Monthly Archives: January 2015

What’s your price?

We’ve all heard the story, attributed to various writers, of the British humorist sitting next to the beautiful woman at the banquet and asking, “Would you sleep with me for 1 million pounds?” “Of course!” “Would you sleep with me for 10 pounds?” “What kind of woman do you think I am?” “We’ve established that; now we’re just haggling over price.”
Chesterton said that men do not differ so much over what they consider evil as what evils they consider acceptable.
It is the easy compromise that keeps the culture of death going. Every one of us who refuses to compromise gets labelled an “extremist” precisely because of the easy way people sell out.
Every time the Republicans gain ground in national office, pro-life and pro-family issues are a major reason for the voters, but the Republicans never follow through because they claim they won’t be reelected. “Next time,” they tell us.
In the 1970s, the National Right to Life Committee developed a “long term strategy” for overturning _Roe v. Wade_. The first law passed was the Hyde Amendment, banning federal funding of abortion. 40 years later, “progress” is the Republican House passing a new ban on such funding.
Meanwhile, does anybody even talk about embryonic stem cell research anymore? George W. Bush’s “if the babies are already dead, might as well put the remains to good use” reasoning has crept not only into the NRLC’s positions but into the Catholic commentariat. And that’s the same position we hear on vaccines derived from fetal tissue.
In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life (pro Vita, or PAV) issued a statement supporting conscientious objection to vaccines derived from from fetal tissue research. There were already position papers from several organizations, most notably the so-called “National Catholic Bioethics Center,” saying such vaccines were acceptable. For most people, this isn’t even an issue. The sheer fact that the Vatican bothered to issue a statement should lean any ambiguities in favor of conscientious objection. Many have tried to twist the document to say it opposes conscientious objection. If so-called “anti-vaxxers” are a minority of extremists, why would the Vatican, which so often fails to address prevalent problems of theological discipline, bother to tell “anti-vaxxers” to comply?
Yes, the document explains the parameters of remote material cooperation (more on that later). Yes, the document explains there are conditions which mitigate culpability for such cooperation. Yes, if somebody feels compelled to vaccinate, the document says they should voice their objections, but that is supposed to be the exception, not the rule.
In 2008, a lot of people said, “I’m pro-life, and I voted for Obama because I figure that, if he knows pro-life people voted for him, maybe he’ll change his views.” Yep, that’s how politics works.
If nobody stands up and says, “I won’t support this,” what is to motivate those in power to change?
There are very few vaccines for which the only form is derived from fetal tissue research, and all of those are diseases that have other means of treatment or prevention and/or are rarely life threatening. The most life threatening diseases (e.g., polio) have alternatives that exist, but they’re increasingly unavailable. When our eldest was a baby, there were separated forms of measles and mumps vaccine available, but they were hard to get, and you had to find a doctor willing to order them. The ethical rubella vaccine is not available in the US because of “FDA” regulation, even though it’s proven effective in other countries.
If there were more people standing up and saying, “We want ethical alternatives and will not vaccinate until you provide them,” things would change pretty quickly, but as it is, a) most people just vaccinate, with or without “stating their objections”; and b) the rest just become out right “anti-vaxxers,” objecting to all vaccinations and tying in other issues to fetal tissue. So thus of us who merely object to specific vaccinations on specific ethical grounds are left without support. It is so disheartening to have to file for a “religious exemption” at Catholic institutions when we’re Catholic, and explain to Catholic school and parish officials why we object. It is disheartening to find that most state regulations and doctors’ offices take an all-or-nothing approach, so we can’t get the ethical vaccines, either.

The original NCBC position paper from the 1990s had two related points that really irk me.
1) They, and most subsequent “the good of the vaccines outweighs the evil” ends-justify-the-means arguments, hold that parents have a “moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children.” To a certain extent, this is true. However, this moral obligation gets transmuted into saying it’s mortally sinful to get someone sick. This is also applied in the question of whether you should go to Mass when you’re sick, and other situations. Now, if such moral obligations and sinful circumstances exist, and I have a 50% chance of passing on Marfan syndrome, which will be far more likely to be fatal than any virus, to my children, I think one can see why I take some offense to this, especially when so many people who *do* have Marfan syndrome insist on contraception, IVF and/or abortion for that reason.
2) The original NCBC document grants that conscientious objection constitutes heroic virtue (and I think most of us on that side would agree), but argues that parents do not have the right to make decisions of heroic virtue for their kids. The problem with this (and the previous premise) is, what about Catholic parents in Muslim and Communist countries? Should they not baptize their children for fear of putting their children’s lives at risk and making decisions of heroic virtue?

If you’ve decided that vaccination was the right choice for you and your family, and you feel no pang of conscience about it, then why be so hard on “anti-vaxxers”? Aren’t you and your kids safe?

If we, as Catholics, mistrust the medical establishment on contraception and other issues, why is the rhetoric on vaccines to do as you’re told by Big Pharma?

If measles is making a comeback, why won’t Merck provide the ethical, separate measles vaccine it discontinued in favor of MMR? Why is Merck so adamant about forcing people to violate our consciences?

Paying it Forward and Freemasonry

When the Popes in the 18th Century condemned Freemasonry, one of the reasons they did it was what Pope Benedict XVI argues in _Caritas et Veritate_: essentially “charity” (in the sense of helping out those less fortunate) is nothing without “Charity” (Love) and Jesus is Love, so “Charity” without Jesus, is impossible. Indeed, the Popes have taught, it can only be achieved by coercion. Any kind of secular philanthropy must be by coercion. A perfect example of this is the notion of “paying it forward,” a concept which, though popularized by the 2000 movie, finds its modern origins in none other than Benjamin Franklin. Our Lord, of course, teaches to store up treasure in Heaven and to give without counting the cost or hoping for a return. This is a bit different than explicitly telling the person, as Franklin did, “I’m helping you; repay me by helping someone else.” That’s still saying that there’s a debt to be repaid.

For the past couple years, there have been stories about people applying the principle quite literally at establishments, and some franchises even encouraging it. A customer walks into someplace, the one I’ve most heard about is Starbucks, where the overpriced beverages are fairly consistently overpriced, so it really doesn’t make that much of a difference, and pays for “the next person’s order.” Then *that* person is told, “The person before you paid for your order and asked for you to pay it forward.” It’s a massive guilt-tripping that can go on for hours, or even a whole day, till somebody just says “Thank you,” and walks out.

That is far different from someone simply paying more and saying, “Give this to someone who needs it.”

So, today we were out and about, and the kids wanted lunch. We had plans anyway (today was Dairy Queen’s annual customer appreciation day), so I was juggling the numbers in my head, pushing off meals and shopping trips, etc., while we waited in the car line at McDonald’s. Of course, the thing about McDonald’s is there are two lanes, so the car that was along side us was ahead of us. We got to the window, and the cashier–I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or hinting–said “Uh, the person who just left paid for your order.” We said “Wow, that’s very nice! That’s an answer to our prayers!” and we drove up to the next window.

I’m sure the person was being sincerely charitable, and we included him in our prayer intentions. The phrase wasn’t used, but it did get me thinking about that whole notion, and the pride of being unwilling to accept a gift as that without feeling guilt and considering it a debt.

One at a time

Yes, faith is ultimately an individual gift and an individual choice, but as St. Francis Xavier laments, there are so many who aren’t even given the chance to make the choice. As Ven. Fulton Sheen tells us, there are millions who reject the Church not because of what She is but what they think She is. Worldwide, 1 in 7 people claims to be Catholic. What if every person who claims to be Catholic reached out to *one* non-Catholic a year? What if every weekly mass attending, daily praying Catholic reached out to just one “lapsed Catholic” a year?
Invite someone to mass with you. Invite them to pray the Rosary or the Office with you. Give them books–not just apologetics but spirituality, lives of the saints, etc.
What if, as parishes (and this takes both volunteers and pastoral support) did the sorts of “parish life” activities that Protestants, Mormons and Muslims attract members by having, but Catholics usually dismiss as “proselytism”?

“Go and preach the good news to the world.”

Would you do it?

Two pairs of brothers, the J’s and the Z’s, are business partners. One day, the two younger brothers go to listen to some popular speaker and come back talking about some new guy that the other one says is even better, and how they want to drop everything and join his cult. Their business requires working at night, and things haven’t been going well. The older brothers think they’re too stressed and going kind of nuts. All night long, they work hard but get no sales. The younger brothers keep harping all shift about this new preacher, and then, in the morning, when they’re tired, and ready to go home, the guy shows up at their *office*.
And he has a bunch of people with him. And he stands their preaching. Then he tells the four salesmen to work a bit longer. Suddenly, they get a wave of sales that crash their servers! The Z brothers try to get the servers back online, while the preacher talks to the older J Brother. “Follow me,” he says, “And I will change your life and your name.”
So the four men literally drop everything to go follow the preacher. They occasionally return to work to pay the bills, but it’s not as important.

Would you do it? Peter and Andrew, the sons of Jonah, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, did:

38 Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.* 40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah”* (which is translated Anointed). 42 Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John;* you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).(Jn 1:38-42)

1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
3 Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
5 Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”
6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.
7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
9For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, 10 and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything* and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

People fret about alleged “contradictions” between the accounts, but, like all attempts to challenge the “historical authenticity” of the Bible, they do so because the truth, faced head-on, is too overwhelming. Would you, if faced with Christ’s call, drop everything–or even anything–to follow Him?
Would I?
I know when I have done so, I’ve been far happier then when I haven’t.

He is here, today, waiting for us. He waits for us in the Scriptures and in the Blessed Sacrament. He waits for us in the poor, the sick and the imprisoned. He wants us to follow Him and visit Him. Will we answer the call?

Go to and type in your zipcode. Find out when you have daily Mass or adoration available to you, and please make time to visit Him.

Will it be _Humanae Vitae_ or _Mater et Magistra_?

In 1961, when Pope St. John XXIII issued his social justice encyclical Mater et Magistra, Garry Wills, then of National Review, and later author of Papal Sins (a book that perpetuates calumniation of Pope Pius XII in the name of promoting contraception), utteinfamous “Mater, si; Magisra, no” to William F. Buckley, Jr., who quoted it in his own column. In his spiritual autobiography, Nearer, My God, WFB expresses regret for the quotation.

The alleged “dissent” from the “Right” in the Church usually comes in matters of positive law. In Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II says that negative law (“negative law”) is always absolute, but application of positive law (“thou shalt”) is relative. Nevertheless, the quote about dissent from the seemingly socialist Mater et Magistra (even though many of its suggestions have since been implemented and are now considered hallmarks of capitalism) has been dragged out both every time a “conservative” questions a Pope and every time a conservative challenges a liberal’s “dissent.”

Even Ralph McInerny traces the popularity of Wills’ assertion to the massive dissent that accompanied Humanae Vitae seven years later, and, though seemingly divided in the US political spectrum, there is certainly a connection–after all, as already noted, Wills opposed HV, as well.

Since the beginning of Pope Francis’s papacy, though many on both “sides” of the spectrum have insisted he is a radically new kind of pope, I have been struck by the parallels to Paul VI and the early John Paul II. I have said repeatedly that he will have his _Humanae Vitae_ moment.

It may be the Synod on the Family, or it may be his upcoming encyclical on “Global Warming.” The Left has been salivating about this announced encyclical for months–the “National Catholic Fishwraps'” Michael Sean Winters argued several months ago that “stopping global warming” must be a greater political priority than abortion because the possible passive death of all life on earth is supposedly a worse evil than the active and intentional slaughter of millions.

Now, as a conservationist conservative, I don’t see why anyone who believes in the Natural Law, preserving the status quo or economic efficiency should see a conflict between political conservatism and conservation of natural resources. I have always argued that the environment is one of the issues where liberals are right in principle but not practice, and where Republicans could get a lot of support if they just adjusted to promoting a localist, subsidiarist approach contra the Democrats’ use of environmentalism as an excuse for socialism.

That said, I hope the Holy Father does not take a definitive stance on “man-made Global Warming,” since, as Robert George is being lampooned as a hypocrite for pointing out, that is a science issue, not a theology issue. Centuries from now, if Global Warming turns out to be the hoax many of us think it is, Pope Francis risks this being ranked with Galileo and Columbus as one of the many times the Church allegedly was “against science.”

One of the memories I retain most vividly from elementary school is the picture from my second grade social studies book (1984-1985) of how, by the time we were in our thirties, we’d all be wearing gas masks and protective gear because of the acid rain an nuclear fallout. When I was in high school, I learned the chemical formulae that made acid rain inevitable. I did a science fair project on testing the pH of rain and various bodies of water in my town. I found little evidence of acid rain, and that same semester, a study was published saying the same thing.

Then people started talking about “Global Warming.” 20 years later, the climate is more or less the same, if not more like it was in the 80s to begin with. “Global Warming” has become “Climate change,” and there are debates over “man made” versus a matter of natural cycles–a theory I read in the late 90s. We hear from politicians, journalists and celebrities that the “science is settled,” that the “scientific community” is in agreement and the scientists who question “man made global warming” are unscrupulous, unreliable quacks. On the other hand, there are scientists, including a co-founder of The Weather Channel, speaking ut that it’s a hoax and that scientists have their careers threatened. It’s all based on mathematical models that leave out other factors, and there is little empirical evidence for it.

Does that make it OK to continue despoiling nature? By no means, but the Catholic Church risks humiliation if she gets on Al Gore’s bandwagon.

Either way, the way lines are drawn up, this encyclical will elicit the response of either Materi or HV.

A tale of two doctors

One of the wisest people I know suggested the following analogy.

Imagine you have a choice between two doctors. You know one doctor is more intelligent, and that he has the treatment that will help you. The treatment will keep you alive but you have to use it over and over the rest of your life. It won’t be pleasant, and may indeed be unpleasant, but it will work. However, he is hard to work with, his office staff have no customer service skills, hound you about money as soon as you come in the door, and they all seem more concerned about their careers than your health. The waiting and exam rooms are drab, with medical journals all over the place, some really old, and poor music.
The other doctor is friendly. His office is stylish, up-to-date, with big screen TVs in the waiting and exam rooms. The staff are courteous and friendly. He offers you a quick fix solution that will be one, not so unpleasant, treatment that you know is a placebo at best and proverbial “snake oil” at worst.
Now, obviously, if you can find someone with the positive traits of both, that’s who you would go with, but if it came down to A or B, would you really choose the charlatan because the experience seemed more pleasant?

Then why do the same thing with your spiritual health?

Why say, “I believe the Church’s teachings are true, but there’s too much corruption in the hierarchy, and the Mass is boring. The Evangelical Mega-Church down the street has better music, a friendlier pastor and staff, and all sorts of activities. Besides, they tell me all I have to do is have faith in Jesus.”