Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make Room

Today, Tuesday of Holy Week, while surfing around on Facebook, this irreverent and flippant (and funny) meme popped up:

And, well... it got me to thinkin'. Scripture is neat that way: often even a sidelong and casual glance at it will burns a reflection into the mind. Is not my word like fire? (Jer. 23:29).

You see, it is Holy Week, and someone thought this was an appropriate post for the occasion. And that is because, in all of the synoptic accounts of the events of Christ's final entry into Jerusalem and His passion and death, this event - the "Cleansing of the Temple" - is placed in the very days leading up to the climax of the story.

But what is interesting is that, in John, the incident is placed quite early - in chapter two, in fact.

So, what gives?

Well, of course, details in the narratives, and particularly timing - and especially in John, who includes weighted little descriptors like "and it was night" - can be theologically significant. Anyhow, though, we won't digress into debates of the synoptic problem and all that. After all, it is as likely as not - in the present case - that the placement of the synoptic accounts of this particular event corresponds to the historical fact: indeed, the ruckus caused in this scene not only provide motive for those who would petition Christ's death, but also a rationale for the Roman government to quell a known rabble-rouser.

What's interesting to me, though, is that this scene comes in the narrative of this week - and what it might mean for each of us.

Of course, it's always worthwhile in these matters to consult The Fathers.

Jerome reminds us why this exchange trade was going on in the Temple in the first place [emphasis added]:
It should be known that in obedience to the Law, in the Temple of the Lord venerated throughout the whole world, and resorted to by Jews out of every quarter, innumerable victims were sacrificed, especially on festival days, bulls, rams, goats; the poor offering young pigeons and turtle-doves, that they might not omit all sacrifice. But it would happen that those who came from a distance would have no victim.
 The Priests therefore contrived a plan for making a gain out of the people, selling to such as had no victim the animals which they had need of for sacrifice, and themselves receiving them back again as soon as sold. But this fraudulent practice was often defeated by the poverty of the visitors, who lacking means had neither victims, nor whence to purchase them. They therefore appointed bankers who might lend to them under a bond.
Now, Jerome's interpretation of this passage, as with most Patristic commentators, seems basically to be that it contains a moral for priests and bishops and others who minister in God's sanctuary.

But, if I may, I find something fascinating in the background Saint Jerome chooses to give here - how potentially packed with meaning it is! Think about it: people too poor to provide a victim to satisfy... and laid upon them, by those supposed to help them gain atonement, a kind of double-debt on top of the first debt of the Law.

This is all of us: for humanity, on its own, is so impoverished, and also so doubly-in-debt: we need both a true Victim and a true Priesthood. And in the events of the same week in the Gospel, Christ presents Himself as both, and initiates in the same Last Supper the two sacraments that shall re-present Him as Victim and Priest to all the baptized until the end of time: the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

On top of this, Origen saw in this passage even more meaning still, applying it equally to us all and not just to our ministers:
Mystically; The Temple of God is the Church of Christ, wherein are many, who live not, as they ought, spiritually, but after the flesh; and that house of prayer which is built of living stones they make by their actions to be a den of thieves.
Yes, other reflections on this wonderful scene have been offered, and will continue to be. Of course, it has also to do with issues of avarice and greed, and the relative blessedness of the poor - after all, immediately after we see iniquity chased from the Temple, we see the lame and the crippled invited in to be healed. But I offer that we shouldn't press any social justice reading of this too far: after all, of all the Gospel accounts, the tersest and in some ways least interested comes from Luke, who is usually identified as the Evangelist most concerned with the plight of the poor.

Instead, I offer that the central motif here is one of MAKING ROOM: making a space ready for a new thing to be ushered in. Therefore, it is somewhat incidental to us whether this historical event happened in that first historical Holy Week or earlier in Christ's ministry - (or, as Augustine and others suggest, it happened twice). For us, in any case, there is a great spiritual merit to making it part of our Holy Week now.

We are the Temple of God. Indeed, beyond what Origen here observes, we should also be reminded that each of us is  "A Temple of the Holy Ghost". (I might also commend to your reading this week, along with this passage, Flannery O'Connor's brilliant story by that title.)

In order to "make room," as it were, for His Victimhood, His Priesthood, and His Rites of Atonement, Christ first had to clear out what only foreshadowed these, and imperfectly. Furthermore, He made it clear clear that the New Covenant demanded a break from all worldly thought: no hedging bets and conniving would have any place. Christ's rebuke to Peter - "You are thinking as man does, but not as God" - comes back to us here this same aspect of meaning as Christ's demonstration in the Temple. This was a merciful act, and an act of love: these things had to be cleared out, for they were passing away: the animal sacrifices and the dealings and the calculations were all to fade away under the shadow of The Cross. That Cross was the one and only payment that could be made, and we must bind ourselves over to it and to no other debt.

Holy Week provides us a last and urgent opportunity to "make room," even if all of our Lent has been squandered. It gives us a chance to clear out the old ways from our life, to abandon our compromises and our bets, and to cancel all our debts to falsehood.

We are the Temple of God. And we might find ourselves sometimes very much a den of thieves. But the True Victim and the True Priest, He Whose Temple it is... well, this is what He does. He rebuilds and restores the Temple. He cleansed the Temple once (or twice) upon a time. He restored the Temple (of His body) after three days following its destruction. And He rebuilds us, however broken from sin we may be, each and every time we fall - indeed, each and every day, with His Grace. We just need to make room for Him to do what He does.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"The dragon wishes to devour 'the child brought forth'"

Today has been an interesting day watching social media, as dueling opinions met both inside the chambers of the Supreme Court and outside on its steps to discuss whether people of faith in America should be forced by the government to compensate for morally objectionable services through the health care provided to their employees.

First, on social media, the ACLU and others declared their stripes by way of allusion to the 'Occupy' movement - because the politics of class war and race war and #waronwomen are all out of the same rule book:

The folks at Alliance Defending Freedom - the firm representing the Hahn family's Conestoga Woods Specialties, one of the two companies in court today against the mandate - came back with this clever riposte:

The sloganeering of the day was an interesting facet, with the trending tag #NotMyBossBusiness carrying most of the pro-abortion and pro-contraception messaging... which kind of annoyed me on a couple points: because, well, #NotMyBossBusiness is #NotGrammaticalCorrect; and...

Despite bad weather outside of the Supreme Court, both sides were out in force. Perhaps the Instagrammish filter over this image from the Center for Reproductive Rights (don't get me started) was meant to lure people out because, wow look it's like sunny:

The prerequisite crass signs were on display, too (and happily spread around the internet by Planned Parenthood):

And the hand-in-glove relationship between the gay rights community and the pro-abortion lobby - a phenomenon which demands greater discussion and reflection - was also evident:

And there was this gal, very proud of her sign evidently. ["Psst: You forgot to add, between 'crafts' and 'cabinets,' a checked box for 'employing your ass at a decent wage in the first place when neither you nor they have been forced into that arrangement.'"]

But there were, as I said, plenty of folks were out from both sides.

I created and posted this image on Facebook earlier today because what it says seems to me strikes to the heart of the issue: This is an issue that impacts us all! We're all the Defendants now.

And I wasn't the only one reasoning thus... (and kudos to the #ReligiousFreedomForAll organizers or whoever made these signs which very nicely counter the "not my boss's business" meme):

But above all, it was good to me to see - on this Feast of the Annunciation - that prayer was a part of the demonstrations, because prayer is very much needed in this fight.

Prayer is needed because, as Blessed John Paul II reminded us in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae - first published exactly 18 years ago today - the fight is not just between flesh and blood, but involve higher (and lower) realities:
Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life is always at the centre of a great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. The dragon wishes to devour "the child brought forth" (cf. Rev 12:4), a figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4) and whom the Church must unceasingly offer to people in every age. But in a way that child is also a figure of every person, every child, especially every helpless baby whose life is threatened, because - as the Council reminds us - "by his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person". It is precisely in the "flesh" of every person that Christ continues to reveal himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ. This is the fascinating but also demanding truth which Christ reveals to us and which his Church continues untiringly to proclaim: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mt 18:5); "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).
While what was ostensibly being discussed - at least in the courtroom - today was a question of constitutional rights and authority, the real matter cuts much deeper:  Quid est homo? What is man? What is he for? What does our nature, our sexuality, the special union of man and woman that creates new life really mean for us? And what does it mean when we misuse that nature?

These are questions which we all need to ponder more deeply - some of us very direly.

It is sad to see the Gospel of Life rejected by so many, especially by those invited to fullest communion with Christ's Mystical Body through membership in His Holy Church. Christ Himself is that Gospel, is that Word of Life - something we are reminded of so profoundly as we reflect on the very beginning of it all, the Angel's visit to Mary. But the forces of the Evil One are seeking to destroy that Truth, to silence or distort the Word of Life. With God's grace, it is for us, His disciples, His messengers, to snatch that precious word from the clutches of the dragon.

So may we all strive to do better in proclaiming that Gospel, and doing the Works of Mercy - such as instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and admonishing the sinner. But let us, most of all, lift up to prayer those who have wandered astray or who are lost, that they may be converted to the Truth and so come into eternal life.

O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life. Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy. 
Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. 
Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives, and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life. -- Bl. J.P. II
Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, Who is Life itself: Pray for us. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Poisoning the Water Cooler (Conversation)

In the headlines, in the articles, and in the comboxes, the indignation was palpable when the news took over the internet this week that a "homophobic" mother had taken the occasion of a 7-year-old's birthday party invitation to express her disapproval of the lifestyle of the two men raising the child.

From the K-98.3 Facebook post that started it all.
The headline in the Huffington Post article by James Nichols screamed, "Mom Writes Horrifying Response To Birthday Party Invite From Kid With Gay Dads."

The article explained the above image thus:
Originally posted on the K-98.3 Facebook page, the heartbreaking note allegedly written by a disapproving mother on an invite to a birthday party for a 7-year-old is certainly a testament to the work that still has to be done to overcome homophobia in our society.
Today, then, the news breaks that the entire thing was made up.

From the "message" on the radio station's webpage, posted by the hosts of the show that broke [i.e., fabricated] the story:
On Wednesday, we told you the story of Sophia's birthday party, and one parent's objection to the same-sex household of Sophia's parents.  We also posted the invitation on our Facebook page, and invited comments from our followers.
This story was, in fact, totally fictitious, and created by the two of us.  This was done without the knowledge of K-98.3 management or ownership.
We were attempting to spur a healthy discourse on a highly passionate topic.
"Attempting to spur a healthy discourse..."  I cannot imagine a more complete image of utter failure in that respect.

And I want to be clear before getting into this any further: this makes me absolutely furious.

Now, of course, HuffPo has updated its original story:

It now "appears" that way?
And how do you like that for a retraction?

Some might say a retraction isn't needed. But remember Nichols' original story? Let me quote a line once more.

While Nichols wrote that the note was " allegedly written by a disapproving mother," he then, in the very same sentence, went on to say that it was "certainly a testament to the work that still has to be done to overcome homophobia in our society" [emphases added].

Allegedly... certainly. And therein, my friends, lies the problem.

Everyone who uses Facebook has had it happen to him at one time or another that he clicked that"share" button and re-posted something, perhaps with a bit of emphatic, outraged commentary, only to find out later that it was untrue. I've had it happen myself, personally. And each time it's a reminder I need to be more diligent... to mind my sources... to double-check things... to verify and look for a source of better repute when a claim seems outrageous. And, all else failing, to issue a retraction when, despite all my efforts, I am duped.

But Nichols? From all I can tell, there was no due diligence whatsoever in the reporting of this story. Did he bother even calling the radio station to confirm? Did he try calling the phone number of the mother which was written right there, plain to see, on the invitation? If he did, he might have said so in his article: think about it, how often have you read, "A call placed to such-and-such was not returned as of press time" or something of the sort.

But we've grown lazy in our news consumption, and we don't look for statements like that anymore and prize them the way we should. We skim, comment, and share, and we fail to be as outraged as we should when these sorts of scams are perpetrated.

Let me be clear: I've written before about journalists being lazy and stupid and slanderous and I've deliberately distanced myself from the knee-jerk reactions of calling for people to be sacked. I don't want anyone to mistake me as wavering from that stance. In most cases, that will still be the way that I feel. In fact, I'm even willing to cut Nichols a break for his HuffPo piece here, shoddy and sloppy and stupid as was his work in the matter.

But I will be positively outraged if these radio hosts are not IMMEDIATELY fired. There's a difference between being stupid and offensive and sloppy and just making shit up. If our media culture is going to preserve any ideal of integrity, these two need to be thrown to the curb - NOW.

True story.

And to revisit Nichols: I said above that I thought a fuller retraction and an apology were in order. Let me elaborate on that a bit.

A casual observer might think that it isn't needed in this case. The story was fictitious, so there's really been no harm: no one was hurt, because no one involved really existed.

But that misses the wider issue.

The public discourse in this country is already in a disgraceful state, especially as regards LGBT issues. Anyone who dares take a stance against issues like same-sex 'marriage,' or who announces that the gay lifestyle is incompatible with their religious beliefs, is quick to be shamed, ridiculed, and condemned.

This fake story was, in effect, the LGBT equivalent of race-baiting. It generated a heated context for a debate right off the bat, loaded with pathos that already was stilted and favoring to one side of the discussions that would ensue.

I remember reading a very early comment on the story, a person expressing that he felt sorry for the woman's little boy being raised in such a way. And thus the thing very quickly became not about what the mom had said or how she had said it, but that she said it at all - nay, that she even dared think it.

Most of those who took to comboxes to voice their outrage made it very clear that the real issue was beyond the hurtfulness of the note and its rhetorical daftness: the real issue was that this woman was fundamentally wrong-headed for her beliefs in the first place, and her choice to raise her child according to those beliefs was very early - and subsequently as the discussions proceeded very often - likened to child abuse.

And so that was the environment into which Christians and others were lured by this prank.

Some waded in to say that they thought it would have been better for the mother simply to demur and to keep her child home: a simple "Regretfully, no," would have sufficed.

But they were told that wouldn't have sufficed

No, nothing would suffice but that she let her little boy go to the party and get over her bigoted and hateful prejudices.

So, you see, that is why I think Mr. Nichols owes us all an apology. Because there's already poison enough in the water cooler conversations around this country any time the topic touches upon this issue; and it's only getting worse; and we deserve better from journalists than for them to carelessly parrot nonsense that increases the already lethal levels of toxicity.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Moral Quandary, a Logical Impasse

I don't know what else to say.

I come back from the March for Life each time I attend with this same though beating down doors in my mind: this same struggle in my heart and my soul.

I March, I make a stand, I speak out... and then I go home, and it seems business as usual.

The Civil Rights marchers didn't rest. They didn't stop sitting in, riding the buses in defiance, marching in another city when they'd finished with one.

But here I am, having marched in what I believe is a fundamental and vitally important civil rights issue - indeed the most fundamental we have ever faced - here I am, in my living room, in my recliner.

And the stone in my stomach rolls over, and that pervasive question that haunts me every year returns. And I'm still not satisfied I have anything like an answer.

It is something weird, Orwellian. I feel like I must skip into double-think. I try to convince myself instead that it is perhaps Augustinian really. Is this the reality of the spiritual warfare? Does this question bring me really to an unseen a plane of division that makes all the difference...? Is the answer somehow a dual "yes-in-different-ways"?

I find it hard to believe so.

But then, I can't even properly articulate the concern as a question. Instead it is felt in the weight of a logical contradiction. Two statements seem to be equally true and yet seem logically opposed such that both cannot be true.

And here are those statements, those dual realities I must confront every time I return from having Marched for Life and go on with my own life...

Statement one: "If I knew there was a building down the street in which children were brutally being murdered every day, there'd be nothing for it: I literally could not rest, and I'd abandon everything until it was ended."

Statement two: "I do know there is a building down the street in which precisely that is happening. Yet I do rest. I don't abandon everything."

Can both be true? Or must it be that I am a liar with respect to the first, since the second is not conditional but fact?

This is an odd blog post for me because this is where it ends... well, almost.

I don't know the answer. And I want to. And I think many more might feel the same way.

But maybe it isn't a question with an answer. Maybe it is a problem with a solution.

Would we - could we - face that problem and give that solution? I won't even say what it is because I think you, dear reader, can easily enough imagine it. Is this the upshot? Is not another rationale needed, but rather a choice? I ask it humbly, and trembling, because I truly don't know if I have the strength to make that choice.