Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Annapolis rally

This is a retrospective piece, a flyer that I distributed at a rally in October 2016.

Pro-life friends, this rally is not about the Lord

Franklin Graham is visiting state capitals to argue that the Lord wants you to support an ignorant, racist, misogynist fraud for President, because the alternative is worse.
From my perspective, the most important detail in today’s very strange presentation is the claim that Trump will push back against abortion. About 1.2 million children die from surgical abortion annually in the USA, and their moms are deceived and exploited, and Hillary Clinton supports this violence.
But abortion is not on the ballot. Trump is. He wants your vote, and has made promises. But a bankruptcy is a list of broken promises! Sometimes you can’t help it; you can’t keep a promise; you have to ask creditors for patience and understanding. But six times? And now he’s rich but still doesn’t pay the people he stiffed? If he lies to people wholesale, not retail, why do you trust his promise to you?
But what does Trump offer? Let’s skip all the other issues, except to the extent that they affect abortion. Skip Russia, misogyny, racism, ignorance, the economy, the military, everything. With regard to abortion, what does he offer? Let’s just suppose he is elected, and keeps his word, and appoints three pro-life Supreme Court justices. Great! What happens?
Abortion goes back to the states, stops promptly some, is regulated in some, and stays in place in some. Net effect: any woman who wants an abortion in America can get it, but might have to drive several hours more. How many live will that save? We are not talking about saving 1.2 million annually; we’re talking about saving thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.
I’m all in favor of saving thousands. But if we get to that with Trump, what else do we get – sticking to abortion? Well, he encourages at least three significant causes of abortion.

1.       Trump gives license to abuse women. If there is a rise in abuse of women, how many more abortions will that cause? How many tens of thousands?

2.       Trump encourages eugenic attitudes. How many more abortions will that cause? How many thousands, or even tens of thousands?

3.       Trump will close borders. Immigration restrictions here support population control elsewhere. How many MILLIONS more abortions will that cause?

I do not agree that a Trump presidency will lower the number of abortions at all. I could be wrong, but it is my view that a Trump presidency would INCREASE ABORTION DRAMATICALLY. In the name of Jesus, I ask you to consider carefully! Don’t vote for a violent man who abuses women hoping that he will save lives. He won’t deliver on his promise.
John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tradition and innovation

I am still working on a short book about hospitality and immigration in the life and teaching of the Fathers of the Church. But I have done enough that I can see where I will end up. I draw three key lessons about hospitality from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

First, all the major Fathers of the Church did indeed take the lessons from Abraham at Mamre and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount very seriously. They were crystal clear that there is a serious obligation to care for those in need, including strangers. They were eloquent about the blessings attached to serving the poor – both the obviously intrinsic blessings and the less obviously attached rewards for obedience. They were forceful about the punishments attached to a failure to serve those in need, including strangers.

On the other hand, the Fathers did not agree about the identity of a “stranger.” St. Jerome’s opinion was emphatic: there is no limitation to this category: person whom you meet whom you don’t know is a stranger, and strangers have a list of needs, some easily identified such as food and water and rest. Other needs are less easily specified: protection, an intent ear, welcome. At the other extreme is St. John Chrysostom, who was equally emphatic: the list of people in need – including the hungry, thirsty, naked, and strangers – is carefully and deliberately limited by Jesus to the least of the “brethren,” which means followers of Jesus.

Second, the sharp and deep disagreement amongst the Fathers was eventually left in the hands of the monks, who provided hospitality in the name of the Church; and their view was clear. St. Benedict and the monastic tradition were unequivocally universal, following the teaching of St. Jerome. At least in theory, monks offered hospitality to all who knocked on their doors. Quite certainly, in practice, there were some limitations on this hospitality, but these limitations were seen as grave failures to fulfill a solemn obligation.

Third, the Fathers carved out a new pattern of hospitality, built explicitly on the model of Abraham, intent explicitly on obedience to the demands in the Sermon on the Mount – and yet significantly different from Mosaic and Apostolic hospitality. The law of Moses addresses a social responsibility: the people of Israel must offer hospitality to other peoples, recalling how the nation of Egypt treated the nation of Israel. The teaching of Jesus emphasizes individual responsibility: when I (singular) was hungry/thirsty/naked/stranger, you (singular) provided food/water/clothing/welcome. But in the life of the Church for over a thousand years, the emphasis is on the duty of the Church, generally monks. Seeing and understanding this third pattern is fundamental to understanding the crisis in our time, for at least two reasons.

For one thing, if religious communities carry out the tasks of hospitality, and then convents and monasteries are suppressed, who assumes the duty? When monasteries are suppressed, the remnants are more likely to focus on the needs of fugitive priests than the neglected duties of the porter. Good people will step forward to act with charity – but what’s the pattern, the model, the prompt and automatic response to the needs of strangers?

But there’s another point to draw from this third pattern of service that the early Church developed. If there’s a third pattern, following the spirit of Moses and Jesus but different in approach, then there can be a fourth pattern, or fifth, or tenth. To insist that everyone must always and everywhere offer hospitality precisely the way Jesus did it – to demand a single pattern of service – is to overlook and set aside the experience of the Church for centuries. So systematic attacks on the new patterns of service set forth by the Second Vatican Council are not just criticisms of modern innovations; they are also attacks on Patristic and medieval teaching, dismissing the universal practice of the Church up to the time of the Reformation.

Even as the Vatican makes peace with Luther, a new force comes forth, insisting that we return to the purity of the Gospel without any taint of monkish aberrations. Perhaps the fight against the Social Gospel – from Leo XIII up to and through Vatican II – somehow misses the point of Tradition. Tradition carves out abundant space for innovation.

Monday, August 7, 2017

re-committed to prayer and writing

August 7, 2017

A few days ago, a national Catholic organization held its annual convention, and issued a revealing and challenging pair of resolutions. (There were a dozen resolutions, actually, but two that belong together.) The group is intelligently and honestly committed to service to the Lord and to the Church, and actually sworn (!) to serve the Pope and bishops. But in a resolution about abortion, the organization reiterated its stance: we will defend children. Faced with a resolution on another issue of grave importance in the eyes of the Church’s leadership – immigration – the organization urged prayer for our country in a time of division and tension.

Prayer. I’m in favor of prayer. But I am wary of a call for prayer when there’s a need for action as well.  Suppose you ask the Lord to do XYZ, and he responds, “Good idea! I give you the power to make it happen!” And then you ask him again to do XYZ. That may not be prayer; it may be simple laziness, or simple disobedience. It could be prayer: maybe we all have to talk to the Lord – and listen! and LISTEN! – for a little longer. So maybe it’s prayer, and maybe it’s not; who am I to judge? For sure, I had better be serious about prayer.

I have tried to pray and listen, regarding welcoming strangers. And once again, before God, I commit myself to explaining carefully what I think the Lord has said.

I went to the Lord with seven questions, in sequence.

First. Jesus said, quite firmly, welcome strangers or make your own arrangements for eternity. Okay, but when Jesus talked about welcoming strangers, what did he mean? Who was he talking about? Who’s supposed to do the work? And who’s a stranger? To get at that, I tried to understand what “stranger” meant in Israel 2,000 years ago. That is, could I figure out what the teaching was about welcoming strangers in the Old Testament?

That was fun! I wrote a couple of short books about it. See “Strangers: 21 Claims from the Old Testament.”

Second. If I understood the shockingly abundant Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) teaching about welcoming strangers correctly, then it must also show up in the New Testament. Is it there?

That was fun too! See “The Persistent Other.”

Third. If it’s true that welcoming strangers is fundamental in the teaching of Moses the Prophets, and is central in the teaching of Jesus, then it must show up in the life and writing of the Church throughout the ages, beginning with the Fathers. Is it there?

And again: what a rich array of delights! The teaching is there, in abundance, and it has a fascinating twist that – I believe – makes it possible to explain the Social Gospel to resistant skeptics. In the Old Testament, the command to “remember that you too were once a stranger in a strange land” is addressed to the Hebrew people. The people, the nation, the society. In the New Testament, the command to welcome strangers (and feed the hungry and clothe the naked, etc) seems to be addressed to individuals. You – and individual, standing alone before the throne of God – must explain what you did. But in the life of the Church for centuries, the responsibility for welcoming strangers was delegated to the clergy – to monks when available, or to pastors. The responsibility was understood to be solemn and urgent, but what most people (the laity) did about it was to support the people who provided hospitality. (Book close to finished.)

Fourth.  If hospitality was key in the Old Testament, and the New Testament, and the life and teaching of the Church for centuries, what did it look like in American history? Another treasure trove! There’s Mary’s work at Guadalupe: she visits to be host, saying simply that she is here among us, praying with us. Her appearance shapes the Church in Latin America; will the norte-americano Catholics pay attention to the Mestiza Virgin? In the USA, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini are remembered as servants of immigrants. Their male counterpart, Fr. Michael J. McGivney, also served immigrants, but his followers are a little unsure what to make of that aspect of his ministry. (Book sketched.)

Fifth. I have a lot to say about welcoming strangers, and about immigration. But, hey, who am I? What does the Church say today about welcoming strangers? The Church has taught about immigration for over a century, with clarity and eloquence, and I embrace every syllable of that teaching. But also, I think I can help “conservative” and “traditional” Catholics who are truly committed to the Lord and his Church, but are nonetheless quite suspicious of Socialists and Commies and leftists who seem to have invaded the Church. To understand the Social Gospel and Vatican II, it might help to back up to the whole body of Patristic thought on welcoming strangers. One simple point: Moses saw hospitality as a social responsibility. Jesus spoke of it as a personal responsibility. The Fathers didn’t reject Moses to embrace Jesus; they were serious about listening to both – and developed a THIRD approach, hospitality as the responsibility of the Church. If there can be a third way, after Moses and Jesus, then there can be a FOURTH. Pope Leo and all the Popes following in his footsteps up through “The Church in the Modern World” developed a new pattern – inspired by Moses, obedient to Jesus, imitating the Fathers – but focusing on GLOBAL responses of GLOBAL challenges. (Book sketched.)

Sixth. Global, schmobal: what about us right here in the USA? What are we supposed to do here in this divided and worried nation? How do we apply the teaching from the Second Vatican Council and from a list of Popes right here? Well, actually, the American bishops cooperated with the bishops of Mexico to answer that question. They say: the right to migrate is a God-given right, but the right to control a border is also a real right, even a duty. These two rights must be balanced – justly. I had an entertaining scrap of a conversation with an educated Catholic who got that far and then almost – almost! – said, “Justice! What is justice?” I was reaching for a bowl of water for him to wash his hands, but he recovered his senses and bit his tongue. Justice is real, objective, achievable – and commanding and indispensable. It may be elusive, and it is often hard to implement. But before God, that’s the task, and we can do it. (Book sketched.)

Seventh and finally: How do we start? This is a workbook, to help people get past the paralysis of analysis. The work that needs to be done is already underway; how do we build? This is a series of essays and exercises – some complete, some roughed out.

God willing, I’ll finish this thing.

I am certain of this: the opposite of xenophobia is not tolerance. Tolerance may be a step up, but it’s not enough. The opposite of xenophobia must be far more robust and pro-active than tolerance. It’s love – if we can find any meaning in that word. If “love” is too over-worked to convey a thought, then try “solidarity.” John Paul II said that the word for love in our time is “solidarity,” a deliberate decision to act for justice. He stated firmly that the route to freedom from a massive social evil is solidarity with the victims of that evil.

Should we pray? Sure! Here’s what I asked, in prayer. And I will explain what I think I heard, in prayer. Real prayer will spill over into action, in due time.