will come to the United States, planning to rebuild our culture of life.
... that we will make them welcome.
... that they will stay faithful to their heritage, cherishing their faith and their family life.
Virgin of Guadalupe, hear our prayer!