Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Voting your conscience

I was ruminating on upcoming elections, having been posed with a seeming dilemma by friends of mine who are Catholic but whose voting patterns are the polar opposite of mine.

It is my default to vote--first and foremost--pro-life, because my knowledge of faith and my conscience will not permit me otherwise.* When expressing this opinion, which almost invariably leads me to support Candidate X over Candidate Y, someone who is a fellow Catholic but supports Candidate Y will ask: "Well, what about the war with Elbonia/capital punishment**?"

This happened to me in an email exchange just this week. And I was illuminated by the answer which went something like this:

According to the teachings of the Church, is war always prohibited? No, it isn't.

Or according to the teachings of the Church, is capital punishment always prohibited? No, it isn't.

But abortion is among the greatest of evils, and it is flatly prohibited...always and everywhere. We can sit and discuss whether the Tax Reform Act of 1986 meets the Church's criteria for social justice, we can discuss if the war on terrorism meets the Church's test for being a "Just War" or we can discuss if the execution of, say, John Q. Terrorist meets the threshhold set forth in the Catechism.

What we can't do, as Catholics, is discuss whether abortion is a manifest evil. That is, as a matter of Catholic faith, as irrefutable as the non-flatness of the earth. That is one issue on which, for a practicing Catholic, there are no two sides from which a reasonable person may choose. There are no exceptions, equivocations, escape clauses.

As a personal editorial*** I find it a bit vexing to see people attempt to rationalize their views. A glaring example was an article in [a certain Catholic newspaper] about the director of Pax Christi, wherein said director went into exegetical contortions of the sort which would make any self-respecting yoga master seethe with envy to justify his support for Candidate Y. He then really went off the cliff in a fireball of flaming splinters when he expressed some other opinions (rather bizarre ones, too) as proven fact although these are readily disprovable. Opinions which, incidentally, can only be considered to be in conformity with Church teaching if we decide to use new and novel definitions of the word "conformity."

So there.

-J

* I semi-paraphrase other, greater writers on the matter, in particular, Mark Shea: In the time it takes you to read this email, countless unborn babies will be dismembered, burned and suctioned as a punishment for the crime of having been conceived inconveniently; all while our modern society, long ago cut adrift from its Judeo-Christian moorings, will sort of look around the room in a vaguely uncomfortable way, lacking the capacity to tell whether this is wrong. But when society is in the mood for a little righteous indignation it will turn on a Holocaust documentary on PBS and wonder aloud how such an advanced, civilized and cultured people could have permitted this horror.

** Or on the Church's teachings on social justice, which always tend to crop up.

*** I know I don't have to tell you, but I will anyway: I keep my editorializing confined when I am teaching. That is to say, I explain what is evil and sinful and that we must exercise our responsibilities in that light at the ballot box, but I never, ever tell anyone (in class, anyway...I'm a force of nature outside the classroom) that they should support X over Y.

Monday, June 13, 2005

These things just pop into my melon

I was rcently reminded me of the gift* I received which lets me look at a snippet o' Scripture (SOS) and visualize/conceptualize/imagine a bunch of the eleventy gazillion little connections said SOS has with other SOSs.

But I didn't always have that gift, and what's even worse than that I didn't open that gift for eons (or epochs, I'm not here to pick nits) after I had received it. And so, hopeful that you have had a goodly lunch, I'll tell you the story of how the gift arrived and why I--like a dolt--put it in the corner and only looked at the box for the longest time.

When I was but a mere lad, a very young lad, younger than I will ever be, my mother gave me this big, heavy, Fancy-Schmancy book of the Complete Sherlock Holmes** for my Confirmation. Since I was 13 and my mind had suddenly taken a turn towards seeking the attention of people until very recently described as "icky," I set aside that book.

For decades.***

And one day (embarrassingly recently) I was watching the BBC Sherlock Holmes series, there being nothing better on TV. The show, by virtue of being wildly faithful to the books, was very good and the lightbulb went off in my head that I had this book sitting on a shelf not 10 feet away from me. So I grabbed it and, in my inimitably obsessive way, read it in two days.

While the adventures were engrossing, written in an absorbing way, what proved to be the real benefit of reading them was the way it taught me to perceive. I learned not to look just at the forest, if you will, but to make a note of the individual trees. I started to filter things through the prism of connectivity. This is an invaluable way to look through Scripture, in my view.

Once you accept the premise that**** all Scripture is interconnected and what seems like an offhand saying--by, say, Christ--takes on a larger importance if you see that very same passage with a new perspective and desire to not just see it at the surface level.

All of a sudden, new vistas open up about what God is trying to tell us in what He has already revealed. More things make sense. Most importantly, things that I thought were fine as they were, were now in even sharper relief.

Example: St. Matthew tells us (in 7:15) Christ said: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." Since I could recall the image, the picture in my head I got was of the Big Bad Wolf, with a big old sheepskin rug, trying to impersonate a sheep. But, now that I have that cap that goes both ways and the magnifying glass***** I see that differently. Christ is not warning us of "fake sheep" (because sheep have no clothing, and had He wanted us to beware such fake sheep, He would have said "dressed as sheep") but of fake shepherds. Shepherds, it turns out had those big heavy wool cloaks because tending sheep at night is a cold business. The false prophets would dress like a shepherd to spirit away, not a sheep, but the whole flock if it could.

Another example is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. All four Gospels speak of this, but I happen to think it very significant St. John's Gospel mentions it was a little boy who gave Christ the loaves and the fishes to multiply and how 12 wicker baskets were left over as a result.

And so it goes. Now, when I read Scripture, I always read it with the thought of "what ELSE is God telling me?"

Yours in Christ,

-JMG

* I wish it had a snappy name...maybe I could glom on to Wisdom?
** This being in line with other Wholesome Literature for Boys like Treasure Island and all that stuff.
*** Coincidentally this is the same span I spent in the wilderness
**** Duh!
***** My wife would not let me have a pipe in the house, even if I wanted