Friday, June 29, 2012

A look at same-sex unions -- part 2

The avocado is truly an amazing fruit -- yes fruit! In fact it is classified as a berry, a single-seed berry, and like all fruits it must be eaten to propagate properly. If it is not eaten by just the right kind of creature, it will die out as a species. You see, an animal just the right size eats the fruit because of its pleasant tasting pulp. The seed however, is hard, indigestible, bitter and even toxic. The pulp nourishes the animal that eats it and the animal returns the favor by planting the seed in a place far from its origin. It does this by making use of that end of the animal not capable of facial expression.   

Thus the animal, capable of motion because of the energy gained from the fruit pulp is necessary for the life cycle of the inedible fruit seed. The tree nourishes the animal. The animal plants the indigestible seed in a distant place with a wonderful nitrogen enriched fertilizer to get the little sapling started. The tree and the beast complete each other. This is called complimentarity. No beast no fruit, no fruit no beast. 

The avocado was, dare I say it,  designed to be eaten by the now extinct megafauna, or giant animals that roamed the Americas 10,000 years ago animals like the glyptodon, a cross between and armadillo and a delivery truck.  The avocado seed is useless to, say, a chipmunk. It is in fact a living fossil. It exists today only because of the Aztec taste for Guacamole. If the principle of complimentarity did not apply to avocados and football games, it would have gone extinct a long time ago.  Do you get my point?  I didn’t think so.

Here it is. If we didn’t know about Aztecs and glyptodons, the avocado would make no sense at all. We scratch our heads and say, golly, there is a fruit with nothing to eat, spread and fertilize it. How can it be that this strange anachronism is available at Super Bowl time? Look at the equipment. It can’t be eaten by anyone or anything. They would choke on the seed. Look at the equipment. I will not go farther than that. As far as the avocado is concerned the pit is the important thing. As far as the glyptodon was concerned the pulp is the important thing. As far as the Super Bowl fan is concerned, the beer is the important thing.

Complimentarity. It seems to be woven through the universe from protons and electrons all the way down to Grandma and Grandpa.  There seems to be a principle of complimentarity. I give to you that you might exist, you give to me that I might exist. An infinite number of monkeys writing on an infinite number of typewriters might come up with the text of Hamlet, but I dare them to come up with an avocado and a glyptodon. We Christians see design in these thing. You might not, but if you are among the pagans who think it’s all just a coincidence and that there is no such as design or nature, stop nagging us about recycling and saving the whales. Who cares about the whales anyway? (That is if you think it’s all just a giant crap shoot.) You can’t have nature and un-nature.

Well, you may say, in nature lots of animals have variable sexualities. They also eat their young and other such things. In order to live, to continue life, complimentarity is the great principle. To love life is to love the other. As I have mentioned before, there have been human societies that have esteemed same-sex relationships. These societies have also killed their young, especially girl babies and treated women like property. I think the case can be made that if same-sex relationships win out over complimentary relationships, it seems that women are the losers.

We Christians are accused of discrimination against a sexual minority by opposing same-sex marriage. Nonsense! We oppose lots of sexual minorities by defining marriage as the indissoluble union between male and female that is open to new human life even if new human life is not possible in the relationship. We believe that marriage is about human life, not about pleasure, not that we are opposed to pleasure. The pulp of the fruit may be tasty, but the seed and its transport are the thing.

Just today I heard a wonderful analogy. Take a piece of tape. Stick it to a sweater. Rip it off and stick it on a new sweater. Repeat the process. Again. And again. Soon, the tape will not stick. The bond of sexual intimacy is the glue that holds the tape. When that bond is lost  by frequent ripping, the joy, the sacredness of the bond are also lost. So it is, that our society has been made dangerously, disastrously unstable  by casual, recreational sex. 

Human children are desperate for stability. We humans aren’t viable life forms till we are at least 18.  Some men never grow up. Some women are starting to imitate them. I remember hearing a four-year-old say, “but we ALWAYS go to Grandma’s for Christmas!!!” Always? Four years? Yes that’s his always. 

Well mommy and daddy are having issues and this year is daddy’s turn for visitation and Christmas will be at the Ramada Inn. Next year it will be at their new daddy’s parents house.  Aren’t you lucky, junior? You get new grandparents and now three sets of grandparents will give you Christmas presents. Isn’t that nice? Pretty soon junior just doesn’t care.  There is no glue. There is no relationship worth giving or getting. Junior will probably have to work on Christmas anyway when he’s older, but maybe he’ll call. He certainly won’t be going to church with any of his six grandparents.

The glue is important. The design is important. Even if it isn’t my preference, it’s still important. Sex for its own sake may be enjoyable, but like the avocado without the glyptodon, what’s the point? The avocado has lost its freedom, its integrity as a life force, its importance in the life cycle. It exists only as an amusement, an accompaniment to beer and tortilla chips.

Next week : the wooly mammoth theory of the differentiation of the sexes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A look at same-sex unions -- part 1

Warning: This is not intended for younger or more sensitive readers. It is a discussion of marriage, the re-definition of the family and the current gender chaos of the culture. I mean it. Don’t leave this around where the kids can get it or you’ll be explaining things you don’t necessarily want to explain. By this, I mean s-e-x. I’m not kidding.

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I don’t mean to be inflammatory. I am an active and fairly traditional Catholic. My question is absolutely sincere. I have a dear friend, a woman, who is in a same-sex relationship of twenty years duration. She was raised as a Catholic, but is estranged from the Church and very sad because the Church won’t accept her and her life partner. She told me that she won’t even to talk to Christians because she is afraid that they will tell her she is going to hell and somewhere deep inside she is terrified that maybe they are right. What is wrong with gay marriage and why won’t the Church allow it?
Ann M. Pathic

Dear Ann,

Let me begin by answering a question that you didn’t quite ask. Your friend has doubtless been assaulted by the devout who quote St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (6:9,10):
 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
That sounds pretty definitive, doesn’t it? It sounds like St. Paul says that gay people will not go to heaven. Where do you read that in the text? Heaven isn’t mentioned.

“Well,” you might say, “the kingdom of God and heaven are the same thing, aren’t they?”

Where did you learn that?  The kingdom of God includes heaven when you die. I imagine that’s true, but the Kingdom of God is much, much more than heaven. Let’s look at the words themselves, first of all the word in the Greek text isn’t heaven. It’s kingdom, “basileia.” Basileia has no English translation that embodies the whole word. For us a kingdom is a political system or a geographical territory. The word basileia may include those meanings, but it primarily means kingly-ness, or the royal dignity, the royal nature. It is a quality of the king that is inherited by his children.

You will also notice that the text doesn’t mention “going to the kingdom” it says “inherit the kingdom.” The text says nothing about going to heaven. It is saying that you can’t be adopted as God’s child unless you have the nature of God. There are lots of people in this world, like me, who don’t have God’s nature in its fullness. Look at the rest of the list: fornicators and adulterers, (that’s just about everybody these days) thieves, covetous (pleonektai in Greek which means acquisitive, literally takers of more). My favorite is “revilers.” “Loidoroi” in Greek. It means verbal abusers. Quarreling spouses, overly critical parents, many bosses, gossips, and all writers of political ads fit this category.

Who then will inherit the royal dignity of God?  Anybody who lets God transform their nature into His nature. This is called adoption in the Bible. We don’t just go to heaven. We get adopted and made part of the family which is God, sharing His very nature. That list that includes liars, the jealous, the acquisitive and critical people as will as thieves, swindlers, adulterers, alcoholics, and our topic, homosexuals.

The text blasts straight and gay alike, but neither heaven nor hell is mentioned. The Catholic Church may canonize saints, but in all Her history She has never definitively said that someone is in hell -- not even Judas, Stalin or Hitler -- though one may have one’s suspicion. Remember that to commit a mortal sin one must have full freedom, full knowledge of the gravity of the act and a complete turning of the will.

Other Churches may take it upon themselves to send people to hell, but not Catholics. The Catholic Church teaches that there is not a person born whom God does not love infinitely and for whom Christ did not offer his life on the Cross. There is never a reason to treat anyone with disdain or discourtesy, no matter how much one may differ from them. I mean this. I am not just being politically correct. When Jesus said he would make us fishers of men he didn’t mention that we would be the bait. If we are quarrelsome and repulsive people, we make the Gospel unavailable to the world. Remember that we may be the only Bible that some people will ever read. If we understand that God loves each person, no matter their theology and that He regards them all as His children, we will be careful to honor His image in everyone we meet. Be very careful when you criticize someone else’s kids, especially when that someone is God.

Still, if St. Paul is right, then God is pretty narrow minded.  Most “progressives” might say, “No, God is as tolerant and almost as sophisticated as I am. It is Paul who is narrow minded.” God, or Paul, or whoever generated this list, certainly seems intolerant. Alcoholics are clearly out. So are people who gossip lie and drool over the latest fashions. (Just an aside, and I don’t mean to insult homosexuals here. That crazy church that goes to military funerals shouting and sending homosexuals to hell? If it is true that “loidoroi” heapers of verbal abuse, they won’t inherit the kingdom of God either. St. Paul puts loons like that and a lot of other ill tempered street preachers in the same category as all the above. Go figure.)

These things, materialism, lying and feuding are all normal. Everybody does them. THAT’S THE POINT!!! St. Paul classes same-sex attraction in a list of normal things because, in the ancient world, such behavior was normal! Those brave Spartan warriors who saved civilization at Thermopylae? They were as gay as Paris in the ‘90's. (I mean the 1890's. Remember “la Gaite Parisenne?” I’m sure you do.) Then there was the Sacred Band of Thebes, 150 male couples, the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BC. King Phillip of Macedon, a rather randy old goat, and his son Alexander the Great seem to have been very tolerant in their tastes, had nothing but admiration when they found the Theban Band dead to a man on the field of battle.

The Greek speaking world in the centuries just before Christ, which stretched from the border of India to Spain and France, thought nothing of this sort of the thing (Interesting to note “Gays in the Military” is not a new issue at all. It was thought that you would fight more bravely in the presence of your beloved, so such behavior was actually encouraged among some Greek city-states. The Romans were different. They didn’t approve of adult male homosexuality. They preferred the sexual abuse of children of either sex. That was okay, but not adult same sex relationships.)

The belief was common, though not universal that male homosexuality was superior to heterosexuality because women had no souls. Women were just kitchen appliances that could make babies. Among those who espoused this theory; relations with women were primarily for purposes of family.The rest was a matter of taste. You might enjoy hetairai, (sophisticated prostitutes who were charming in appearance and conversation) or boys or men or children of either sex. It didn’t really matter. The whole business was private and normal. Just like death and the common cold. (I told you to keep this away from the kids.)

So, if it was normal, why did the first Christians retain the strict, narrow minded, homo-phobic bigoted opinion hatched by a group of heat-crazed religious fanatics somewhere in the Judean desert? And why must busy-bodies like St. Paul and the Rev. Know-it-all inflict this same squint-eyed Puritanism on people who are just minding their own business? 

These days, it is really quite the other way around. In times past, same-sex attraction was called “the love that dare not speak its name.” Now it is “the love that won’t shut up.” Parades, compulsory awareness days at schools, legislation, housing regulations, the closing of adoption services that don’t place children with same-sex couples, taxpayer money and insurance required to pay for sex change operations deemed a medical and psychological necessity. Who’s forcing whose will on whom here? (Another aside: sex change operations are also not new. The Emperor Nero fell in love with a male slave who resembled the wife that Nero had killed and whom he later missed. The slave had quick, un-anesthetized surgery, was dressed in a wedding gown and married to the emperor. Like the Bible says, “nothing new under the sun.”)

The crazed Puritans on the right are simply saying “Fine! Do as you please just don’t make me celebrate it or pay for it. Why not celebrate it? Why does the Church not approve of something that in much of the world was and is thought of as normal and even beautiful? Why is the expression of love in all its forms not a thing to be celebrated and consecrated? To understand the Catholic answer to this very real and important question, we must first understand the fascinating history of the avocado.

(To be continued.....)

Friday, June 15, 2012

We are starting over....

(The Rev. Know-it-all is away at
Mt. Flatten Monastery attending  a seminar on the creative pastoral uses of the thumbscrew and lash. As filler, we have a letter from a local pastor.)


You may have noticed that recently, at Mass, I asked the young people who attend our religious education program to stand up. Of the 250, give or take, who attend the program, I counted about 50 or 60 at all the Masses.  Our teachers have done wonderful work. They have made great sacrifices for the sake of the religious education of our children. They have not failed. The 50-year-old system that they inherited has failed. We are using a model that was created before cell phones, soccer practice, twitter, facebook and video games. The model we are using is older than the Beatles. It’s as old as I am.

We inherited a system from the good old days of flourishing Catholic schools another failure which was lovingly remembered in the book, “The Last Catholic in America,” a charming reminiscence about Catholicism during the 1950's in which young Eddy Ryan loses his faith.  Religious education was called C.C.D. or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  In this usage it refers to a form of classroom style religious education for children in public schools. It was, at least in my youth, the threadbare cousin of Catholic schools.  

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves. There are some splendid Catholic schools, but in my experience of 40 years in ministry, increasingly, especially in large urban areas, Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith, maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over. 

We may have a few parish schools still plugging along, but are they Catholic? It seems that all we have left to us is the threadbare cousin. All our resources and energies go to maintaining the private school in the building next to the church. While the world is starving for Christ, we are giving them bingo and bratwurst, raffles and dinner dances, all to keep the school going.  

“But,” I can hear you say, “this is our major form of evangelism!” Aren’t you paying attention? The few kids from our schools who go to church don’t go because the school has converted them. They go because they have parents dedicated enough to bring them every Sunday, even in summer. Even in soccer season. Those kids may end up Catholic, not because they went to our schools and religious education programs, but because their parents were the first and best of teachers. In a recent conversation with a local pastor who runs a school of 250, give or take, I asked how many of his students and their families attend Mass during the summer months. He said, “about thirty of them.”   

In order to commit a mortal sin, a sin that severs one’s relationship to God, one must have sufficient knowledge that what they are doing is mortally sinful. Our kids come to Catholic schools and religious education where, presumably, they learn that it is a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a serious reason, such as illness or inability to travel. That means that by allowing children to come to religious education or to enroll in Catholic schools when their parents don’t come to Mass, we are enabling them to commit a mortal sin by giving them the sufficient knowledge to damn their eternal souls.That’s a plan.

We have tied our religious education to the public school system of kindergarten and eight grades. The sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation have become graduation rituals, rites of passage, instead of the beginnings of a life of faith and commitment. We have turned sacrament into sacrilege.  When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there.  (“Out of there” for those who don’t speak Chicagoan.) The Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning. I can’t do this anymore. I believe it is morally wrong. The last time I brought this problem up, angry parents called the bishop. I remember one agitated parent who railed at me for questioning his Catholicism. He said that he was perfectly good Catholic. He went to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail.

When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.

I intend to drop the classroom model and go to a discipleship model that is called Youthchurch. It will involve Bibles, catechisms and water balloons.  And maybe doughnuts. I will know the program is a success when I find that the kids are mad at their parents for missing Mass on Sunday.

I  no longer intend to prepare children for First Communion and Confirmation. There will no longer be First Communion and Confirmation classes. How and when will the children receive Communion and Confirmation? They will receive when they are ready.  When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.

I am tired to distraction of having to chase young people down the aisles in church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament because they have no clue what it is. A year or so back, I was offering a funeral Mass and a teenaged girl came up for Communion, took the host, looked at it, turned it over and began to walk away holding it in her palm. I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

At another funeral not long ago I saw a passel of tattooed and pierced adolescents coming down the aisle at a funeral. It was a large funeral so a number of priests were helping with Communion. I had finished my line so I stood about ten paces from the celebrant, a visiting priest. The first of the young Goths received the host, looked at it curiously and as she passed me I asked, are you Catholic? She said, “no.” I said “Perhaps I should take that.” So there began a curious ritual, of clueless youths. One priest would say “Body of Christ and the second priest would say “I’ll just take that.”

I’ve had it. My efforts will be directed to preparing people for the Sacrament of Conversion (Maybe you call it Penance or Reconciliation. Whatever.) Then maybe the little dears will understand that Communion is more than an edible poker chip. Registration will take place over the summer. I will be doing it personally. If you are registered in the parish and using envelopes, that will be the first step to getting your child in Youthchurch. How else can I tell if you are coming to Mass? As I’ve said before I don’t care that money’s in the envelope, I care that you are in the pew.

Fr. Simon

PS. How much will it cost? Books will cost something, but there will be no tuition. If you are coming to Mass every Sunday, I presume you are throwing in the basket already. I don’t want your money. I want your souls. On the other hand, I have nothing against your money. The west wall is still falling down.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law -- part 11 and last

(Letter to Charlene Law concluded.....)  

So we come to the end of another excessively long letter, a complicated answer to a simple question, “Where did Islam come from?” You’ll have to be the judge of that. The resemblances between Islam and Christianity appear to be many at first, but after any real inquiry, it is the remarkable differences that emerge. The two most glaring differences that I notice are first that Christians believe that the phrase “God is Father” as expressed in the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father is the summit of Christian faith. For Muslims it is the greatest heresy. And second, Christians regard violence as always undesirable, though it may be necessary for self defense. 

It is interesting to note that medieval knights in shining armor were always a little bit outside of Christian law as the medieval mind understood it, even when they fought in self defense. Though their sin was mitigated by circumstance, they still confessed military activity as sin and were expected to do penance for it. To go on Crusade, or “to take the Cross” as they put it, was not to go to war. It was to make a solemn vow to pray at the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, and when that was done, a knight was expected to go home. He might have to fight along the way, but he did not go, at least theoretically, to gain territory or wealth. 

In fact many noblemen of Europe were bankrupted by the expense of going on pilgrimage, a journey from which only one in two returned. Amazingly, if a man made a vow to go to Jerusalem, he had to have his wife’s permission. If she refused her permission, his vow was invalid and he was released from his obligation. 

If anything has indicated the difference between Islam and Christianity, it is this. For a Muslim, it would be inconceivable for a woman to forbid a man to fulfill his sacred duty to wage jihad. Islam is jihad. Jihad means struggle. There is the greater and the lesser jihad. The first is internal moral struggle and the second is war. Clearly, and unmistakably from the times of Muhammad until now, the concept of jihad includes war.

By his own lights, a Christian who fights is doing something undesirable, even when the fight is necessary for the defense of the innocent and weak, or for self defense. It is less than the best, though it is sometimes the best who must fight. There is no Christian soldier who, taking his faith seriously, would rather make war than enjoy the blessings of peace. In Islam war is a sacred duty, a privilege and even a joy. Ayatollah Khomeini once said “The purest joy in Islam is to kill and be killed for Allah.” You might think this is a minority opinion, but history seems to indicate otherwise. By pointing this out I am not trying to say, “How awful!” I am just trying to say “How different.”

When a madman claiming to be Christian kills, saying it is God’s will, somewhere inside, every Christian and probably the madman himself knows that such a thing is absolutely contrary to the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. When a Muslim martyr straps on a bomb, he does so knowing that this is the day decreed by Allah for his death. There are different interpretations of such actions in the different Islamic schools, but the bomber himself believes that he is engaging in a supremely moral act. He has been encouraged by relatives, friends and teachers and, if successful is lionized in the Islamic world for his heroism. This is not a small thing. 

When two planes flew into the twin towers on September 11, 2001, much of the Islamic world broke out in celebration. Western journalists filming the celebrations were threatened with death for reporting what the local authorities didn’t want the West to understand: that the two worlds are different.  Those who celebrated were applauding an act of moral courage, according to their belief system. They believed they were acting morally, as were the hijackers.

We are different in our approach to women, to war, human destiny, to the nature of divinity and to the deity’s relation to humanity. We are different in our approach to  sacred scripture. The Koran contains the unchangeable words of Allah given to Muhammad, a revelation which took place over a few decades. Nothing important took place before that revelation, and very little of importance, except its application in the world, has happened since. 

The Bible is a conversation between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Christians hold to be the Father of Jesus of Nazareth and, for that matter, of all humanity. The conversation covers about two thousand years. Parts of our sacred text point out the difficult and sinful human beings whom God invites to his embrace. It is as much about humanity as it is about divinity and it shows human beings at their best and their worst, God loving them in all circumstances even when it seems like pretty tough love. 

Both religions are about submission to the maker of all things, but submission in the two religions is  very different. The very word Islam means “submission or surrender.” It is submission to the will of the absolutely sovereign Other. The submission, the surrender, of Christianity is found in the Our Father, “Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come.” It is surrender to a Father who loves us and whom we trust absolutely. The Christian attitude to the will of God is not a shoulder-shrugging, regretful “It’s God’s will.” Christian surrender is a joyful embrace of a plan better than our own, the perfect plan of a doting Father, a Father who is wiser than we are. It takes a Christian a long time to get there, but that joyful, trusting surrender is the goal of the Christian life.

So, we are different. The difference is summed up in two words: Jesus and Muhammad.  I think every Christian should read the Koran and every Muslim should read the New Testament. Ultimately one is true and the other is false. The Muhammad to whom the Koran was revealed and the Jesus of the New Testament are diametrically opposed to each other. You cannot obey them both. You can obey one, the other or neither, but you cannot be the follower of both. There is a song that says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I invite you to turn your eyes upon Jesus and Muhammad both. I know whom I have chosen and why I have chosen Him.

The Rev. Know it all