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?