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Catholic and American – Derek Jeter

October 3, 2012

In my takeaways from the Communio Study Group I mentioned the nature of Catholic communion and the internal unity of the Church that John XXIII was expecting to act as a as a leaven in order to restore the unity of the human race. John XXIII saw the world of the mid-twentieth century as a place of grave crisis. One of the more tragic periods of history, he said, was marked by a great disunity among the peoples of the world. “History that had been marked in recent decades by war and fratricide, by Nazism and racism, by Communism and class warfare,[it] had forgotten not only God; it had forgotten that the human race is one human family.” 50 years later one could be snarky and say not much has changed but in some ways the challenges to the Catholic Church are more clearly defined. And perhaps even easier to understand in this America of the 21st century.

A question that occurred to me was how my relationship with my country is different from my relationship with the Church. How is being a Catholic different from being an American? As an American I am an individual who participates in a democracy that grants me a privileged status as a Vietnam Veteran. Thanks to my war service I receive disability benefits and thanks to the payments I made to social security I get retirement benefits. In both those cases I belong to a group that the secular society has chosen to reward.

As a Catholic however I am marginalized by my government. My government supports abortion and uses my taxes to fund it both here and overseas. I find Catholic Charities, hospitals and social service agencies under siege as they attempt to fulfill the conscience and teachings of Matthew 25 in the public square.

Were gay marriage to become the law of the land I worry that the courts may direct my Church to perform the marriage sacrament so as not to be prejudicial against gay Americans. I have seen Catholic Charities in Boston close its doors to its adoption agencies for refusal to place children with gay couples. Will Churches be next? What about hospitals after Obama Care kicks in with its proscriptions against health care workers who wish to exercise a conscience clause and not participate in abortions or providing contraceptive medications?

HHS Secretary Sibelius has already gone on record to say that if they (Catholics) have a problem with doing those things they shouldn’t be working in health care in the first place. Will Catholic hospitals be sold so as to continue under the new Obama plan: At a public hearing on the sale of Caritas Christi, the health-care system of the Boston archdiocese, the director of the 6-hospital system admitted that he could not guarantee the continuation of the institution’s Catholic identity after the transfer. James Karam argued in favor of the sale, to the Cerberus capital firm, because he said the only alternative would be closing the hospitals

This article in the WSJ recently on events in Chicago as Obama Care rolls out:

On Monday, Catholic Charities of Chicago — the social-welfare arm of the archdiocese — joined other Illinois Catholic organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s mandate that would force these Catholic groups to offer free contraceptives through their insurance, in violation of church teaching. The suit’s message is direct: Mr. President, your mandate will make it impossible for us to do our jobs.

Judging from how President Obama now sounds like George W. Bush when he talks about the Catholic Church, the president appreciates the political harm his mandate is doing. At a campaign stop last Thursday in Ohio, he repeated what has become a stock line: “When I first got my job as an organizer for the Catholic churches in Chicago . . . they taught me that no government program can replace good neighbors and people who care deeply about their communities [and] who are fighting on their behalf.”

In terms of religious liberty, the new lawsuit breaks no new legal ground. What it does is offer a window into how much the decency of daily American life depends on churches using their free-exercise rights. Our nation’s third-largest city provides an especially compelling example.

Chicago’s Catholic Charities employs 2,700 full- and part-time staffers delivering relief aimed at helping people achieve self-sufficiency. They do everything from stocking food pantries to helping people with HIV/AIDS, resettling refugees, housing seniors, and training people for jobs.

Last year alone, that translated into 19 million meals in the form of groceries for single moms, another 2.5 million meals served to the hungry or homeless, 458,000 nights of shelter for families and children, and 897,481 hours of homemaker services for seniors. And these numbers don’t include the thousands of inner-city children served by the archdiocese’s Catholic schools but not on the Catholic Charities budget.

When you ask the Rev. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, what percentage of those he serves are Catholic, he answers that he doesn’t know, because they don’t ask. The Obama administration’s mandate would change that. Particularly galling, he says, is the charge that his church is engaged in a “war on women” — when 80% of those his organization serves are women and children.

As the lawsuit puts it: Enforcing the mandate could soon require Catholic Charities to “stop providing educational opportunities to non-Catholics, stop serving non-Catholics, and fire non-Catholic employees — actions that would betray their religious commitment to serving all in need without regard to religion.”

Yes, the bulk of the Catholic Charities budget these days comes from government funding. There’s a perfectly legitimate public question about what accepting that funding means for both society and the church.

It’s not, however, the only public question. Another important one is this: Will our society rely on civic institutions or the government to deliver these services? Does anyone really believe we would be better off turning over the work of Catholic Charities to states or the feds — with their higher costs, greater bureaucracy, and loss in efficiency?

In a recent report, Catholic Charities notes that it costs Medicaid (read: taxpayers) $43,000 per year for every senior in a nursing home. By contrast, Catholic Charities provides day care for seniors at $6,461 per year, home-delivered meals at $1,188 and services such as housecleaning for $4,028. Any one of these services can keep an elderly citizen in his own house instead of being sent to a nursing home (one of the great drivers of Medicaid’s escalating costs).

Overall, 92 cents of every Catholic Charities dollar goes to recipients, which is one reason Catholic Charities is so often chosen for contracts. The church can provide such value because for every staffer, it has nearly seven volunteers. That works out to a volunteer army of 17,000 people, larger than Chicago’s police force.

It’s worth asking what Chicago might look like if these religious volunteers were limited to employing and serving only those who share their faith. And not just Chicago. Across America, volunteers with other faith groups are also reclaiming lives and neighborhoods in a way that even Mr. Obama says is far superior to any government program.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently wrote:

Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries — so that they will fall under the narrow exemption — or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.

The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.

This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.

So how does my life as an American contrast with my life as a Catholic? If the former features my identity as an individual with rights and privileges divvied up by my secular masters and fellow citizens then the latter is one where I explore my personhood and an anthropology that derives its power from who I am and the spiritual character of my soul. This is what John XXIII wanted to pass on to the world.

Our Lord’s account of redemption, restoring human nature from original sin and winning back for us what we had lost, has bought us something much greater than we could ever have lost. “And where sins abounded, grace did more abound (Romans5:20). Through Jesus Christ, who is the way to eternal life, anew creation was called into being. Man redeemed has become the brother and co-heir of the Son of God. This is why the Church begins one of her prayers in the Mass with the words, “O God, by whom the dignity of human nature was wondrously established and yet more wondrously restored.”… Original sin had destroyed man’s bridge of access to God, and only from God’s side could that bridge be rebuilt. Jesus Christ rebuild it.
Josef Pieper and Heinz Raskop, What Catholics Believe

As a Catholic, my religious tradition explodes from the Jewish Old Testament:

The divine Will is perfectly good and righteous and holy and just. God is the only god you can’t bribe. And since that is the character of Ultimate Reality — and since in order to be really real we must conform to the character of Ultimate Reality — therefore the meaning of life is to be holy, to be a saint. Morality flows from metaphysics because goodness flows from God. “You must be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”

The connection is repeated like a liturgical formula in the Torah. Unlike the gods of the polytheists and unlike the god of the pantheists, God has no dark side. And that is why we shouldn’t have a dark side either. The consequences of the Jewish metaphysics for ethics have been world-shaking. The whole world got a Jewish mother, a Jewish conscience, because the world got the Jewish Father.

This divine goodness is not just perfect, it is more than perfect. It spills out beyond itself like sunlight. It is agape, generosity, altruism, self-giving, self-sacrificial love. God seeks intimacy with Man, God seeks to marry Man. “Your creator shall become your Husband,” says Isaiah (54:5). To that end, He makes covenants, to prepare for the fundamental covenant, marriage. No pagan ever suspected the possibility of such intimacy, even with their finite, anthropomorphic gods: that is, the relationship scripture calls “faith,” or fidelity. And therefore no pagan ever understood the deeper meaning and terror of “sin” either, for sin is the breaking of that relationship. Sin is to faith what infidelity is to marriage. Only one who knows the wonder of marriage can know the horror of infidelity.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

How else, but for Christ, could we have known that God loves us? I mean really loves us, not just with proper philanthropy but with utterly improper passion. Even if any man dared to hope this, what ground could there possibly be for such a crazy hope? What data do we have? What evidence? Certainly not nature (“nature red in tooth and claw” Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH), or human life (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan), or human history (“the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples is sacrificed” Georg Hegel). The only data we have to know that God is love is Christ.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

That knowledge comes from our personhood and our very being:

Being is not just presence, but active presence, tending by nature to pour over into active self-manifestation and self-communication to others. And if personal being is really being itself only at its supra-material levels, then it follows that to be a person as such is to be a being that tends by nature to pour over into active, conscious self-manifestation and self-communication to others, through intellect and will working together.

And if the person in question is a good person, i.e., rightly ordered in its conscious free action, then this active presence to others will take the form of willing what is truly good for them, which is itself a definition of love in its broadest meaning, defined by Thomas as “willing good to another for its own sake.” To be a person, then, is to be a bi-polar being that is at once present in itself, actively possessing itself by its self-consciousness (its substantial pole), and also actively oriented towards others, toward active loving self-communication to others (its relational pole). To be an authentic person, in a word, is to be a lover, to live a life of interpersonal self-giving and receiving. Person is essentially a “we” term. Person exists in its fullness only in the plural. As Jacques Maritain puts it felicitously:

Thus it is that when a man has been really awakened to the sense of being or existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure, living depth of the Self and subjectivity, he discovers by the same token the basic generosity of existence and realizes, by virtue of the inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or emotion, but the very meaning of his being alive.
Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent

Thus subjectivity reveals itself as “self-mastery for self-giving… by spiritual existing in the manner of a gift.”
Jacques Maritain, Challenges and Renewals

Josef Pieper has also caught well the intrinsic bipolarity of personal being as spirit, when, commenting on a brief sentence of St. Thomas, he unfolds it thus:

The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness with reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relationship: namely, the world. And the deeper such relations penetrate the world of reality, the more intrinsic becomes the subject’s existence. . . These two aspects combined — dwelling most intensively within itself, and being capax universi, able to grasp the universe — together constitute the essence of the spirit. Any definition of “spirit” will have to contain these two aspects as its core.
Josef Pieper, Living the Truth

Transpose “spirit” into “person,” as being itself existing on the spiritual level, and Pieper and I are both expressing the same insight.
Fr. W. Norris Clarke, Person, Being, and St. Thomas

Call it human soul or person or spirit, this is who we are and how we need to treat each other. It is precisely what the atheist secular society rejects in its insistence on the “individual,” “rights,” and “fairness” code words for excusing the worst sort of morality and behavior.

What would underlie the dialogue between Church and World? I will address that in my next post.

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