Prayer intentions
Please pray for the following people. And if you know someone who needs a prayer, by all means feel free to add as many names as you want.

March 20, 2008

The post I've been dreading

N.B. — I've been dreading the thought of publishing this post. It's been sitting here in draft mode for a very long time. I know I'll stir up some kind of tempest, and there's probably not a single comment in reply that I'm not expecting. There's something here for everyone to dislike.

I'm an avid reader of the Internet. Thanks to the Internet, I'm exposed to ideas and opinions that I never would have believed possible. Some have angered me, others have enlightened me. The best of them have managed to amuse me while enlightening me. In large part because of the things I learned on the Internet and through email, I became Catholic, for which I will reap the benefits in eternity.

But nowhere on the Internet do I find my unique set of opinions, especially my political opinions.

Everywhere I look, I find one of two things: conservative writings that are smug, smarmy, and dishonest, full of hatred and easily disprovable lies or errors; or liberal writings that include, not just atheistic, but anti-religious screeds and fist-pounding in favor of abortion. Libertarians as expressed online are no better, because they can be just as godless, worshipping the god of free-market and personal choice without attention to spirituality or responsibility to one's fellow man.

Depending on the topic at hand, I have been accused of being both conservative and liberal, and come away feeling insulted either way.

Here are some of my thoughts for which people have called me "liberal":

I am very pro-union. I'm under no illusions that unions are perfect, but they are an absolute necessity to counter the wealth-driven corporate steamroller that mashes workers flat all in the name of capitalism. I have seen the face of corporate greed firsthand, and there is zero concern about how any behavior by the corporation might affect the employees. And as His Holiness John Paul II (who was himself a fan of unions) pointed out, "The thing that must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights."

I am an environmentalist. God appointed us as stewards of this planet. While I'm no scientist and can't prove or disprove the whole "global warming" thing any better than the average man on the street, I also have a hard time believing that spewing excessive carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the air and water could possibly be a good thing. Each individual and corporation has the responsibility to take care of the resources we have, because we will all be held accountable by God one day.

I am a big fan of separation of church and state. Once you blur the line between government and Church, you compromise the integrity of not just the state, but the Church as well. The Church already prohibits clergy from serving in a political capacity. Likewise, the US Constitution prohibits the official establishment of religion or the sponsorship thereof. Christ Himself said to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar's, and to God that which was God's, clearly drawing the line that the two were separate entities. Government must attend to worldly affairs in the here and now, and the Church must attend to the spiritual matters which lead to the hereafter.

Here are some of my thoughts for which people have called me "conservative":

I am completely against abortion, for what I feel are obvious reasons. It's infanticide, duh! Even though it was never brought up in our house, I'm sure I could have figured out at a very early age that baby-killing was a bad thing. To me this is a no-brainer, and I still haven't figured out what contortions the Supreme Court had to go through to not only say it wasn't, but that it is a Constitutionally protected right — go figure.

I am a Christian. Yes, despite the openly derisive things that are said about how "stupid" and "intellectually backward" I must be, or that my being a Christian is just a result of my living in the Backwater Deep South™ (which is code for "stupid redneck"), I insist on being identified as a Christian. Everything I say automatically gets twenty IQ points knocked off in people's minds because of it.

And here's at least one thought that defies a label:

I am opposed to the state recognizing gay marriage. I see the phrase "gay marriage" as an oxymoron. Of course, I'm not in favor of the state recognizing "straight" marriage, either. I believe it invests the state with too much power over a sacramental relationship. It's a religious vocation not unlike the priesthood in its own way, and it's ludicrous to think that one must obtain a license to exercise a religious vocation, especially in the same office where you apply for your fishing license.

My suggestion: Since it seems that what the real battle is about, is having an equal say in deciding who gets insurance benefits and rights of survivorship and other inheritance matters, let's abolish the marriage license altogether, and create a civil partnership license, which formalizes all those technical details. This is the sort of thing at which the state excels.

The good news is, there would be no more muddying the waters of the definition of marriage. The Church would once again be able to assert her authority over its meaning. Matter of fact, this is a shining example of what I said before about separation of church and state. The state has stuck its nose in religious business (marriage) for far too long, and the result has been the cheapening of the institution.

See what I mean? Something for everyone to dislike!

Then again, maybe I reflect the views of a lot of people who just don't hang out on the Internet like I do. If that's the case, and you've just been looking for someone who thinks like you do, talk to me! I'd love to hear from you. If not, well, I kind of expected that, too.

March 19, 2008

Look to it yourself

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, and during Mass we read the entire story of Christ's Passion. One of the phrases that stuck in my mind as we read it, became the title of this post - Look to it yourself. This phrase showed up twice in quick succession, which is probably why it stuck with me.

The first time it appears, Judas has suddenly realized how badly he's screwed up, and is going back to the priests who paid him to betray Jesus to return the money and hopefully undo the damage he's done. He pleads with them, and says, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." To which they reply, "What is that to us? Look to it yourself."

Second time the phrase appears, it is being spoken by Pontius Pilate. Pilate, the Roman governor, has examined Jesus and has determined to his own satisfaction that Jesus is not guilty of anything, and is trying to release him back to his people. The custom is, he can set a prisoner free during the traditional Passover feast. He is trying to make the choice easy - do you want me to release this notorious robber Barabbas, or do you want me to release this man Jesus, who's done nothing wrong? The crowd is being stirred up by the priests to get Barabbas released, and they were starting to get violent.

So, in the words of Matthew 27:24-25, When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves." And the whole people said in reply, "His blood be upon us and upon our children."

In each case, there is a party trying to relieve themselves of responsibility by dumping it on someone else, who is equally responsible. In the first case, the priests even acknowledge after Judas flees the temple that the money is the price of blood, but they are so wrapped up in their priestly duties that their only concern is more about what is the "lawful" thing to do with the money. In the second case, there is someone who has a good instinct about what should be done, and even makes a certain effort to do the right thing; but in the end, he too falls back on "just doing his job."

This recalls to mind the parable of the good Samaritan, which seems in hindsight almost to foreshadow His crucifixion. In the parable, the priest and the Levite both pass by the robbery victim. Eventually it fell to a Samaritan (Samaritans being a race of people considered in those days little more than a pack of criminals themselves), who picked the man up and cared for him, tending his wounds and seeing to his safekeeping. The question remains, though: whose responsibility was it to care for the robbery victim?

The answer: all of them.

Whose responsibility was it to ensure that justice was done during the Passover feast those two millennia ago? Everyone.

If we repeat after Pontius Pilate and those long-ago priests by saying, "Look to it yourself" - in other words, "So what? It's not our problem, it's your problem now" - we run the risk of re-crucifying Christ, metaphorically if not literally. What we do to those who need help the most, we do it to Christ.

NB - yes it has been a long time since I posted. We'll see if I can post again a little sooner than another 8 or 9 months.

June 19, 2007

Ah, we can dream, can't we?

Oh yeah, we can pray, too.

New Abortion Bill To Require Fetal Consent | The Onion - America's Finest News Source (parody site)

Yes, there's the ugly (understatement) proposition in the middle of the video that "some fetuses would make the decision, and it would be an informed decision, to end their own existence." The supposed NOW rep also makes the observation that the fetus who does not sign will nevertheless know that it was not wanted.

Yes, this is a parody, and yes, it is extremely tasteless, as parodies often are. But it also provides some food for thought, if you

accept it in the right frame of mind. The title alone is interesting for the thoughts it provokes. What did it make YOU think? Any

observations that I might have missed?

May 15, 2007

The purple team jersey

One of the articles I've read about today's passing of Jerry Falwell (who I'm sure will have his own topic here later) has helped me to crystallize my feelings — this article at Huffington Post.

It's an article about the battle between Falwell and pornographer Larry Flynt. Whether you agree with the author's assertions about either Falwell or Flynt or both is hardly important. I want you, dear reader, to instead focus on the metaphor of the "team jersey". Here's how author Joe Cutbirth describes it:

Lazy journalists and commercial writers have a template. They tell us we have to choose between two sides. It's one or the other. Flynt or Falwell.

Politicians driven by high-paid consultants and a sound-bite society do it too. They tell us, "In this election, the choice is clear: the Republican or the Democrat." Or, as the president says, "You're with us or you're with the terrorists."

It's a fool's way of thinking. But in a modern, fast-paced world, we often rush past our real choices and pick from the limited images and narratives we receive from mass media.

We just put on the team jersey that is most familiar, the one we think most of our friends are wearing, and we make a choice we are uncomfortable with — or worse — we disengage.

Whether we realize it, that disengagement has a cost, not just in our voice not being heard, but in the way we think of ourselves, even if it just festers in our subconscious.

Boy do I know that feeling. It seems like most of the people I know believe that you're either a conservative or liberal, and there's only a giant gap between the two camps. Apparently, to be conservative, you have to be anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-corporate/anti-union, an illegal immigration hard-liner, and anti-gay marriage. To be a liberal, you must be pro-abortion, anti-death penalty, pro-union, soft on illegal immigration, and pro-gay marriage. You must accept one package or the other, and apparently you may not pick and choose from each "side". Your color choices in team jersey, as proffered by the media and "common knowledge" are red or blue — pick one.

But as they say in the vernacular, I can't hang.

I'm anti-abortion and anti-death penalty, for the exact same reasons. I'm anti-corporate, pro-union and somewhere in the middle on illegal immigration, for the exact same reasons. I'm anti-gay marriage, although since I don't believe the state can exactly "sanctify" a "straight" marriage either, I don't believe it really matters what the state allows or doesn't allow (and I don't think anyone should be denied the right to assign survivor or beneficiary benefits to whomever they please).

This is why, every election cycle, I agonize over which candidates should get my vote. There's no candidate that gets my vote that I'm ever happy with.

For instance, I have found myself completely unable to vote for Bush (for quite a few reasons, but here's just one) — he may be against abortion, but he proved himself as governor of Texas to be even more in favor of the death penalty than the average governor. As a friend of mine, a former resident of Texas, once said: "At a time when the death penalty is on the decline in most states, Texas put in a drive-thru." Obviously, I couldn't vote for Kerry, either. He stood for a lot of things I approve of, but the abortion thing is a deal-breaker.

Culture of death, indeed.

Where are the Catholics with the purple jerseys — the ones that incorporate the best of both the red team and the blue team? We need people of faith and personal integrity who will take a strong stand for justice and speak out for those who have no voice: the incredibly innocent (the unborn) and the deeply guilty (the condemned); the brave military men and women who believe in defending their country but are hobbled by lack of a clear mission, and whose welfare is forgotten once they come home; and the rest of the people in the middle who are just trying to get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, and still have a little life left in them at the end of the workday to be with their families.

Anyone who might be interested in the job, please head for the locker room and suit up.

April 25, 2007

Scientific American: Lethal injection probably not painless

An article at Scientific American titled Bad Drugs: Lethal Injection Does Not Work as Designed, states that a study was done recently "which found that if any of the doses [in the lethal injection cocktail] are off the recipient not only feels pain, but he or she also must suffer a slow death by the asphyxiation following total paralysis."

In the modern age of capital punishment, the guillotine was seen as perhaps the most humane because it was instantaneous, but was decried as being too bloody and barbaric.

Then there was hanging, which was not quite as quick but a lot cleaner. Nevertheless, hanging gave people the willies, watching the condemned move and jerk about as they died.

There was the firing squad, which depended on a sharpshooter's accuracy.

Then there was the electric chair, which began as a stunt by Thomas Edison, who was the main developer of direct current technology for home use, to discredit George Westinghouse and his superior alternating current theories as being too dangerous for use by the average consumer. A few botched executions using the electric chair proved that it truly could be both painful and horrifying.

Gas chambers proved to be poisonous not just to the condemned, but to those who must administer the execution and clean up afterward. They are also both visibly painful and too reminiscent for some folks' tastes of the Nazi gas chambers.

Then came the lethal injection. I recall the first time I heard it mentioned, and how it was touted that the condemned would just sort of drift off to sleep. Nothing "cruel or unusual" there, they said. Now justice could be served to those who had committed the worst crimes, they said.

Now it's shown that this isn't true, either. They don't "drift off to sleep", they lie there and suffer, slowly.

Truth is, there is nothing good or painless or clean about executions. Nor can there be. The State, even when composed of generally good people, cannot judge perfectly as God can. So when the State orders executions, they are placing themselves in loco Deus — in God's place — by usurping for themselves the power over life and death. Only God can create a painless death. Any attempt to force death to occur before its intended time will be painful for the recipient, and that pain will be attributed by God to the souls of the people who created it, as will the hubris that came with playing God.

April 19, 2007

Okay, now it's gone too far

We're all familiar with the NAFTA-inspired evil of jobs going overseas. The most recent and probably most familiar to the average American is the rerouted customer service call. You might have a problem with your cell phone bill, or maybe you haven't been able to access your Internet connection. Whatever the problem, you call an 800 number, and somewhere in a phone company cellar, lights flash and circuits click. Next thing you know, someone with a thick and distinctly foreign (usually Indian) accent answers. He tells you his name is Kevin. You don't really mention it, but you have serious doubts that this fellow's name is really Kevin, or that he's ever even met anyone named Kevin, but whatever.

Kevin tries to talk you through your rate plan or your network settings or whatever it is he thinks will solve your problem, but it is very difficult to understand him, and you can't get him to deviate from the script he's obviously reading from to answer your question or acknowledge that you've already tried everything he's describing. You know he's just doing his job, and call center work is tough to begin with, even without the language/culture barrier. But there is a palpable amount of communicative disconnect between you and "Kevin" no matter how hard he's trying, and it is frustrating.

What it boils down to is, many Americans, including myself, find overseas call centers unpleasant to deal with. On those occasions where we hear a distinctly American accent, we are relieved.

So what to make of this? According to, the big-time TV preachers are now utilizing overseas prayer lines. As if people who call prayer lines operated by TV preachers don't have enough personal and spiritual troubles, now their calls are being taken by Hindus in India who used to work for Microsoft and Sprint.

(Yes, I know it's a satire, but based on my own personal experiences, it would not surprise me to find out it was true.)

April 9, 2007

At long last, the CSGI results

A while back I told you that we had taken the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory. Bill, one of our RCIA instructors, told us he'd have the results of them the following week. Certain circumstances intervened, and only as we checked in with our instructors about twenty minutes prior to the Easter Vigil Mass (a couple weeks late) were we each given a manila envelope with our individual results.

While it wasn't intended for us to wait this long, the timing of it actually had a cool kind of "Mission: Impossible" feel to it ("Your mission, should you choose to accept it"), only without the self-destructing tape player — or sort of like military people receiving their deployment orders as they graduate from boot camp.

Either way, inside my envelope was my score sheet listing the 24 charisms as defined by the Inventory, with my highest scores highlighted. The scores range from 0 to 15, with 15 being a very strong charism, and 0 being a nearly non-existent charism. Only scores of 11 or higher were highlighted. Attached to the score sheet were short explanations of each of my high-scoring charisms, followed by suggested places around our parish where these could be put to use.

Here are the charisms as listed on the score sheet (high scorers are bolded):

  1. Administration
  2. Celibacy
  3. Craftsmanship
  4. Discernment of Spirits
  5. Encouragement (11)
  6. Evangelism
  7. Faith (11)
  8. Giving
  9. Healing
  10. Helps
  11. Hospitality
  12. Intercessory Prayer
  13. Knowledge (14)
  14. Leadership (11)
  15. Mercy
  16. Missionary
  17. Music (13)
  18. Pastoring
  19. Prophecy
  20. Service
  21. Teaching (13)
  22. Voluntary Poverty
  23. Wisdom
  24. Writing (15)
The options are wide open. I wonder what I'll try first ...

It's official

Yes, that's right. I'm Catholic, for real and for true!

On a technical note, certain parts of the rite didn't happen exactly as we practiced it, none of which was our fault, but we rolled with it. The important thing, though, is ... it happened. That's all that mattered. In the end, Christ Himself was present for our — my — first real Communion. And if that isn't a big deal, I don't know what is.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers, and please continue to do so now and again as you think of it.

April 7, 2007

Today is the day!

That's right, today is the big day on which I officially become Catholic! Yay me!

And yay for everyone else who has been in the RCIA program at my parish and around the world who are also becoming Catholics. I don't even know how many people that might be, but I know it's a lot of folks.

This is a really big deal, so if you'd be so kind, pray for me and for all of us, okay? Thanks!

PS - for those of you who like to "time" your prayer to coincide with the event, our Easter Vigil Mass begins at 7:30pm Central Time (US).

March 31, 2007

One of the reasons I don't blog more often

This little lady in the video at left is Cecilia. Just the other day she demonstrated for the very first time that she knows how to pedal her trike. She just had her fifth half-birthday (she's two and a half years old, heh) on Friday.

Every day she does something that amazes me. She is the smartest and most beautiful child on the planet, and I feel bad for all the little boys whose hearts she's going to break one day.