27 February 2012

Religion, Public Service, and Voting


When John F. Kennedy ran for the Presidency, there was great concern about him being a Catholic. Conspiracy theories abounded that he might secretly be governing the country as a puppet of the Pope. Such concerns are again being heard in the current Presidential race about the Republican candidate Senator Rick Santorum. The Senator is not only a Catholic, he is outspoken about his Faith and the fact that it governs his life. He says, in effect, his Faith comes first, and this would be seen in his Presidency if he won the election. How refreshing in this age of ever-increasing secularism. Yet, this raises the question in many people's minds as to whether or not a person has any business being in office if he puts his Faith first and, according to his religious beliefs, he must always act in accordance with Church doctrine. A large segment of the population, include many Christians, believe that a person's religious beliefs have no place in their decision process as a public official. The trouble is, can we really expect or demand that public officials violate their conscience simply because they are public officials? Must they lay aside their religious beliefs and obligations when they take the oath of office? Does the oath of office as a public official supersede their duty to God?

Let us consider a hypothetical scenario. Imagine that the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments to repeal Roe v. Wade, thereby effectively rendering abortion illegal. Can we expect the Catholic Justices to vote any way other than for the abolishment of abortion? Can we expect them to rule by some means other than the Church doctrine that governs their conscience? Of course not, if they are to be truly Catholic. Really, this applies to all Christian Justices on the Court. They have the power to stop the murder of approximately 1.5 million children per year. Their Christian Faith says this is wrong. Why should they not stop it merely for the sake of being able to say that their Church's doctrine did not enter into their decision? To ask them to lay aside their Faith because they sit on the Supreme Court bench is wrong in the extreme. Furthermore, in such a case as this hypothetical example, a Justice who was fully aware that abortion is wrong in the eyes of God, but ignored the teachings of his Faith would take on the guilt for the murder of all those innocent children, for those were murders that he could have stopped.

Many politicians, judges, and officials say they voted a certain way or rendering a certain decision or did a certain thing because they thought it was the right thing to do. Some might question the veracity of those statements, believing instead that the politicians, judges, and officials who said that were acting in reality in their own best interest or taking the politically expedient position. Yet, for the sake of argument, let us take them at their word. After all, we should all hope and desire that our government officials would always strive to do the right thing. Why, then, should it be acceptable for a politician or an official to state that his decision or position was taken because he believed it to be the right thing, but it would not be acceptable for him to state that the reason he believes it to be the right thing is because that is what the doctrine of the Faith teaches him? Why would it be acceptable for a politician to say he voted a certain way because he believed it to be the right thing, and that his belief came from some general sense of morality, yet it would not be acceptable for him to state that this morality came from the doctrine of the Faith? That amounts to nothing more than discrimination against people of strong faith in public office. Indeed, strictly interpreted, those who believe a person's faith should have no bearing on decisions in their efforts to do the right thing would deny public office to any person of strong faith.

This is not to say that those in public office should impose their religious beliefs on others. Yet, not imposing one's own views on others does not mean that one should or must violate one's own conscience or beliefs in rendering decisions and carrying out the duties of public office. Everyone in public office is internally governed by something, whether it be the Christian Faith, political expediency, personal interest, secularism, or something else entirely. Why are all other guiding principles accepted, but not the Christian Faith? Even corruption, personal interest, and political expediency are acknowledged as an inherent facet of the government to be tolerated, but not liked. Why, then, are many people afraid of a public official who is a person of Faith, openly and unapologetically stating that the Faith governs his moral compass for the benefit of the public?

The simple truth is that the Faith is contrary to the ways of the world. The world loves that which is of itself and hates all that which is not of itself. Those who are unapologetically Catholic in all that they do, including public office, will naturally find opposition from society if that society has become secular and of this world. Remember that it was not too long ago that public officials regularly and openly about the Christian Faith. Sadly, things have changed. Christian blasphemy laws remain on the books in several States, though they are no longer enforceable as Supreme Court interpretation of the First Amendment struck them down. School prayer, once a common thing, is being challenged time and time again. Christianity is being marginalized in favor of not only secularism, but Islam and all the societal problems it brings. Abortion is legal. The government is trying to force religious institutions to violate their consciences. The list goes on and on. Though we in the United States were once a strongly Judeo-Christian nation, there is absolutely no denying that we have effectively descended into secularism.

There is a philosophy out there that says that an official who commits adultery is considered by many to be unworthy and unqualified to be a public official. The logic goes that if said official cannot remain faithful to the promises made to his spouse and to his duties required by that promise, he cannot hold the public trust. Yet, a public official who violates his promises made to God and ignores his duties required by those promises in favor of purely secular duties is somehow considered to be the ideal public official. This simply does not make sense. A promise to God is of more value than a promise to a spouse. A duty to God is of more importance than a duty to a spouse. Therefore, how can anyone who claims to be a Christian consider a public official who fails in a duty to his spouse to be unworthy, yet consider a public official who fails in his duty to God to be ideal?

One is either a Christian or not. There is no middle ground, as I have remarked on numerous occasions. One either strives to fulfill one's Christian duty, or one does not. Anyone who places his perceived duty as a public official, or a corporate officer, or anything else above his duty as a Christian is not in reality a Christian. In all truth, we as a Christian nation should desire public officials who do not violate their sacred duties, but instead let the doctrine of the Faith guide them, as it is intended to do, in fulfilling their duties as public officials.

The First Amendment establishment clause was intended to prevent the government from imposing religious beliefs on the people. Yet, it never was intended to require public officials to suppress their religious duties upon taking public office, for that itself would be an imposition of government control over religious beliefs. A public official's duty is first to God and then to the public. Anyone who claims they want a public official who has the best interests of the populace and the nation at heart must necessarily want a candidate who understands his duty is first to God, for no law may be just without God. It is time that we have a new generation of statesmen, judges, and public officials who understand that their duty truly is to God first above all things, and in so doing, they best serve the public. 

Patriarchal Letter to the Clergy of the ARRCC at the beginning of Lent 2012 regarding the wear of clerical dress

As we begin Lent, the Christian witness of the clergy becomes even more important. It is, of course, important each and every day. If the faithful observe the clergy not acting in accordance with the obligations of the Faith and their obligations as clergy, it can easily have a negative impact on the resolve of the faithful to do their own Christian duty. In this Lenten season, a time of penance, preparation, and denial, it is all the more important that the clergy set a good example for all the faithful to aid them in their efforts. If the clergy embrace the world rather than the Kingdom of God, then it communicates to the faithful that this is what they should be doing. If, however, the clergy deny the world, take up their own cross, and follow Jesus, this may inspire the faithful to do likewise. This applies to all ranks of the clergy, from those at the First Tonsure, the very beginning of the clerical state, through Bishop, those who share in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.

One of the most important mechanisms of Christian witness for the clergy is the constant wear of clerical dress. It is a very visual and obvious symbol of the Catholic Faith. Clerical dress communicates many important facets of the Faith to the people. It is for this reason that it makes such a good form of witness. Unfortunately in our modern, secular society, many clerics feel as if they should not or do not need to wear clerical dress outside of the walls of the church or outside of overtly religious activities. This is precisely the opposite of what clerics ought to do. We all can and should do better. Let us resolve to do better during Lent and continue throughout the year.

It is the obligation of clerics, particularly those in the Major Orders, to wear clerical attire as their normal or standard dress. This is both Sacred Tradition and laid down in Canon Law. There are some exceptions that exist. For example, priests who also work in the secular world generally ought not wear their clerical habit while engaged in commerce. Also, the clergy need not wear their habits while engaged in sports or athletics (though some religious orders retain their habit during these times as well). These exceptions aside, the clerical habit is the standard attire for all clerics. All else that is worn is merely an exception. It is not the other way around, in which clerical attire is merely something donned when "acting as a cleric." The clerical state is a state in life that is always and everywhere part of the inherent nature of the cleric. A cleric should, therefore, always and everywhere act as a cleric just as a man who is married to a woman should always and everywhere act as a married man.

Wearing there clerical habit, whether the cassock or the civic habit, out in public and to social events may seem difficult or highly out of place in today's society. Yet, it should be done and must be done anyway. The secular influences of the world seek to suppress Christianity, and Christians are feeling increasingly unable to express and practice their religion. By wearing the habit in public, the clergy may bolster the spirit of the faithful, comfort them, energize their faith, and strengthen their resolve.

Also, clerical dress marks the individual person as a cleric and does set him apart from the populace. That separation is one of special service, for the cleric's duty is to serve God and his people. For a priest, it is the equivalent of his wedding ring, representing his spiritual marriage to Christ's Holy Church. The habit reminds everyone that the cleric is striving to live his vocation at all times and in all places, as he should. It marks the cleric as a person to whom the faithful may turn for support and assistance. Clerical attire is a symbol of the public ministry which is present always and everywhere. It cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. It is a fallacy to suggest that a priest better serves the people by appearing like them and "breaking down the barrier." The so-called barrier between the clergy and faithful is not in reality a barrier, but a boundary in terms of specific roles ordained for the Kingdom of God, both here on earth and in heaven. It is, therefore, a great disservice to the faithful for a cleric not to wear his habit. A cleric must always relate to other people as a cleric, for his life is not his own.

Also, given the great decline in social decorum, wearing the clerical habit is a clear reminder to all people to dress modestly and act appropriately. Society would benefit greatly from a return to manners, politeness, and simple courtesy.

Sometimes it is stated, though, that clerics should not wear their habit in the presence of non-Catholics or non-Christians, as this might make them uncomfortable. However, removing the stimulus does not remove or solve the problem. It is better to wear the habit always and serve as an example of the Christian Faith to everyone. Education about the Faith has a better chance of success rather than allowing the symbols of the Faith to be suppressed.

It can never be stated enough that a cleric's life is not his own. Therefore, do not become lackadaisical in attitude towards clerical service. This not only includes performance of duties according to one's level in the clergy, but also in terms of behavior and appearance. Appearance is regulated by Canon Law and other norms, and therefore obedience requires it to be followed. How can we expect obedience of the faithful towards the Laws of God and his holy Church if we as clerics do not set the example and be obedient ourselves? Yes, the clerical collar and habit (again, whether the cassock or the civic habit) should be a natural part of a cleric's daily life. It should not be something set aside for certain occasions. It should not be shunned when the cleric wants to relax, but rather the cleric should feel relaxed when dressed according to his state in life.

We can indeed all do better, for none of us is perfect. We must encourage each other for our own benefit and that of the faithful. We must stand strong against the encroachment of modernism into the church and against the secular influences of the world. Out duties as clerics are paramount to all other aspects of our lives. To think or believe otherwise is to deny the very vows we took at our ordination and to eschew the indellible mark that was placed on our souls when we entered the clerical state.

20 February 2012

The World Needs More Love


The world needs more love. It might sound like the lyrics to a pop song, but it is true nonetheless. Think of how much suffering there is in the world because people fail to behave with charity towards their fellow human beings. Think of how many conflicts could be avoided if people simply worked a little harder towards loving others. This is perhaps idealistic, but the fact that there will always be pain and suffering and evil in the world is no excuse whatsoever for giving up and not trying to do something about it.

The next time you feel like getting angry or upset at someone, take a deep breath, calm down, and try to work it out. It takes two people to have a fight. It takes two people to have an argument. If someone wants to argue with you, yet you refuse to argue with them, it will not be much of an argument! This does not mean you cannot or should not disagree with people or should allow yourself to be abused. It does mean, though, that disagreements and even outright conflicts ought to be conducted in a manner in which both parties act with charity towards each other. Too often conflict becomes an "us" versus "them" struggle to win at all costs. Often less damage can be done if both parties try to work things out and with charity towards each other. Remember that in seeking to destroy someone else, you may end up destroying yourself in the process. 

Why fight your neighbor if you can settle your differences and live in peace? General Robert E. Lee prayed for his enemies every day. Indeed, we should always act towards our enemies as if they will one day be our friend, as that may in fact be the very result we achieve. With a little more love, we can have a lot fewer senseless conflict in the world, in our nation, in our communities, and in our families.

Consider this as we move into Lent this Wednesday. Reach out to people you have wronged and to people who have wronged you, no matter how long it has been. Forgive them, forgive yourself, and allow yourself to be forgiven by them and by God. Remember the new Commandment of our Lord that we love one another. This Lent, may you obtain that peace that can only come through forgiveness by the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

17 February 2012

Pro-Lifers Arrested for Praying


Not long ago I wrote in a pastoral letter about the very real threat of Christian persecution in the United States. I said that it was entirely conceivable that the time will come that Christians may be arrested for practicing and defending the Faith, and I have not been alone in making this comment. Yesterday, Thursday the 16th of February, A.D. 2011, this happened. Six pro-life advocates, including one priest and one protestant minister, were peacefully assembled outside the White House. As they knelt in prayer, the police were called in to arrest them for the curious reason of "failure to obey a lawful order." (Read more here and here.) What makes this even more puzzling is that scores of people have been occupying federal property in Washington, and this was considered their right. Yet, a handful pray in front of the White House, and the police are called.

Also worth noting is that Fr. Denis Wilde, the priest who was praying outside the White House, is the Associate Director of Priests for Life, which is currently suing the Obama Administration over the health insurance mandates. Is this a coincidence? Are those who oppose Obama and his anti-Christian policies going to be harassed by the government?
Since when is prayer illegal? And how dare the police lay a hand on men of the cloth? This is indicative of the anti-Christian intolerance that marks the regime occupying the White House. Religious freedom and indeed freedom in general has been trampled on by the Obama administration. And where was all the coverage of this incident in the mass media? It seems to have been covered primarily or only in the conservative media.

It is time for the Christian Faithful to stand up to those who have taken over our nation and hijacked the sacred principles of freedom on which it was founded. This is not a political matter, but rather a matter of Christian duty. Make your voice heard before it is too late. Otherwise, next time it could be you being arrested for exercising your rights to free exercise of religion.