Daily Archives: March 15, 2008

God is good!

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a deep spiritual crisis I was having. The principles in those posts are the underlying principles of what the “Lewis Crusade” is all about, and can be summed up in Jesus’ teaching, ‘Let the little children come to Me,. . .”

The Church tells us that the family is the fundamental unit of society. All those issues I talked about in the post I just wrote on ranking social issues boil down to the importance children should have in society–and in the Church. And the practical difficulties of raising one’s children to be faithful Catholics, getting them to Church, being open to life despite disability, etc., conflicting with the way people are so judgemental about things that have nothing to do with morality, criticizing others for breaking the “conventions” precisely in the effort to be better Catholics, just drove me to, for lack of a better word, despair.

I never doubted God, per se. But I was seriously doubting the Catholic Church.

God sent me a bunch of great stuff in a row, though, that has helped considerably. Last week, we went to a “retreat” in Atlanta. It was a conference given by this weird priest, Fr. Bing Arellano (more on that later). The content of the conference was mostly crazy conspiracy theories, and was actually more hurtful than helpful. In fact, his talk I attended on Saturday morning nearly had me in complete despair.

They promised access to confession all weekend, but the access wasn’t much better, relatively speaking, than at the average parish. But Mary explained my situation to one of the brothers, and he got me in.

So I got to go to confession. We got some cool books on spiritual warfare and some cool sacramentals. Fr. Bing, regardless of his crazy political views and rather Jansenist theology (again, I’ll post on that separately), is a both a doctor of canon law and an exorcist (I’ve read in at least one place that paranoia is a side-effect of being an exorcist). He performed a ritual exorcism of the entire congregation. Not sure how licit it was, but, since he is a canon lawyer, I’ll defer to his judgement. But, of course, illicit does not necessarily mean “invalid” (e.g., it’s still Jesus in the tabernacle of a Society of St. Pius X or Greek Orthodox Church). And ever since we’ve known for certain that we have at least one family member putting occult curses on us, we’ve wanted some kind of formal exorcism to remove the oppression.

Also, as a result of it, we now have exorcised holy water and exorcised/blessed salt.

The conference was in Roswell, GA, so on Sunday morning, we attended Divine Liturgy at Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church. It was the first time in my life, that I’m aware of, that I attended a Byzantine liturgy (maybe once when I was a kid).

My grandma, Anna Teresa Plavcan Hathaway, was a Slovak. I knew that grandma’s “childhood church” was “different,” and that my great-aunt Mary went her whole life to “that church,” but also that they were still somehow Catholics. No one ever really explained it to me. Additionally confusing things to me as a kid was that Aunt Mary’s short-term husband (long story) was Greek Orthodox.

In high school, I had a teacher, Bogdan “Mr. Z” Zlotnicki, who was Polish-Ukrainian, and he was the first one to explain to me about the different Rites in the Church.

This led to a deep fascination with the Eastern Churches. As I learned more about them, I started to think that sounded like what I’d always longed for. I started hoping, ca. 10 years ago, for the chance to seriously explore the Byzantines.

During marriage prep, I had to fill out a form which asked if any of my parents or grandparents was an eastern Catholic. I suddenly put two-and-two together. I asked, “Dad, was grandma Byzantine?” He said, “Yeah, but she switched when she married Grandpa.”

Then, on Tuesday before the trip to Atlanta, I was talking to a friend who was explaining how he’s actually a Melkite, though his family have been going to Roman churches for a couple generations, and he’s hardly ever been to a Melkite liturgy: it was very rare in those days for anyone to officially switch Rites. Latin Rite priests would basically “steal” Eastern Catholics through marriage or whatever, and no one would ever officially file the papers.

I’ve always had this deep sense of displacement at Mass. I’ve always felt that I didn’t quite “belong,” that something was missing. I first thought it was the liberal post-Vatican II liturgies (that was certainly a big part of it).

I would watch the Paul VI Latin Mass on EWTN and say, “That’s how I”ve always felt it should be done.” I’d *go* to the Paul VI Latin Mass in Virginia. Then I finally got to go to the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Joseph’s in Richmond, and, while I really liked the Tridentine Mass, I still didn’t quite feel “at home” there.

Then we went to St. Anthony’s Maronite in Richmond a few times. I really liked their liturgy, and the general attitude of the Maronites. And I started to feel closer to the sense of “home” that was always eluding me.

Certainly the more reverent and traditional the liturgies were, the better the subjective experience. But there was also something more personal at work. Now, the Maronites are Antiochian, not Byzantine (for some reason, Lebanon is divided between Byzantines and Antiochians; Melkites are the Byzantines of Lebanon).

But I’ve never been to an actual Byzantine Liturgy till this past Sunday. Better yet, it was the Ruthenian Byzantine Church, to which Slovaks in the US are assigned (There is a Slovakian Byzantine Church, but there are only a couple of them in the US).

Now, on the one hand, I really didn’t feel anything “profound,” which is almost a good thing. But I did feel *comfortable*. I finally found that sense of comfort I’ve always looked for, that I”ve only felt in snatches. What was especially interesting was that, for a completely different liturgy (albeit vernacular), I found it very easy to participate.

I may have become a bit familiar through the Maronites, since there are similarities, but somehow I could anticipate the chant melodies, and a few times anticipated the words of the responses without even looking at the words of my book.

Now, Mary and I have discussed this many times in the past, when it was purely hypothetical. There is a great deal of importance on the ethnicity of one’s Rite. For example, one year we went to the Maronite Church for Easter (one of the first times we went was for Easter, and I liked the liturgy so much we went back each year after). A Lutheran whose spouse was Maronite was being received into the Church. The person was first received into the Church as a Latin Rite Catholic and then immediately switched Rites.

Likewise, if a Muslim from Lebanon were to come here and convert to Catholicism in the US, in a Roman Rite parish, that Lebanese Muslim would *first* have to be received into the Maronite or Melkite Church.

I don’t know what my canonical “lineage” is. After all, my mother’s side and my paternal grandfather’s side are solidly Roman Catholic. But I know from my genealogy research that I’m more Slovak than any other ethnicity (a solid 25% versus the rest being a mix of Irish, English, German, Scottish, Native American, French, and unknown). And if my grandmother never officially changed Rites, that would solidify the theory that my Slovak ancestry is calling me to the Byzantine Church.

There’s a Melkite Church in Augusta, a little more than an hour away, so I’m gonna try to talk my friend into making at least a monthly trip over there.

ON Monday, we went to Mass at the Cathedral in Atlanta. Mary hadn’t been able to get to confession yet, and the priests at the Cathedral were all busy. On our way out of town, we gave it one last try at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She got to go to confession, and we got an official pilgrimage out of our trip.

Then, we went to Mass on Friday at our home parish, and the pastor gave a homily that seemed to speak right to my spiritual crisis I’d been going through (and e-mailed him about over a month ago).
At the soup supper, he came up to me and said, “I just got a whole bunch of e-mails you’d sent me that had been sitting in my spam folder.” (Most of them were innocuous). I explained about the crisis I’d been going through, and how God had sent me just what I needed to get out of it.
“So, I don’t need to address that last one?” “No, not exactly.”

But I was touched he actually said that, and it also proved he wasn’t ignoring it. Also confirmed my suspicion that the homily may have been a response to my e-mail, since my e-mail was about feeling like God didn’t want me, and that was the topic of his homily, and then he told me he just got my e-mail that afternoon!

Anyway, God is good. And I now know my place in the Church.

Litany of St. Joseph

In Honor of His Feast: Thirty Day’s Prayer to St. Joseph

Similar to the 30 Days’ Prayer to the BVM is this 30 Days’ Prayer to St. Joseph, which I found today.

President of Italian Bishops’ Conference: Non-negotiables come first when you vote.

While the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops always comes just short of making this assertion, for fear of losing their tax breaks, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has said that “non-negotiables” like abortion and the traditional marriage must take precedence over all issues.

I’ve never really had to think much beyond that, since every election I’ve been old enough to vote in has been pretty clear cut.

1996: Keyes in the primary; not-Dole and not-Clinton (i.e., Libertarian) in the general election
2000: Keyes in the primary; Buchanan in the general election
2004: Held my nose and voted for Bush (partially buying into his lies about promoting family-friendly workplaces and fair taxes).

But this time, I had to priorities a bunch of Republicans (all gone now) who had various strengths and weaknesses.

This makes me think of how I would prioritize the “non-negotiables” and “negotiables,” in any case where there was a choice. Non-Negotiables have been clearly defined in a number of documents. But they can basicaly be summarized by two principles:

a. Intrinsic evils that clearly violate Natural Law and should always be illegal
b. Assaults on the institution of the family, since the Church teaches that government exists to protect the family.

Negotiables are prudential judgements concerning the application of Natural Law and Catholic social theory to the particular circumstances and political theory of one’s own government. They involve understanding the proper balance of subsidiarity (doing things as locally as possible, to prevent too much centralization of power away from the family-level) and solidarity (seeking the common good). Often, some Catholics will claim these issues are “non-negotiable,” but, when the Vatican addresses these issues (e.g., in Mater et Magistra or Cardinal Ratzinger’s infamous letter to Cardinal McCarrick), it always notes that there is some room for disagreement among faithful Catholics, since the Church gives the State a certain leeway in these matters.

The way I vote is this: if I look down a wide field of candidates, and I se one who’s anti-contraception, then ’nuff said. I vote for him/her. It doesn’t even matter to me if that person is bad on another issue below. Contraception is so fundamental that it overrides everything else. If all candidates are pro-contraception, I move on to abortion and related issues. If all the candidates are the same on each of these issues (whether they’re for or against my position), I wait till I find the one who stands out. So, in a field of candidates who are otherwise equally pro-life, I’ll vote for the one who’s the most pro-active in his pro-life position, or supports the most help to people in crisis situations.

Non-Negotiable Issue #1: Contraception. Bl. John XXIII teaches in Mater et Magistra, and Paul VI reiterates in Humanae Vitae, that contraception is a very fundamental threat to society, undermining the dignity of human life, the institution of the family and the very economy itself. If, by some miracle, a candidate were to arise and say, “I am anti-contraception,” I’d vote for him or her, hands down. Of course, Ted Kennedy made an example of Robert Bork, and now all professional politcians and judges are solidly pro-contraception, making all of them evil and anti-Natural Law. Thus, it becomes necessary to vote for the “lesser” evil.

Non-Negotiable Issue #2: Abortion. Not just abortion, but “how pro-life are you?” Thus, does the candidate:
a. oppose In Vitro Fertilization (admittedly another pipe-dream, but, again, it would trump anything else by definition if it came up).
b. oppose Embryonic Stem Cell Research and other fetal tissue research? Does the candidate:
1. Support outlawing it altogether
2. Support conscientious objection of patients and parents to the use of illicitly designed vaccines and medical treatments
3. Or merely oppose funding
c. support a Human Life Amendment (ideally at the state level, to pay respect to subsidiarity)
d. take a proactive stance in fighting abortion
e. support programs to encourage adoption, help women in crisis pregnancies, and help parents of young children?

Non-Negotiable Issue #3: Euthanasia

Non-Negotiable Issue #4: Marriage
a. Opposes all divorce
b. Opposes no-fault divorce
c. Opposes redefinition of marriage

Non-Negotiable Issue #5: School Choice. WIth all the debates about Canon Law and abortion, no one ever seems to talk about Canon Law and education. Canon Law (I’ll insert the particular paragraph later) *requires* Catholics to vote for candidates who support school choice. Now, knowing how government assistance to Catholic schools is used as an excuse, I have problems with “vouchers” in that sense. But government should acknowledge that parents are the primary educators of their children, and it should do its best to permit, encourage, and support parents in making whatever choices they want in their children’s education.
a. Homeschooling: give me a pro-homeschool candidate (e.g., Mike Huckabee), and he’s got my vote
b. vouchers without stipulations

Now, there are three particular issues that I haven’t yet discussed or ranked. They usualy fall under the categories of “human life”and “human dignity.” Leftists/Liberals/Progressives, and even some conservatives and traditionalists, sometimes try to label one or more of these issues as “non-negotiable,” yet all official documents say they *are* negotiable, and the state has the right to make its own decisions on these matters. The Church acknowledges that individuals and states have the right and obligation to self-defense. Self-defense is itself pro-life, as it is about protecting the dignity and the life of victims.

These issues thus bridge the gap between the two overall categories.

Intermediate Issue #1: Capital Punishment. In most cases, wrong, but society should always have recourse to it for certain cases. Even Jesus clearly advocates the death penalty for those who corrupt little children. Also, as some have pointed out, the incident with the Woman Caught in Adultery doesn’t ban capital punishment; it just sets the condition that the judge must be in a state of grace. JPII sets a list of conditions for the use and non-use of capital punishment. It is up to society to decide if those conditions are met. Of course, society can, and often does, decide wrongly.
If a candidate was right on every issue, and 100% anti-death penalty, I’d still vote for him or her, but a candidate should give some leeway.
Also, this issue only applies to *certain* kinds of candidates (e.g., elections for judges and attorneys). If a candidate were runing for District Attorney or Attorney General who was anti-death penalty, I’d put far more weight on that then the position of a gubernatorial or presidential candidate.

Intermediate Issue #2: War. There *is* such a thing as a just war. Anyone who denies that is advocating Hitler. The Church very clearly leaves the ultimate decision about applicability of Just War Theory to those “in the know.” The way I look at it, I’m not “in the know.” I don’t know what Bush knew when. I *do* think some of the criteria for just war need to be reconsidered, one way or the other. THe idea of “exhausting all other options” is a rather recent addition that has filtered its way up but is in no traditional lists.

Intermediate Issue #3: Immigration. Yes, the Church *does* say countries should be as generous as possible with immigration. But the US already has the most generous immigration laws in the country. And the Church *also* says we should *oppose* illegal immigration, which exploits the poor and usually coincides with smuggling of drugs, weapons, etc.

Now, Negotiables:

As above, negotiables involve the balance of subsidiarity and solidarity. But, in the social documents, subsidiarity comes first. All governmental and societal institutions exist only for the sake of the family unit (what used to be called the “nuclear family” in American social theory).

That’s why the non-negotiables are non-negotiables: they’re issues that involve attacks on the family.

It’s also important to note, as all papal social documents say, that people have a fundamental right to private property. The ability of the family to own private property is prerequisite to the ability of the family to function both independently and in its proper role within society.

Now, “private property” does *not* mean a mansion, etc. It means you have the right to a roof over your head, basic food, shelter, clothing and transportation, etc. One idea Obama floated a few years ago, which I actually agreed with, was that there should be overall salary caps.
It is simply wrong that any person can earn over $1,000,000 a year.

A certain level of social competition should be allowed and encouraged, but that is clearly wrong.

As it happens, living in America, we have a system which inherently supports subsidiarity. That’s why, when I vote for president, if I don’t feel the candidates are sufficiently pro-life, I vote libertarian.

But when it comes to my local city or county officials, if they’re pro-life and pro-marriage and pro-family, I’d rather they be outright socialists.

The key is to keep authority as close to the family as possible and to keep any one centralized entity from having too much power. The power to “do good” is too often corrupted to evil. Lord Acton and all that.

So I look for the candidate who’s going to support keeping most social action at the state or local level, and keeping the federal government limited as much as possible to what the Constitution assigns it.

Then, if they are local or state officials, I’ll consider their positions on economic issues. And then, if they’re completely pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, and pro-local control, I’ll vote for the candidate who supports economic programs that help families to function better.

Environmental issues: I’m a conservationist. I’m not an “environmentalist,” in the sense that environmentalists put the earth before humanity, and basically use ecology as a backdoor to socialism. I believe in stewardship of God’s creation. The question is the extent to which it should be legislated, and, again, *at what level*.

Gun control: I’ve always considered myself neutral on gun control, though lately I’ve been shifting more to the Right. But it’s not an issue I place a lot of importance on, one way or the other.