On being a US Catholic in the days of Pope Francis

While the United States is a very pluralistic country, with its people following hundreds of different spiritual, religious, philosophical, or secular belief systems, seventy million of us consider ourselves to be Roman Catholic.

With Pope Francis travelling in the Northeastern United States these past few days, there has been extensive media coverage, with reporters and interviewees acknowledging that they are Catholic, which is often not brought up in journalism or entertainment here. It has been touching to hear US Catholics talk about their faith and to hear Francis reach out to all people, regardless of their belief in the Divine or not, in keeping with the meaning of the word “catholic” which is “universal.” It is heartening to hear so many respond in kind, saying, “I’m not Catholic but I want to see Francis and hear what he has to say.”

I am Catholic, but do not in any way promote my faith as being any better than another path. It is simply the path that has meaning to me and which is integrated into my being and through which I hope to live out Divine Love in the world. I believe that the vast majority of people are of good will and decry those few who misuse ideology to do violence to or oppress others. Sadly, there have been many instances in which the power structure of the Catholic church has sinned and been guilty of horrible crimes against entire ethnic groups or religions as well as individual persons. These are human failings and not a reflection of God who is good and always loving.

This visit from Pope Francis is a good opportunity to talk about the public perception of the Catholic church and the lived experience of being a US Catholic. People, even many Catholics themselves, think of the Catholic Church as being a set of beliefs and rules that must be adhered to uniformly to belong; much of the Catholic hierarchy has advanced that view in my lifetime, but it is not really what the church teaches. There are a core set of teachings called dogmas which must be accepted in order to be Catholic. These are God-related and articulated in important teachings such as the creed.

There are many other teachings, usually more centered on human activity. The most important of these are doctrines. Catholics are asked to believe these teachings, as well as other teachings at lesser levels of authority, but dissent is possible after considered study and reflection.

The Catholic Church believes in the primacy of conscience, which means that we are called to act in accord to our individual, well-formed conscience. We sin if we violate our conscience and damage our relationship with God and other people. Dissenting from a teaching or breaking a rule is not wrong if we are following our conscience, having seriously considered church teaching on the topic.

Probably the most common experience of this in the United States is dissent from Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which prohibited the use of artificial means of birth control while allowing natural ones. Even though a commission that studied the issue recommended that the church allow contraception, Paul VI was persuaded to continue prohibiting it. Since it was first promulgated in 1968, this teaching has not been accepted by the vast majority of US Catholics, who have the right and responsibility to follow their own consciences on this matter – and on the related issue of using fertility assistance, several means of which, such as artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization, are also against official Catholic teaching.

Another common misunderstanding is that divorced Catholics can’t receive communion. This isn’t true. The problem comes in when a Catholic who has a civil divorce remarries without an annulment from the church. (More misunderstandings arise over annulments. A Catholic annulment does not mean that there was no marriage; it means that there was a serious impediment to the marriage from the start so that it was not a sacramental marriage. If an annulment is granted, the individuals are then free to enter into a sacramental marriage with another spouse, but the first marriage is still recognized as a civil marriage. Some people are afraid to pursue an annulment because they think their children will then be considered born out of wedlock, but that is not the case.) The reason behind the prohibition against receiving communion in a second marriage without an annulment is that it is considered a public scandal to be living in adultery. So, yes, this is about sex. Someone who is living in a second marriage without an annulment but who is living what the church calls “a chaste life” can receive communion.

Yeah, the officialdom of the Catholic church doesn’t understand sexual behavior very well at all. Unfortunately, this has become an overwhelming focus and attempted means of control by the hierarchy in the United States and elsewhere. It is hopeful that Francis has changed the emphasis to larger human problems, like poverty, environmental degradation, war, violence, and failure to work for justice and the common good.

Francis has already endorsed some procedures to make annulments less cumbersome to obtain and there is hope for further reform. There is also the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will offer some other opportunities within the church. The larger impact, though, is Francis’s example of outreach, caring, and concern for all people and for creation. He will empower people toward justice, love, and peace, whether or not all the other bishops follow his lead.

We are taught that the church is the people of God. Some in the hierarchy have acted as though they themselves are the core of the church, more important than the millions upon millions of the laity.

With Francis, we may finally have the opportunity to be truly catholic, that is universal.

Scott Walker leads?

“People are called to be leaders in unusual ways,” Walker said. “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive, conservative message can rise to the top of the field.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said this yesterday in his speech suspending his campaign for the Republican party’s nomination for the presidency.

It is one of the most unusual leadership calls I have ever seen.

Leading by quitting? And inviting others to follow you in quitting, too?

In one way, I am relieved that he has abandoned his presidential bid because I think his policies would have been a disaster for the country,  but there are a number of other candidates in the field who are even more destructive and they are not about to “follow his lead” in leaving.

I guess the bright side is that the next debate may be able to fit all the candidates on stage at once, instead of having a small sideshow debate before the main event.

Seriously. I’m trying to find something positive to say about the mess that is the Republican nominating process.

It’s a difficult assignment.

Francis in Cuba

Pope Francis’s core message of his first full day in Cuba has been “Serve other people, not ideology.”

People in the United States could very well receive the same core message when Francis arrives here later in the week.

SoCS: Pope Francis

I heard this morning that Pope Francis is en route to Cuba, where he will spend a few days before arriving in the US.

His route here will take him to Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia. There will be high profile speeches to the US Congress, UN General Assembly, and at a conference on the family in Philadelphia. There will also be several public Masses with attendance in the thousands for the indoors ones and hundreds of thousands when outdoors.

I have been eagerly anticipating his arrival and plan to watch the coverage, including a group “watch party” for the Congressional address.

I was reading an article by Father Tom Reese in NCR the other day, asking if people would really hear what Francis has to say while he is in the US.  I know that I will be listening carefully. I also know that, while I will agree with many of the Pope’s points, I will disagree with others. For example, Francis, though he means well, does not understand women’s lives. While he is wonderful about acknowledging social justice issues with those in poverty or on the margins, he fails to notice that this group is disproportionately female and that sexism and sexual violence/exploitation play a large role in their plight.

I am especially interested in how the Congress, many of whose leaders are Catholic, will react to what is sure to be a challenging speech to them, probably on the grounds of climate change, militarism, lack of care for the country’s and the world’s most vulnerable, rampant consumerism, and greed.

I am hopeful that Pope Francis’s voice on environmental issues and systemic marginalization of those with the least economic resources, especially in the global South, will spark conversation that will lead to a strong US voice for the climate and environment and for justice, for “integral ecology” as the Pope terms it, so that there will be a strong international accord coming out to the Paris climate talks at the end of the year with full US participation in the implementation.

That sounds like I’m asking for a miracle.

Maybe I am.

But I think there is hope through Francis, who speaks not only to Catholics but to “all those of good will” and maybe even may reach those who are not especially “of good will.”

Godspeed, Francis. May you have a safe and fruitful journey.
*****
This is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt is route/root.  Join us! Find out how here:    http://lindaghill.com/2015/09/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-1915/  SoCS badge 2015

Immigration in the US and the world

Immigration issues have been in the news in the United States for the last several years. The current system is outdated and cumbersome and the last several presidents and some prominent members of Congress have worked on comprehensive reform packages.  In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority, but the House refused to take it up and the rhetoric against reform has escalated.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outdo each other in their vehemence against undocumented immigrants, even going so far as to threaten denying birthright citizenship to babies born in the United States. There are also proposals to build walls on both the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, disregarding the fact that many currently undocumented people reached the US by air or were documented at the time of their arrival or were trafficked into the country or are refugees.

The real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for those who want to remain permanently and work visas for those who want to stay only for a limited amount of time. There also needs to be a better process for applying for visas that takes human needs into account, such as family unity and protection from violence and persecution. Why should someone fleeing Cuba be admitted while someone fleeing more dangerous conditions in El Salvador is not?

Adding to the picture is the current crisis in Europe regarding refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq and other unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. Desperate people are taking to overcrowded and dangerous boats and rafts or are traveling overland to try to reach safety in Europe. While some countries, especially Germany, are being welcoming, others, such as Hungary, are denying safe transit through their countries.

It’s horrifying.

Part of my upbringing as a Christian is that one should welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and treat every person with respect.  I live in a country where the the vast majority of the population either are immigrants or their descendants and which often touts the strengths that our diversity lends to our democracy. (I also know our history and that our country has behaved unconscionably in dealing with the First Nations, those who were trafficked or enslaved, and various ethnic groups, including the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during world War II. None of this negates our current responsibilities toward those in need of refuge.)

I believe that all the nations need to work together to relieve the suffering of those displaced by violence and economic disruption. Some may be looking for permanent re-settlement in a new country, while others may need a safe place for a few years in hope that they can return to their country of origin. The United States, as one of the richest countries in the world, needs to do its part to help, accepting many more than the 10,000 places offered if more refugees wish to live here and offering financial and logistical aid to help in caring for refugees while they are being processed to go to their final destinations.

I know that many will argue that we can’t afford it, but we can. It’s all a matter of priorities. The United States spends huge amounts of money on our military, including weaponry and equipment that the military leaders don’t want or need. Billions more dollars could be spent on human needs programs both at home and abroad if military spending is brought in line with what is truly needed rather than what is embarked upon due to fear or pork-barrel politics. The tax code also is in need of major revision, re-instituting a more progressive tax system for both individuals and corporations, closing loopholes, eliminating tax havens, lowering taxes on the lower earners and increasing rates for high earners.

There is a lot to do. Enough with the grandstanding and fear-mongering. It’s time to get to work to address immigration in a comprehensive way.

Loyalty oath

So,  the Republican party is demanding that the seventeen major candidates for its nomination for the US presidency sign a loyalty oath to continue in the campaign. They must pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee and promise not to run as an independent.

It is perceived to be aimed against Donald Trump, who has refused to rule out an independent run if he doesn’t get the nomination.

I don’t think he should sign it.

I don’t think that any candidate should sign it.

No one should promise to support a candidate just because that person will appear on the ballot on the Republican line. Or the Democratic line. Or any other party line.

Voting is one of our most important civic duties. In order to take our votes seriously, they must not be pre-determined months before an election.

No loyalty oaths in the United States!

It’s un-American.

What Is the United States?

Most of my readers are from the United States, as am I. This post has some fun questions for you to weigh in about the US.

I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

Most of you are American.  I can safely say that, because more than 50% of the readers of this blog are American.  In 2014, Americans made up around 60% of the readers.  So, chances are you’re American.  If not, forgive me.  I’m not American, either.

This is the first post in a new series where I explore each country that my readers come from, starting with the biggest and going down to the smallest.  However, I need your help.  I’m going to provide the most basic information that you can find, but I want opinions from you.

Are you American?  Have you lived in the United States?  Or have you visited the United States?  Even if you aren’t, please read on.

320px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svgThe United States of America

It’s a big country.  With an area of 9,857,306 square kilometres, it’s the third largest country in the world.  It has a population of…

View original post 180 more words

Veterans’ Day with Dad

Today, the United States and many other countries honor their military veterans. What began as a commemoration of the end of the Great War became a time to honor all veterans when it turned out that “the war to end all wars” sadly was not.

When I was growing up, it seemed that most of the men I knew were veterans. My dad served as a SeaBee ( US Navy Construction Battalion) in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. Because WWII involved so many people, most of my friends’ fathers and uncles had served, too. There were a few women who had served as well, but there were not many opportunities for them in the military at that time. Perhaps because so many had served, these veterans did not tend to talk much about their service, choosing instead to just about building their peacetime lives.

I also knew some Vietnam vets. In my rural area, the Vietnam vets were treated respectfully, but sadly we saw on the news that in other places they were unjustly vilified for an unpopular war. When I was a child, the draft was still ongoing, which led some men to become teachers solely to escape being drafted, as teaching was a protected profession. While some went on to become fine teachers, some of these men should never have become teachers and did a poor job of it for thirty years until they could retire. I have experienced this legacy as both a student and a parent.

The US military has been all-volunteer for the last several decades. In contrast to my dad’s generation when a large percentage of young adult males served in the military, now only a tiny percentage of eligible men and women serve. I can count on my fingers the number of people I know from our circle of friends, neighbors, and my spouse’s co-workers who are currently serving, including a high-school classmate of my daughter’s – and daughter of one of my husband’s co-workers – who was a top-ranked cadet at West Point. Meanwhile, the strains of thirteen years of war have fallen on a small number of military personnel, including National Guard troops, and their families. I don’t have an answer for this problem, but it does – or should – weigh heavily on the national consciousness and conscience.

Today, I’ll be celebrating at a lunch with my dad at a local restaurant that is honoring vets with a free meal to thank them for their service. It’s ironic that after decades of not making a big deal about their military service that so much recognition has more recently come to the veterans of World War II. My dad often wears a SeaBee cap when he goes out and receives thanks from passersby or fellow store customers. Once his cap even led to a pay it forward situation.

The ranks of World War II veterans have thinned considerably with time. With so few people currently serving in the military, in seventy years there will be hardly any veterans my dad’s age.

He will turn ninety in March.

I wish peace, security, respect, and good health to all veterans, in the US and around the world. Thank you for your service.

Thanks, Dad.

watch your language

I continue to watch in horror the coverage of the situation with so many children from Central America coming into the US. I am distressed by those who have no sympathy for their plight and refuse to welcome them, even for a short time, in their communities.

It pains me to hear these children – and the adults who are in the same situation – termed “illegal immigrants,” “illegal migrants,” or just plain “illegals.”

All of the children and many of the adults are actually refugees, fleeing from failed states, violence, hunger, drug gangs, crime, and a level of poverty that most from the US cannot even imagine.

The United States, Canada, European countries, and any country that borders another where there is war or famine know what it is like to offer help to refugees. The US routinely urges other countries to accept refugees fleeing war, persecution, violence, failed states, starvation, and other dire situations.  The US continues to accept and re-settle refugees in the US, sometimes temporarily, but often permanently.

Many US citizens, myself included, are descended from those who came to the United States fleeing war and famine. That the war was World War I and the famine was the potato blight in Ireland – itself set in motion by British politics – does not change the basic fact that my forebearers arrived here because they were fleeing threats in their countries.

I know that my Irish and Italian ancestors faced discrimination when they arrived here. Many did not want to welcome these newcomers, despite Emma Lazarus’s words of hope enshrined on the Statue of Liberty. (My Irish ancestors would not have seen them, but my Italian ones who arrived after the completion of the Statue of Liberty may have.)

It’s true that the US immigration system was different in those days. It’s also true that our current system has not been functional for decades, but Congress has not been able to muster the will to reform it, despite many plans and bills and speeches and the urging from a range of people from the last several presidents on down to advocates ministering to those living and working in the shadows across the country.

I believe it is our duty as human beings and as a democracy to offer refuge to those in need in our own hemisphere, especially those who have survived a perilous journey to seek safety and often family members already here in the US. Refugees should be welcomed, fed, and kept safe, while family members or sponsors are located and refugee status documents are completed.

We should also do what we can through the State Department to help failed states transform to functional ones, enabling refugees to return to a safe home and community, if they choose.

Meanwhile, it is our moral obligation to care for these refugees. I am ashamed that some want to block entrance to the United States to others in such desperate circumstances.

Postscript:  While I am not near the Southern border where the current crisis is occurring, I do live in an area that has been an official re-settlement area for refugees for decades.

Prisoners of War

I am happy to know that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan for the past five years, is back in the hands of the United States armed forces. I’m glad that he will be returned to his relieved parents after he has recovered from his long imprisonment.

I am, however, dismayed by the people who are saying that he should not have been exchanged for five prisoners that the US had been holding in Guantanamo. Exchanging prisoners of war is a long-standing practice, especially near the end of the war, which is approaching quickly from the perspective of US involvement. The problem is that, due to the machinations of President George W. Bush’s administration, many people do not consider these five men as prisoners of war, instead categorizing them as”detainees” or “enemy combatants.” In this way, they have skirted international law about how prisoners of war are to be treated and blocked moves to release them or even bring them to trial. This shameful behavior has to stop. Prisoners of war have to be called prisoners of war and justly treated as such, in accord with international treaties to which the US is a signatory. Congress, having authorized the president to conduct the war, should not intervene as they have been doing in what is essentially a military matter to be handled by the chain of command up to the commander-in-chief.

The other issue that critics are lamenting is that the United States negotiated with terrorists. However, the exchange was negotiated through a third party, the government of Qatar. The US did not directly negotiate with the Taliban. The US did not release the prisoners to the Taliban. Again, we have a problem with words and with history. The war in Afghanistan was fought against the Taliban, which was the ruling party at the time, because they were sheltering Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was the terrorist organization against which the US-led coalition was fighting; the Taliban was the ruling party of the country in which many Al-Qaeda members were hiding. The Taliban who became US prisoners were fighting for the government of Afghanistan; while it fits the narrative of critics of the current administration to portray them as terrorists now, it doesn’t fit the fact that these five men were part of the ruling government of Afghanistan, which should make them prisoners of war. Although the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, it doesn’t change the fact that they once did.

I am sorry that some people are marring what should be a time of relief and joy for Bowe’s family, his hometown in Idaho, and the country. It’s time for all of us in the United States to pull together and help heal the wounds of war. We owe it to those who have been deployed so long and so many times to celebrate their service to our country and find peace back home.

%d bloggers like this: