May 27

Overdosing from despair: How the Church can fight the opioid epidemic

An article I wrote a while back was finally published by Crux today.

3964596491_afc04c21e3_b-690x450I recently had a hernia operation and was given a week’s worth of opioid painkillers for afterwards. Recovering from surgery, and dealing with the pain and discomfort inherent in such things, made me think about the current epidemic of addiction to painkillers in the United States, which has led to the highest rate of drug overdoses ever in the country.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, 2015 saw over 50,000 deaths and both 2016 and 2017 are expected to be higher.

In fact, fatal heroin overdoses, which went up five times between 2007 and 2015, surpassed gun homicides for the first time ever.

We as a Church need to speak to people where they are – and obviously drugs, especially opioids responsible for about two-thirds of drug overdose deaths, are now a big part of many people’s lives. So the Church can’t be silent.

One good example of speaking out is the Archdiocese of Vancouver in Canada. Archbishop J. Michael Miller said, “In 2017 Vancouver, Jesus would also identify himself with those afflicted by mental illness and addiction… as His disciples, we are called to do likewise.” One Catholic hospital there treated 42 overdoses in two days!

Read the rest over at Crux.

May 13

A Texas parish keeps faith after a tornado destroys the church

A story I found and covered on Crux.

destroyed-church-690x450Simon Salinas heard that a tornado had destroyed his parish church, and knew he had to help. He was with his sister and her critically ill father-in-law in her home  during the storm, and they hunkered down in the house hallway and prayed.

After the tornado passed, he found out from another sister that the church had been destroyed. About 3 hours after the tornado, he got out to the church in the dark.

Arriving to the parish, he found the driveway surrounded with trees. He saw four cars in the parking lot and worried someone might be inside under the rubble. He was worried about their safety as he traversed downed power lines to look for survivors.

45 people had been attending a dinner for graduating seniors at St John the Evangelist in Emory, Texas. However, they had already been evacuated.

When he found out they were all safe, his thoughts moved to the Eucharist. He said his motivation came from his experience, “God has never abandoned me in my life and we as Catholic Christians, if we truly believe that God exists there, I didn’t want to abandon him. I wanted to at least search for him and that’s just what I did.”

Read the rest there.

May 04

‘Amoris Laetitia’ is about accompaniment, not the divorced and remarried

I reviewed an excellent book on Crux today:

Cattura-3-469x450When I subtitled my summary of Amoris Laetitia on the day it came out “About Every Family, Not Just Divorced and Civilly Remarried,” I knew the Communion issue was going to be the news of the day, but I didn’t expect it to still be an issue in 2017.

I waited for a resource that would help people grasp the other beautiful aspects of the document. I finally found my answer.

Three professors from the John Paul II Institute in Rome have produced a handbook explaining how to apply Amoris Laetitia, which was just published in English.

Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating: A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of the Family According to Amoris Laetitia is by Father Jose Granados, Dr. Stephan Kampowski, and Father Juan Jose Perez-Soba.

They mention the Communion issue, as I noted previously when the Spanish edition was released, but they dedicate less than 10 percent of the book to that issue. Their outline is instead based on the three words of the title: Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating. I will summarize how they examine each of these.

Read the rest on Crux.

Apr 19

Churches shouldn’t endorse candidates, even if the law allowed

In wake of the impending repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the question of Priests or Churches endorsing candidates takes on new light. I present arguments against endorsement on Crux today.

File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

A new tax bill working its way through Congress might change the way religious institutions can engage in politics.

President Donald Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, said, “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

Now, a little history: The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954 to prevent nonprofits from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates. It applies to 501(c)3 organizations which include most churches, schools, amateur sports leagues, and works of charity helping the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

The Republican members of the House of Representatives are now writing Trump’s proposed changes into their big new tax overhaul.

The question arises whether churches should continue to follow Johnson’s rules if it is repealed? I think so.

Churches should stand strong on moral issues, but Church leaders should never endorse specific candidates for political office. The Catholic Church even includes staying out of political parties as a duty for priests in Canon Law (287.2).

John Beal’s commentary on this number in Canon Law notes the contingent nature of politics and how they can never give a fully adequate interpretation of the Gospel as reasons priests should stay at arm’s length from politics.

Beal notes that clerics can be members of political parties but are forbidden to take an active part. Thus, a priest can be a registered voter and vote in primaries but shouldn’t go knocking on doors or put a sign on his lawn.

Even though I come at this from a Catholic perspective, I think the same reasons to stay at arm’s length apply to Protestant ministers, rabbis, and imams.

Read the rest on Crux.

Apr 05

Superficializing Male Friendships

2 Male Friends chatting in winter

Male Friends

Recently, The Federalist published a piece about male-female friendships called “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends’” which was roundly criticized for its conclusions that male-female friendship is impossible. I got this from several people on Facebook and I don’t see a need to repeat. What gets me though is how it reduces male friendship to one type that is not ideal for many guys: Others critiqued the conclusion, I’m critiquing the premise.

The article summarizes male friendship:

What then, is the average man looking for in a friend? By and large, something along these lines:

  1. Someone who shares his interest in activities such as watching movies where things explode, playing video games where things explode, or putting fireworks in things so they’ll explode. Bonus points if you enjoy yelling at football players through the television set and laughing at noxious flatulence.
  2. Someone who won’t pressure him to open up beyond his comfort level if his girlfriend breaks up with him,he loses his job, or his mom gets eaten by a yeti.
  3. Someone who cherishes the man tradition of showing affection through insults and general jackassery.

Let me look at the guy friends I’ve had and the guy-friend I try to be and compare it to these three characteristics.

  1. I don’t mind explosions but I’d much rather play Settlers of Catan or hike up a mountain than watch a mindless movie filled with explosions. I remember one time we were watching Live Free or Die Hard and one friend got up to read a book after the car took out the helicopter which almost made me do the same (except I hadn’t brought a book that day). Maybe it’s that I spent too much time running youth camps but whenever I see small scale fireworks, my first concern is safety. I know several guys who outright don’t watch any sports, watch any mindless explosion movies, or play any violent video games. We shouldn’t reduce male friendship to exclude them.
  2. The second aspect is true in my experience in that guys want other guys to respect their limits of openness. This is the only one of the three I agree with as characterizing male friendship “by and large.” Nonetheless, it applies to many non-friendship relationships too – starting with coworkers – so friendship has to be more.
  3. Then we get to the last aspect of insulting and “jackassery.” I find this demeaning to men and repugnant. I understand occasional teasing but if the main way of showing affection is this, I’m not being your friend. I know plenty of other guys who seem to agree. The world is tough enough on me that I want to have a friendship where I don’t have this. I understand other guys who enjoy this type of friendship but that is only one type of guy and we shouldn’t reduce all guys to one type.

Beyond the three points individually, if this is how you define male friendship you are missing a whole bunch of areas.

  1. First, this article misses the essential aspect of any friendship in the love of charity. He is missing the very core. Aquinas speaks of this: “Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.” Well-wishing is desiring the good for the other. We wish well for all but the specific close communication which allows us to know what is good for this specific person is an important element of friendship. This is the basis of my friendships: because my friends know what is good for me and give it to me.
  2. Second, and related, the author seems to think guys can’t love each other. The article doesn’t have “charity” once and all six times in has “love” it refers to male-female relationships. I love my guy friends. Given that “love” has been reduced to romance int he culture, I’d probably say “have charity” or “seek their good” but there seems to be no phrases of that type about guy-guy friendship. I really feel sorry for this guy if missing this implies he lacks deep guy-friends.
  3. Third, the author totally misses family. In all honesty, my sisters and one brother-in-law are some of my best friends. (I am the only boy with three sisters.)
  4. Fourth, although guy friendships are generally based around common interests and common activities – guys don’t like to sit and chat as much as women – the type of activities and interests can be far more varied than this author assumes. Some of my dad’s best friends are his curling team, a sport with no explosions. When I was in college, I become good friends with a small circle in electrical engineering who programmed and built electronic stuff (if anything exploded, we did it wrong) after class too as we enjoyed it.

I avoid close non-family female-male friendships for other reasons: I don’t want the possible scandal, I don’t always know or trust females’ intentions, and I think it can possibly compromise my heart set on God as a priest (as it can compromise the totality of a man’s heart in marriage). Nonetheless, I can see circumstances where other men might have close female friends. There are prudential reasons to avoid deep male-female friendships but please let’s not redefine male friendship so superficially to do so.

Apr 01

Oil pipelines are in step with the church’s integral ecology

I wrote a piece about Pipelines and Laudato Si’ on Crux.

ab7bee1e8f856bf8a51cc2ac49911256-690x450With the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, and the recent approval of Keystone XL by the Trump administration, pipelines have been in the news.

Most of the time, the talk is about how they are bad for the environment, and protests have in fact stopped work on both projects.

But are pipelines really as bad as they are portrayed, especially from a Catholic perspective?

They may not be perfect, but overall they actually seem better than the alternative, and match the vision set forth in Pope Francis’s ecological encyclical Laudato Si’.

Oil is only mentioned once in Laudato Si’,  where Francis speaks about the tension between fossil fuels and renewables.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” he writes, realizing that such a switch will not happen overnight.

His realism comes out in the following sentence: “Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions.”

Read the rest over a Crux.

Mar 28

FORUM: Requiring Genetic Tests Violates Fundamental Human Rights

I posted an analysis of this issue over at ZENIT.

Requiring Genetic Tests Violates Fundamental Human RightsIn recent days, the issue of whether employers and insurers can require genetic tests has come up in both Canada and the US. In Canada, Liberal backbenchers went against their Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to join with the other parties in passing a bill that prohibits employers or insurance companies from forcing you to do a genetic test, or punishing you if you refuse. Now the US Congress is considering a bill that would allow companies to spike your insurance 30% if you refuse a genetic test.

How does this square with Catholic teaching? I think it is the most insidious form of discrimination in the history of mankind. It proceeds subtly but has absolutely devastating effects.

Other forms of discrimination were based on what people assumed to be better genetics but when they only based it on external observable facts that at least respect people’s privacy. The Catholic Church is always been against discrimination and also believes in respect for privacy.

The doctrine on discrimination, leaves no room for doubt that we can’t discriminate against someone based on their genetics…

Read the rest on ZENIT.

Mar 06

Pope Francis and his conservative critics are both right… if you accept their principles

I wrote a piece today on Crux.

Pope Francis and Conservative CriticsEver since Pope Francis’s election, and especially since Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia, there have been clear tensions between the pontiff and some more conservative Catholics. I think we need to examine both from within the framework of what they believe the Church needs.

I will discuss their analysis of problems, then the way they view the pope’s mission in Church.

The division starts with a fundamental disagreement about which of two problems is bigger in the Church today: the conservatives say it is doctrinal confusion, while Francis thinks it’s an insular attitude. Obviously these are both problems, but we’re talking about priorities, not just admitting they are issues here.

The Two Views of Church Problems

If doctrinal confusion is a bigger problem, then the pope and other high-ranking bishops should emphasize extreme clarity on dogma. We need to emphasize that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, the Church’s teaching on contraception, the reality of the final judgment, etc.

On the other hand, if insularity is a bigger problem, the Church needs to step out and try to reach people in every place, and not just sit in the sacristy. We need to emphasize the fact that the Church is mission, the call of each Christian to evangelize, and the ability to use different words and attempt to explain the same dogma, etc.

Read the rest on Crux.

Feb 28

Reading Amoris Laetitia in Light of Trent

I wrote a piece over at the Catholic Stand.

Reading Amoris Laetitia in Light of TrentIn the debate over Amoris Laetitia, many people have made reference back to Familiaris Consortio 84 where John Paul II commands that for Communion, the divorced and civilly remarried “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

It is important to review what this statement is based upon so that we can understand why it cannot be changed. A post-synodal apostolic exhortation, as both of these documents are, can contain infallible statements but is not infallible in its entirety. As we can see in Amoris Laetitia, the Pope will often make specific pastoral recommendations in such documents, and pastoral recommendations can always be changed. In contrast the anathemas of an ecumenical council like Trent, are infallible.

The teaching that there is no sacramental absolution or Communion for those who are divorced, civilly remarried, and not trying to live his brother and sister is based on several fundamental truths: basic catechesis and two doctrines defined in Trent.

Read the rest there.

Feb 22

Mercy in Stories

Professor Schmalz and the book cover.

Professor Schmalz and the book cover.

A few months ago I received a free book on mercy from an associate professor of religious studies at a Catholic university. I was expecting a very technical explanation of what mercy was – a theological treatise. Instead,  it was a collection of personal stories.

Even though the year of mercy that inspired such a book is over, Mercy Matters: Opening Yourself to the Life-Changing Gift by Mathew N. Schmalz remains a worthwhile read. Setting up as a series of stories makes it much easier for us to apply it to our everyday life.

Schmalz’s stories come from everyday American life, from his experience as a missionary, and from discussing exceptional events like the Boston Marathon bombing with others. They hold a personal touch because they are all experiences within his own life and not just abstract examples.

He brings out certain moral and religious values from the stories. However, starting with the stories, some of which show him receiving mercy or imperfectly practicing it, allows him to avoid a huge pitfall of books on moral issues: his voice comes across offering hope to the reader and not as insisting on perfection from the reader. Even the few times the story shows him properly practicing mercy, his reflection is about all those factors which helped him do so not about how great he was.

Now, a few specific points about what mercy is that he presents.

He points out, “Compassion is co-suffering – recognizing and experiencing the interconnectedness of love and longing, anger and disappointment. Mercy comes in when you accept the whole thing – and the whole person.” Thus, mercy comes from a place of sharing the other’s burdens.

He shares a long story about having to kick a man out of a drug recovery program and send him to a homeless shelter because drugs were found in his system in a urine test. He struggles with how this could possibly be merciful. In the end, he realizes sometimes loving another means trying to show them who they are when they can’t face it themselves, and certain forms of love can only be given to someone who has a certain degree of self-awareness.

This story shows the need to give mercy to all, both perpetrator and victim. This comes out in his discussion of the Boston Marathon bombing. “Mercy to the killers [the Tsarnaev brothers] might be a way of responding to violence by breaking the cycle of recrimination and revenge. But that very same mercy also ran the risk of another kind of violence by insulting the many victims in the memory of those were killed.”

Near the end he gives an important point about the value of forgiving: “Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but a strength; forgiveness is not resignation, it is hope.”

So, if you struggle with practicing mercy, I would highly recommend this book as a way to learn about this wonderful virtue.

Disclaimer: Mathew sent me this book for free as a gift in appreciation for my presence on Twitter – it was free but not a review copy.

Feb 20

Pastoral handbook on ‘Amoris’ says answer is no on Communion

I summarized an important new book over at Crux:

cover image from CruxThree professors from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome indicate Amoris Laetitia upholds traditional teaching in a new bookAcompañar, Dicernir, Integrar: Vademécum para una nueva pastoral familiar a partir de la exhortación Amoris Laetitia (“Accompany, Discern, Integrate: Handbook for a new family ministry starting from the exhortation Amoris Laetitia”).

They interpret “the help of the sacraments” in the infamous footnote 351 to refer not to offering absolution or Communion, but to a less complete participation in the sacraments. Confession is not limited to absolution, but also involves three acts of the penitent – contrition, confession and satisfaction – which can be carried out imperfectly by someone unable to receive absolution and thus Communion.

Read the rest over at Crux.

Feb 10

What if we’ve been wrong about ‘Amoris’ all along?

I published this on Crux.

Amoris LaetitiaEver since it came out in April 2016, there’s been an avalanche of debate in Catholic circles about Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s document on the family. At least in English, both sides seem to agree that it permits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried who continue relations in some circumstances, and the dispute is over whether that’s a good or bad thing.

Yet if you read Amoris as papal documents are supposed to be read, meaning absorbing the full text in the context of Catholic tradition, the whole premise of the debate may be flawed – that is, Pope Francis may not have opened to door to Communion after all.

Pope Benedict XVI used the phrase “hermeneutic of continuity” to refer to reading as a whole and within tradition, and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, has said that’s  the only way to read Amoris. That’s what I will attempt here.

Before we dive in, there’s a crucial distinction to make: There’s a significant difference between those who understand Church teaching and still choose to engage in sexual relations in a second marriage, and those who fail to live the Church’s teaching either from ignorance or weakness.

Pope Francis seems to make this distinction more clearly than previous Church teaching.

Here’s the bottom line: Contrary to popular opinion…

Read the rest on Crux.

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