Sunday, December 1, 2013

Priesthood is everyone's business

“Imagine for a moment that the Priesthood, like the setting sun, were turned off. Would not the whole world be in darkness?  Where would be the worship of God, the sacraments, the Most Holy Eucharist, the Word of God, Faith, Charity?  All would perish.  Imagine for a moment the opposite, i.e. that the Earth were full of elected Ministers of God, numerous priests and saints…  The Almighty wanted to connect the abundance of worthy Workers of the mystical harvest to the prayer for obtaining it!  
He gave it as a command to the Apostles and the disciples, and he repeated several times saying: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’  In this Divine Word that Jesus Christ ‘was saying’ is contained every good for the whole Holy Church, for the whole of society, for all souls.”

~St. Hannibal di Francia, Apostle for Vocations

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Thoughts for Catholics impacted by the Boy Scouts of America membership policies

Two groups of Catholics are directly impacted by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to not prohibit youth members who profess a same-sex orientation, namely, Catholic sponsoring organizations and Catholic scouts and their families.  Please remember, as you read this, I write this with the approval of my bishop, and as Diocese of Phoenix Boy Scout Chaplain.
The Church teaches that of homosexual acts are objectively “disordered.”  Second, the Church calls on persons who experience same-sex attraction “to fulfill God’s will in their lives” and to practice chastity which is the same for them as for all unmarried persons.  Third, the Church warns society to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” against those who experience same-sex attraction.
The policy adopted by the Boy Scouts states: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The policy applies only to youth members (aged 11 thru 17), not to adult leaders who, per the Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts v. Dale in 2000 are excluded based a private organization’s right to set its own standards for membership.  The new policy applies only to membership in the Boy Scouts.  There are some details of participation in certain activities that still need to be addressed.
There is nothing in the new policy or in Boy Scout literature that endorses or advocates the gay life style; in fact all members are prohibited from using the Boy Scouts to promote “any social or political position or agenda”.
The non-discrimination principle is outlined in Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358.  If the principle means anything, it means that the burden of proof lies on those who would discriminate against persons experiencing same-sex attraction to justify that discrimination.  Discrimination (e.g., refusing to recognize “same-sex marriage”) can and should be defended among Catholics.
That same-sex attraction itself (which is the only factor addressed by the BSA policy) should bar membership in a secular organization seems difficult to argue; to propose further that maintaining such a bar is a litmus test for Catholic sponsorship of an organization is even less sound.
Consider this: same-sex attraction, standing alone, does not prohibit one from being a fully initiated Catholic.  To argue, therefore, that, a Catholic parish must hold a sponsored organization to a higher membership standard than it holds itself to is inconsistent.
An official statement accompanying the new policy “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”  Such a statement seems totally in-line with sound Catholic teaching against sexual activity outside of marriage and stands in contrast to the indifference toward premarital sex shown by some other youth organizations let alone to some group’s partnering with organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Indeed, aside from youth programs expressly oriented toward chastity, I know of no other secular organization that so clearly declares all sexual conduct by its youth members to be contrary to its values as does the Boy Scouts of America.
This is enough to relieve Catholic organizations from concerns that their sponsorship of the Boy Scouts is incompatible with Church teaching on human sexuality.  Whether Catholic organizations or individuals may dissociate themselves from Boy Scouts without fear of giving bad example to others is another question.  There is no obligation to sponsor or join Boy Scouts in the first place.  My 50 plus years of experience in Scouting was and continues to be a healthy and entirely “sex-free” adventure.
Scouting requires serious commitments of time, talent, and treasure.  If Catholic sponsoring organizations and/or member families can’t agree that the Boy Scouts are able to deliver a youth program that actually operates within the parameters expressly asserted by the Boy Scouts, then they will likely decide that the challenges of Boy Scout affiliation exceed the benefits.  I argue otherwise.
But, unless and until another conclusion is demonstrated on evidence and not largely on predictions or fears, I think that Catholics may, and should, take the Boy Scouts at their word and continue to enjoy the programs offered.
This new standard more closely aligns with Catholic Church teaching.  Some had actually been concerned about the old standard for some time, because we have no other youth organizations in the diocese that would exclude youth struggling with same-sex attraction.  We don't kick them out of our Catholic High Schools, Parish Youth Groups, or even our sports teams.  We just challenge all unmarried persons of any age to live a life of chastity.  We have our work cut out for us to hit this challenge head on, but if we are successful it will "bear good fruit."
When people have spoken to me about the change, I simply ask three simple questions.  The practical question is "where do you send your kid to school?  Do you realize that your child’s school would not kick out a young man who claims same-sex attraction?"
The second question is more theological.  "Which children should we throw away?  Don't all of God's children deserve the Christian values of Scouting or do only those who are 'morally straight' in our eyes deserve this experience?  Is it our right to chose who is deserving of Scouting's values or does God hold that in His hands?"
The third question asks them for an honest reflection.  Will this policy make being a Scout leader more difficult?  Perhaps, but isn't helping all of God's children our ministry?  Does it make me uncomfortable?  It may, but our job is to figure it out so every kid has a chance.
Jesus said "Feed my lambs."  He didn't say anything about the lambs themselves, only that they needed to be fed.  So it is with us and the Scouts, Scout Leaders, Parents, and even the Parish Leaderships that we care for.  They need to be fed by good shepherds that set good examples and display moral discipline in the face of an otherwise amoral society.  The sun will come up; the BSA and the Catholic Church will still be around, and then it'll be time for calmer heads to prevail.
Scouts and parents of this country need us and they need the Scouting movement, especially in light of the ever-increasing lapse of morals in America.  Since they need us, let's keep meeting their needs.
What a wonderful opportunity that has been handed to us at this moment in the history of the Church to broadcast what the Catholic Church teaches on sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular.  How often do we get people calling wondering what the Catholic Church teaches?  If we approach this moment in the spirit of the New Evangelization I'm confident we'll come up with communications that not only allay fears, but will convey the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Our mission with the BSA remains unchanged.  Our God is much larger than all of this.  He is in control, and will make something great out of this to glorify Him ~ as He usually does.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Missing God

If the people of Nazareth taught us anything, it's that God could be right in front of you and you might not even recognize Him.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Everyone's religious liberty is threatened.

Religious liberty is the first liberty granted to us by God and protected in the First Amendment to our Constitution.  The First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  This phrase: “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religionknown as the “Establishment Clause,” started out as a prohibition on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states.  
It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, to forbid governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and to forbid direct government funding of religion.  This phrase “prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs.  It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.
Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator.  Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself.  It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.
The free exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby people choose to set the course of life directed toward God.  Individuals, then, are not to be forced to act in manner contrary to their conscience or restrained from acting in accordance with their conscience.  The human person has a right to religious freedom.  This freedom means that all people are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power so that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.  Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government, in the selection, training, appointment, and transferal of their own Ministers.
A most fundamental human freedom is that of practicing one’s faith openly.  Religious freedom is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches on the relation with our Creator.  The distinction between Church and State, between God and Caesar, remains fundamental.  Churches have a proper independence and are structured on the basis of their faith as a community which must be recognized.
The recent government mandate to cover contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs and sterilization, violate religious liberty.  It is the element of government coercion against conscience, and government intrusion into the ordering of Church institutions.  This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government.  This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government.  Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.
Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what the government deems "harboring" of undocumented immigrants ~ and what many churches sere as works of charity and pastoral care to those immigrants.  Perhaps the most egregious of these is in Alabama, where Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama, filed suit against the law: “It is with sadness that we brought this legal action but with a deep sense that we, as people of faith, have no choice but to defend the right to the free exercise of religion granted to us as citizens of Alabama.  The law makes illegal the exercise of our Christian religion which we, as citizens of Alabama, have a right to follow.  The law prohibits almost everything which would assist an undocumented immigrant or encourage an undocumented immigrant to live in Alabama. 
This new Alabama law makes it illegal, for example, for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant.  Nor can they encourage them to attend religious services or give them a ride to those services.  It is illegal to allow them to attend adult scripture study groups, or attend religious education or Sunday school classes.  It is illegal for the clergy to counsel them in times of difficulty or in preparation for marriage.  It is illegal for them to come to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or other recovery groups at our churches.”
In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses.  This is devastating to many smaller congregations.  It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to church on Sunday or pray at home.  It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans.  Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?  Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.
What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society ~ or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.  Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, Boy Scouts, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups.  All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so.  Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued a statement about the administration's contraception and sterilization mandate that captured exactly the danger that we face:  “Most troubling, is the Administration's underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its "religious" character and liberties.  Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths.  The Administration's ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization's religious principles.  This is deeply disappointing.”
This is not a Jewish issue.  This is not a Catholic issue.  This is not a Mormon, Orthodox, or Muslim issue.  It is an American issue.  Religious liberty is being threatened, and we can’t stand by and let it be.  We need to pray, in whatever way we each do, that this right is not denied or compromised in any way.  Who knows where such compromise will lead.  If history has taught us anything, its that we need to stand up for one another.