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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Ted Cruz Is Not My Champion

I understand Senator Graham's position, and most of the others who've endorsed him. He's not Donald Trump. Who, in addition to being worthy of shame for his reprehensible conduct, either is completely ignorant, or is pandering to the completely ignorant. All that is understood.

Ted Cruz is also pandering. He may not be the walking embarrassment that Trump is, but what bothers me is that he still thinks he can corral the crazy. He says almost equally absurd things--like patrolling Muslim neighborhoods is a good idea--but he does it without swearing, or at least directly insulting everyone for a few chuckles. As a result, he gets a pass. But I'm sitting here going, "Did anyone else hear that?!" If this primary were anything like normal, this guy wouldn't be anywhere near the nomination. If that bothers you, good. It means you've been hating Democrats more than listening or thinking like a sane person.

Today, my social network feed is filled with Senator Cruz's proclamation that he will abolish the IRS. A sane person, even in light of the fact that the Obama administration at least possibly allowed the IRS to target his political opponents--would say, "I promise that the IRS will not be used for political purposes." It makes the point, it expresses sympathy with those who are angry about what happened, (allegedly), and it's achievable. Either Senator Cruz is a crazy reactionary that makes Reagan look like a Democrat, or he's trolling for votes among people who are. Either way, I don't think you should support a person like that.

How you talk tells the people what kind of culture you want to create, at least among the people in your voting coalition, and those at least willing to consider you. Ted Cruz has created a culture at least as reactionary and unhealthy as the frontrunner, and if you listen to many conservatives, I should accept this as the price of business. I don't think so.

And this isn't about issues, per se. By some measures, I agree with Ted Cruz almost 90 percent of the time, on the actual tangible policy questions. How you talk matters. More than what you think. If you made me choose outright between the three remaining, disregarding all the current delegate math and strategic considerations, I would choose John Kasich, and proudly. He doesn't make me apologetic at the thought of supporting him. He doesn't bring deserved shame upon our party and country. That actually matters.

Let me end this way: if not saying immoral and absurd things makes one a "liberal" and part of "The Establishment," we deserve to lose. There is no philosophy left to defend. If the price of consideration is that high, no principled person of conscience should be willing to pay it. The New York Times may call everyone to their right a dangerous reactionary, and a person of good will and principle will be ready to take his lumps. But woe to us, who have become so angry that we turn the left's boy who cried wolf into a prophet! That's the greatest shame of all.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Did I Move?

I have taken 3 political surveys in recent days, and they all show the same thing: if we put American politics today on a left-right spectrum, I'm a left-leaning centrist. Trust me, I'm surprised, too. I've always been Republican. Culturally, I identify with them. I like them. I actually don't believe government is the answer to most problems. Well, what happened?

If I had to guess, I'd say that the groups of people who say, "The federal government is too big, and tries to do too much" actually have pretty different answers as to why. It may well be that in earlier days, most of those people who said that were united strongly in opposition to Soviet communism. Once the threat ended, the various philosophical fault-lines became clearer. Essentially, Reagan in 1980 was the paper over the uneasy truce between conservatism and libertarianism. That divorce was long in coming, and now it's here. Let me say it this way: If my two choices are New Deal liberalism, and libertarianism, I'm a liberal. It's the GOP that conceives of rights in ever-more individualistic ways, and in so doing, basically has embraced a libertarian philosophy of government: a grudging acceptance of its existence, either because small groups can't truly repel the greatest aggressions, or because those people don't see any benefit in violent revolution. But this isn't a fully Christian account of government. Despite whatever magnitude of waste, fraud, and abuse I may find, at the core philosophically, I believe government is a positive good, not a necessary evil. That is to say, I'm much more likely to speak of government overreach in moral, as opposed to economic, terms.

The inalienable rights spoken of in the preamble to our Constitution have a moral end; that is, they tend toward the natural common good, and then to the supernatural common good. We actually have no liberty to do that which is immoral. Insofar as the government of the United States uses its power of taxation for moral ends, it has not stolen. Indeed, it acts on behalf of the people as their instrument of justice. It may well be possible to debate prudentially about how much taxation, spending in social welfare areas, et cetera, there should be. All the more in a system of federalism, where we have government at local, state, and national levels. But I cannot embrace any philosophy of "limited government" that reduces to, "None, or as little as possible." I don't conceive of rights completely in individual terms. The dignity of the human person may well require that the government intervene to protect and aid those who cannot protect and aid themselves. If therefore I described my philosophy as "social conservatism," I must be prepared for situations where social conservatism requires economic liberalism. This is especially true if I define "social conservatism" as the preservation of the dignity of the human person in his individuality, and in his social dimension.

Practically, that means I want greater funding for the arts, but not blasphemy. It means that I want stringent environmental regulation, but not because human beings are a cancer upon the planet. It means that we shouldn't demonize people on public assistance of any kind, but we should look for ways to help everyone support themselves. It also means that the most beneficial limitation to the power of government will be to take away the power to deprive people of life. We don't need it, as a matter of law, and much of our system perpetuates injustice by sheer inertia. Insofar as injustice is structural in its causes, we need to be prepared to be progressives, and even radicals, to root it out.

I'm not a socialist, by any stretch. But we need to reset the conversation. The time is now.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Church Politics Are Stupid

I just saw a headline from one of those "real" Catholic sites that said, "Cardinal Who Backs Progressives..." to present such-and-such. It's Cardinal Schonborn. You could present me with pages and pages of his most troubling statements, and I wouldn't care. That is, I wouldn't worry. Ratzinger was known as a liberal once. Wojtyla, too. "But what about..." Blah, blah, blah. If you know the truth, and love the truth, you don't have to worry about what someone else does, or doesn't do. Make yourself useful, and share your life and words with someone who has no idea. We have bad bishops in every single country, in every century. What else is new?

What I will say to you about beloved Cardinal Schonborn is that his Christology, called "God Sent His Son," is beautiful. You should read it. I dare you to think a bad thought after reading that, but don't. All that is to say, you may not know what you think you know, about him, or anyone. And even if the worst of what you think you know is true, he needs your prayers more than anything else.

What is the utility of treating the Church like a presidential campaign? When all is said and done, we won't have the time to be "concerned" about whatever is supposed to represent the triumph of the evil modernists, or whomever. If I can imagine the worst heretic drowning in the blessing of God, enjoying perfect happiness, and I can pray for that, I have done the best thing. You want to get militant? Do that.

I will say that it concerns me more that separated brethren view the prominence of certain "progressives" as some sort of indicator, whether they welcome or mourn it. Anything that persuades a Protestant that they should stay where they are is a bad thing. This is the Church Christ founded. If you love Jesus, you can count on the fact that He is calling you to be visibly and sacramentally one with us. That's politics of a better sort.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Today's Gospel: Lk 24:13-35

You know, we're not too much different than those disciples. I don't mean just in spiritual matters, but in general. If you had seen your master and teacher killed in the most ignominious way possible, you'd start to doubt yourself; you'd doubt every hope you had. The world's preeminent power, making itself known would surely throw some cold reality in your face. It's hard to blame them. If we don't get inside that, we won't understand the magnitude of what Jesus is offering us.

Looking back with the eyes of faith, the whole scene is a bit chortle-worthy. If this happened today, that disciple is chiding Jesus for not watching the news. "What? Have you been living under a rock these last three days?" Can you hear it? Somebody check "The Message" right here; I bet that's what it says.

And then Jesus starts what has to be the greatest sermon of all time, surely: "And beginning with Moses, and all the prophets..." Are you kidding me? If I get to Heaven, I'm making Jesus tell me what he said, word for word. If we don't all know it already, of course.

What is Jesus offering? He took that cold reality, and laughed right in its face. Life from death. You understand? Death was no less real than it is today. We know how it looked; it looked bad. We don't call Him Savior and God because we're hoping for a few scraps from the table. Jesus makes a new reality. He changes the world we know, and He offers a new one. True religion doesn't help people cope with this world; true religion denies that this "reality" is reality.

Of course, they only saw him in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist. Remember what Jesus himself said: "Whoever eats of this bread will live forever." We know it looks ordinary. It looked like he was dead, too.

Dare to believe. You and I have nothing to lose. This sick, sad, world will go on without us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Stupid Boy

I was 19 and 20 when I experienced a romantic relationship for the first time. We knew each other from our grade school days, and ended up at the same university. I took her best friend to my senior prom in high school. I have learned one thing for sure: don't date a girl's friends. The girl I took to prom really liked me, so she's none too pleased about the whole thing, even today.

But my first love said to me, "I want to kiss you."

"Uhhh, OK!"

It might be a caricature to say that guys only care about sex, and physical appearance besides. In fact it is. But I also know as a man that I can easily be distracted. Whatever broken pieces need to be picked up, we'd definitely rather pick them up later.

It was before my baptism as a Christian. People told me about Jesus, but not about chastity. If I hear the word "chastity" today, I still think of John Lithgow in "Footloose" first. I won't call us prudes; I'm a daily communicant today. But I know how ordinary people think about church people and sex.

I wanted much more. Even when I did things I later regretted, I was always oriented toward permanence. My default setting is "forever." I'm not sure why it never worked; we never said goodbye. We just faded away.

Even though I could tell the story as one long tale of frustration, as numerous loves went unreturned, I can tell a more joyful tale of learning to love without expectation. I have learned to love myself, as they say. "Maybe I can help you" is much more attractive than, "I need you to complete my pitiful existence."

It remains true in every context: if you rely on another person to validate your existence, you'll be disappointed. No human can feed that hunger of the heart.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Five Years A Catholic

Though the official day was April 23, liturgically, it's 5 years since returning home to Holy Mother Church. It seems I have lived lifetimes in these five years. There's an awful lot in that sentence, but I lack the words to share it with you. I never regretted the time before I came home, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have. Even so, my life is a testimony to the Scripture which says, "And from his fullness we have received grace upon grace." I thought today as I left Mass, "I have never been as happy as I am today." It's Easter, but otherwise, it's a normal day. On the other hand, perhaps the power of God's love is the fact that it reveals the silliness of a sentence that begins, "It's Easter, but..." There are no "buts." Jesus rose from the dead; death is swallowed up in victory!

Some separated brothers were attempting to say that this Sunday is no more victorious than any other, when we celebrate the Lord's resurrection. True, in one sense, and completely preposterous in another. If I fail to celebrate some aspect of Jesus' life and death, it does not by my failure make those realities cease to exist. The loss is only mine. You might say that we cannot rob God of His intrinsic glory. On the other hand, the loss is truly mine, in that His extrinsic glory made manifest is my salvation. The fact that God has no need of our praise does not mean that we should not offer it. Suppose we embrace the reality that praising God is the fullness of our existence; we need only to realize that to act for our own benefit in this way takes nothing from God. Many of us are not accustomed to thinking in this way. If I may, we should start. I have never seen anything so silly as a Christian trying to restrain his own joy for the sake of his theology. St. Paul warned us about special months, and seasons, and years, not because they were wrong, but because the people had become officious and cold, maybe even exclusionary. The Church gives them right back to us, as a means of participating in the sufferings of Christ (and now, in the glory).

I had not realized how heavy the cross was this Lent, until it was lifted. Sometimes, the sufferings are present, and quite immediate, and sometimes the proof of their reality is a harvest of joy. I certainly imagined that I could die happy right here, as Mother Angelica did Sunday. Thankfulness. Thankfulness is what I am able to articulate now. How could it be that you love us this much, O Lord? There's another ridiculous sentence. Very well; let my absurdity in asking overflow in joy and salvation, for me, and anyone else.

I couldn't help but think of the Cross family: Bryan, Carol, Joshua, Olivia, and Laura. In ways seen and unseen, the joy that I have now is their joy first given to me. But not only them, and indeed, too many people to name. What do I have that I have not received? Let our sins be forgotten in the abyss of God's mercy, but let our charity, our love, endure to the end of the ages.

If indeed we do not forget who we are, the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us, and to us. The life of faith is the beginning of actually living in the reality of that truth. May we all meditate with joy upon it, as we wait in hope for Christ's return. Happy Easter, beloved friends.