Chen Guangcheng on the Death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo

Millennial‘s Daniel Petri interviews Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on the death of his friend and fellow activist Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and the future of the Chinese democracy and human rights movement:


Read more about Liu Xiaobo’s life and death (via NY Times):

Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him a lengthy prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while locked away, died under guard in a hospital on Thursday. He was 61….

The police in China have kept Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest and smothering surveillance, preventing her from speaking out about Mr. Liu’s belated treatment for cancer.

“Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy,” Ms. Liu said in a brief video message to a friend when her husband’s fatal condition was announced. The message quickly spread online.

Mr. Liu’s illness elicited a deluge of sympathy from officials, friends, Chinese rights activists and international groups, who saw him as a fearless advocate of peaceful democratic change.


Vatican II Calls the Laity to Go Beyond the Benedict Option

It might seem odd to ask how Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option relates to the Catholic Church’s teachings on what it means to be a member of the laity. After all, the book is directed at Christian laypersons, proposing a plan of life for laypersons in a post-Christian society and discussing issues such as family and employment that are not typically thought of as the most pressing issues Catholic clergy face.

However, The Benedict Option does not explicitly engage with the understanding of the laity articulated at Vatican II and in subsequent teachings. That’s partly understandable, as Dreher is neither Roman Catholic nor writing for an exclusively Catholic audience. Furthermore, Dreher likely did not want to get bogged down in close readings of Church documents, as he is writing for a popular audience and focuses on action more than on history or theory. Catholic readers, however, must approach the Benedict Option with the Church’s teachings on the laity in mind and try to understand if and how Dreher’s proposals fit with this body of teaching.

Much of Vatican II’s teaching on the laity can be found in Apostolicam Actuositatem. The Council Fathers first emphasize that “the church can never be without the lay apostolate.” This is because the Church’s primary function is to proclaim to the world the message of Christ, and the laity have “countless opportunities” to do this, as they live in that very world. Indeed, the apostolate of the laity is exercised when “they endeavor to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order… The characteristic of the lay state being a life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs.”

Pope St. John Paul II reiterates these teachings in Christifideles laici, where he says that “the secular world” is where the laity “receive their call from God” and so “the ‘world’ thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation.”

Much of the discussion around the Benedict Option implies that Dreher is calling for Christians to abandon the secular world, and sometimes his language bears that interpretation out; early on he speaks of building an ark so that Christians can survive societal upheaval in sheltered isolation. This vivid image, taken in conjunction with Dreher’s comments that orthodox Christians will have to live “somewhat cut off from mainstream society,” could easily imply an absolute rejection of the temporal secular order, counter to the apostolate of the laity.

However, immediately after speaking of an ark, he says “we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” Dreher does not so much reject the teaching that the laity live out their Christian vocations in the temporal order as he does reject a particular temporal order, which he believes is so aggressively secular that faith will be hidden (as opposed to a healthy secularism that simply provides public space for people of differing faiths to operate publicly as members of those faiths), and he says that Christians must strengthen their communities in response to it. Clearly, he is speaking of shaping a temporal order so that it is Christified, and this is consonant with the Church’s teachings on the laity working in secular society.

The problem is that if this Christified temporal order only exists parallel to mainstream society, instead of entering into it and shaping it, the laity will be only partially fulfilling their apostolate to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order. Generally speaking, the laity are not called to be parallel to mainstream society. While individual laypersons may need such an environment in which to best flourish as Catholics or find that they are called to build such an environment, the laity as a whole must go beyond shaping a parallel temporal order and influence the mainstream temporal order as best they can. Dreher suggests that the temporal order Benedict Option Christians establish will eventually overcome the aggressively secular temporal order due to the secular order’s failure, but the Church’s teaching pushes Catholics to go beyond the most insular interpretations of the Benedict Option by entering into that aggressively secular order instead of just waiting for it to fall and then filling in the void. Read More


Catholic Social Teaching, Private Property, and the Redistribution of Wealth

As an American, it is difficult at times to think beyond the right/left dichotomy that permeates our economic and political landscape. This often makes it difficult for Catholics on either side of the aisle to understand what the Church teaches about the ownership and use of property. As we should always strive to be Catholics first and Americans second, my hope with this article is to concisely share with you what the Church teaches concerning private property, the common good, and the role of government. I hope to dispel any notion of the Church being capitalist or socialist, as She cuts through and transcends both of these ideologies.

To begin with, the Church recognizes the right to private property. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “Private property…constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty” and “…is an essential element of an authentically social and democratic economic policy…” (Paragraph 176). Further, Pope Leo XIII states, “Private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Paragraph 46). The defense of private property is one of the reasons that the Church condemns communism (Paragraphs 111-118). Further, the right to private ownership is a natural right given to us by God, not one merely granted by the state (Paragraph 45).

However, while private property is indeed a natural right, it flows from what the Church calls “the universal destination of goods.” The Catechism says, “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (Paragraph 2402). Likewise, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples” (Paragraph 69). Read More


Sowing the Seeds of Eternity

It was while reading a bedtime story one night that journalist and TED Talk presenter Carl Honoré realized that he had lost his grip on time. He was skipping pages of the story in order to get back to work more quickly, and his son, who knew every word by heart, was having none of it. What should have been the best moment of his day had devolved into a nightly battle for no reason other than the fact that he felt short on time.

I can’t recall if I ever had this kind of make-or-break moment, but I can name dozens of smaller incidents, each a symptom of an unhealthy attitude toward time: avoiding colleagues in the hallway because I couldn’t afford to get into a conversation, compulsively calculating the fastest route whenever I walked across campus, not being able to remember the last time I ate dinner without simultaneously doing work. The cumulative effect of these many troubling moments was the stark realization that I was losing some kind of battle with time and that something had to change before I blew an artery or lost my mind.

I strongly suspect that Honoré and I are not the only ones who struggle with time. For most of us, there never seems to be enough of it. Now that summer has officially arrived and many are taking time off for vacation, it seems an appropriate moment to reevaluate our relationship with time.

In retrospect, I see that my real problem was not so much that I was losing a battle with time. Rather the problem was that I was (and sometimes still am) mentally boxed in by a certain way of thinking about time. Martin Heidegger famously wrote, “Language is the house of being.” There are few better examples of what he meant than our accustomed language about time. Phrases like “time is money,” “time is running out,” and “working against the clock” roll fluidly off our tongues. At the root of these phrases is the same metaphor – time as a finite resource. Thinking and speaking of time in these terms has a tangible impact on our day-to-day living. Because we think of time as a limited commodity, we obsessively track it, hoard it, and deny it to others. We avoid people in the hallways and skip pages when reading bedtime stories to our children.

Everyone I have ever met feels discontent with this state of affairs, and now, thanks to researchers like Matt Killingsworth, we have scientific evidence verifying our intuitions of just how detrimental this race-against-the-clock mentality is to our happiness. Having analyzed 650,000 real-time reports on the daily lives of 15,000 people, Killingsworth observed that “mind wandering” (thinking about something other than what one is presently doing) makes people less happy than if they were present to the moment, regardless of what they happen to be doing. This is precisely what hyperactive time consciousness does to us. Because we are always calculating how long this meeting will take or how much time that detour will cost us, we are seldom able to enjoy the present moment.

So it would seem that, when it comes to time, the linguistic house we built for ourselves has become a prison. The good news is that we are the ones who built this house. We can tear it down and build anew. Read More


Trump is No Ally to Catholics

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At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence proudly proclaimed that “American Catholics have an ally in President Donald Trump.”  But which Catholics really do have an ally in President Trump?

Is he an ally of Catholic women who want to have families?  Is he an ally of the unborn?  Trumpcare would blow up a critical part of the safety net that supports women who want to have families, protects unborn children, and assists the vulnerable in ensuring they have affordable access to essential healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) protected pregnant women from discrimination in the healthcare system by not allowing insurers to charge them more for wanting to have (or being open to having) children. The Affordable Care Act has made it easier for unborn children and their mothers to receive essential prenatal care.  All of the regular prenatal check-ups, tests, and ultrasounds are covered at no extra cost to pregnant women under the ACA.  Infant mortality rates are directly tied to access to quality preventive care for both the mother and child.

Allowing states to undo these protections not only risks increasing the infant mortality rates, it puts the lives of mothers at risk as well because without comprehensive preventative prenatal care, many diseases and conditions will go undetected and untreated.  Regular check-ups for expecting mothers includes screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other conditions like strep B, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia that could not only result in harm or death to the child, but result serious harm to the mother. Periodic ultrasounds, meanwhile, ensure the proper development of the child and allow doctors to check for any potential birth defects that can be corrected either in utero or with surgery immediately after birth.

Stripping away ACA protections for expectant mothers and unborn children discourages families from having children. This will almost certainly increase the abortion rate. Increasing premiums on women and families that want to have kids is an anti-family policy that punishes low income families, in particular.

Is Donald Trump an ally of the Catholic worker?  President Trump signed an executive order that rolls back protections for workers, especially women employees.  The Fair Wage and Safe Workplaces order “included two rules that impacted women workers: paycheck transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination claims.”  President Trump has eliminated these protections.

President Trump has argued that wages are too high for America’s workers.  His pick for the Secretary of Labor position, Andrew Puzder, opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to further cut workplace safety regulations.   Labor unions see threats to collective bargaining and are increasingly worried about potential overhauls to labor laws and an increase in “right to work” legislation.

Is President Trump an ally to Catholics with disabilities?  He has openly mocked people with disabilities. Potential cuts to Medicaid and decreased protections for those with preexisting conditions will disproportionately harm those with disabilities.

Is President Trump an ally of Catholic immigrants?  He is certainly not an ally of the 11 million immigrants whom he wants to deport.  He is not an ally of the immigrant families who will be broken up because of his policies.  ICE raids are up 40% under Trump’s administration.

Is President Trump an ally of Catholics who desire protections for religious freedom?  Don’t believe the rhetoric from the Trump White House; he is no friend of religious liberty.  Trump has argued that he could round up and register Muslims living in the United States.  He plans gross violations of religious liberty by using the power of the United States government to close down Mosques and places of worship that are “un-American.”  His recent refugee ban, targeted at Muslim-majority countries, further demonstrates his lack of commitment to freedom of religion in America.

If he can target Muslims one day, why not Catholics who oppose his blatantly un-Catholic polices the next?  Donald Trump shows an open disregard for the most vulnerable of people and basic democratic norms.

Catholics believe in government that is directed toward the common good of all in society.  This is why Catholicism puts such a heavy emphasis on strong communities that are tightly bound together.  But the common good is not just what is good for society as a whole, the common good starts and ends with the good of each individual person.  It is because of this principle that we are obliged to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of society.

As Catholics, we have a serious obligation to protect religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, women, the unborn, workers, and immigrants.  A true ally of Catholics would stand in solidarity with these groups, not target them.

No, Vice President Pence, President Trump is not an ally that Catholics can count on.


Building a Bridge Between the Church and the LGBT Community: An Interview with Fr. James Martin

This month, Fr. James Martin released Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, called it “a welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders, more compassionately minister to the LGBT community.” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said it “provides us the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to undertake the arduous but monumentally Christlike task of replacing a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Christopher White has a good interview with Fr. Martin at Crux, and Jesuitical has another good one—which together provide a helpful overview of the central themes in the book. Below, you can find Millennial editor Robert Christian’s interview with Fr. James Martin on some key issues from the book and other issues the book raises:

So many millennials have grown up with friends or family members who are openly gay and the treatment of these friends and family members is very important to them, as of course, it deeply matters to gay, lesbian, and transgender young people. What do you think the type of bridge building that you describe in the book would mean for millennials (in general) and their relationship with the Church?

What you described is one of the most surprising things for me, as I gain more experience with LGBT ministry.  First of all, the more people who are open about their sexuality and identity, the more Catholics will be impacted—families and friends of LGBT people.  So it’s a much broader issue than I had imagined.

But the other surprise has been precisely what you describe: for most millennials the question of LGBT acceptance is virtually a non-issue.  Most millennials I know say, “Of course I accept them!  Of course I love them!  Of course they belong in the Church!”  And they are often appalled at the language they hear coming from church officials.  Some of them have told me that one reason they’ve left the Church is over this topic—even if they’re straight.  So the bridge that I describe—bringing together LGBT Catholics and the institutional church—is for some of them the last causeway to the Church.  Otherwise, they don’t want to be a part of a church that they feel is either homophobic or in any way unwelcoming.

How should the bishops respond to the far-right groups that hunt down gay employees at Catholic institutions in order to pressure these institutions to fire them?

First of all, I’m clear in the book that I don’t think church organizations should be firing LGBT employees.  For the simple reason that the requirement to adhere to Church teaching seems to be applied only to them.  We don’t fire divorced and remarried Catholics who have not gotten annulments, or women who have children out of wedlock, or people who use birth control, which are all against Church teaching.  The question of adherence to Church teachings is enforced in a highly selective way, which is, to my mind, a sign of what the Catechism calls “unjust discrimination.”

And regarding the far-right groups that, as you rightly say, “hunt down” LGBT employees?  I think the bishops should ignore them.  These groups, often very minuscule in terms of membership, are usually less concerned about an overall application of Church teaching—after all, when did they hunt someone down for not serving the poor, for not being forgiving, for not being a loving person?—than with simply ferreting out and persecuting LGBT people.   I find their tactics reprehensible.

I think you make a very persuasive case for using terms like gay and lesbian rather than more formal terms “homosexual persons,” but should there be limits to how much the Church—from its pastors to its formal documents—affirms the use of other terms like pansexual or polysexual? At any point does a certain expressive individualism, in terms of boundaryless self-identification, collide with the Church’s understanding of the nature of the human person in a way that merits drawing distinctions among the various terms used in the LGBT community?

That’s a good question.  Our most fundamental identity is as beloved children of God, baptized Christians, and members of the Catholic Church.  All of that precedes sexual identity and orientation.  As for the use of particular terms, I know this is a hotly contested question.  The acronym LGBTQ seems to change almost weekly.  In fact, just last night I asked a gay man and a lesbian woman about this phenomenon and they both said, “We can’t keep up with all the changes.” So we are seeing a revolution in the way that people understand and identify themselves.  But nothing of the human experience should be foreign to the Church, and so the Church needs to meditate deeply on this aspect of human experience.  At the same time, our fundamental identities as children of God, baptized Christians, and members of the Catholic Church need to be held onto.

But I’ll be honest: I don’t think I understand enough about the fluidity of sexuality, or the ins and outs of psychology, or the current terminology, to be able to pronounce on that question with any confidence. My basic attitude though is that when confronted with something you don’t understand in a person’s life, you are called to listen to their experiences, see it in the light of the Gospels and Church teaching, and then come to some understanding of how to accompany this person.  But first comes listening.

Same sex marriage is now a fundamental issue for the LGBT community. Does the Church’s position on it create a wall that makes certain bridge building impossible or extremely difficult to achieve?

Not as I see it.  You’re correct in saying that this is a barrier to bridge building.  The institutional church and much of the LGBT community are miles apart on this.  The same is true for the Church’s prohibition on same-sex relations (that is, the Church’s teaching on sexual activity between people of the same sex).  For the Church, it is simply impermissible, for the LGBT community, simply a given.

So yes, it’s something of a barrier.  But I prefer to focus on the areas of commonality: the desire to conform one’s life to Christ, the desire to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, the desire for Christian community.  And the first steps I’m asking for, “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” virtues outlined in the Catechism, call mainly for an open heart.  That’s something I think everyone can carry along, as they walk along the bridge.

The call for the Church to do more about violence directed at people in the LGBT community, in places like Chechnya and Uganda, for instance, and the bullying, depression, and suicide rates here in US seems like a critical starting point. In practical terms, what can the Church—its people and the hierarchy—do on these issues?     

First of all, speak up.  The Gospels impel us to stand with those who are being persecuted in any way.  I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could be: he sided with those who were on the margins.  Catholic social teaching urges us to understand the meaning of “solidarity.”  And the Catechism asks us to resist any forms of “unjust discrimination” directed against LGBT people.  So in places where LGBT people are being actively persecuted, the Church should stand with them, publicly.  Other issues can clearly be seen in the light of Church teaching.  What is suicide among gay teens other than a “life issue”?

So we need to make LGBT people feel visible and valuable. We need to let them know that they are beloved children of God who are as much a part of the church as the pope, their local bishop, and me.  We need to listen to them and enter the mystery of their lives.  We need to accompany them.  We need to stick up for them when needed.  We need to be compassionate to them.  And we need to let them evangelize us.  In a word, we need to love them.


Love Has No Alibi: Pope Francis Announces First World Day of the Poor Message

Earlier today, Pope Francis released a message for the Church in preparation for the First World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated on November 19th.  This particular Sunday—two weeks before the beginning of Advent and the Sunday before the Feast of Christ the King, which concludes the liturgical year—is given focus by the gospel reading for the day.  The passage, Matthew 25:14-30, is called the “parable of the talents.” It is a sobering reminder that much is expected from those to whom much is given (to paraphrase Luke 12:48), and sets the stage for the following passage (Matthew 25:31-46, the gospel for the Feast of Christ the King), when Jesus surprises his disciples by saying that final judgment is not a matter of belief or belonging, but results from how a person uses his or her freedom.  Specifically, Jesus identifies himself with the least, the last, and the lowly, telling his followers: “what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These passages are part of the biblical foundation for the preferential option for the poor in Catholic social teaching. This teaching calls Christians to love God by loving their neighbor, giving special priority to the neighbor in greatest need. It is crucial to remember that when we use the word “poor,” we’re not just talking about scores of people barely making ends meet.  Poor and low-income people make up 71% of the global population.

In Hebrew, the word for “poor” is anawim, although the word conveys much more than material deprivation.  Anawim is just as much about being vulnerable and marginalized, a social outcast, cloaked in shame.  When we talk about “the poor,” we should remember we are talking about people: children, married couples and single adults, the elderly, folks who experience mental or physical illness or injury—people who are socially excluded or isolated.  In Scripture, to be poor is to be denied dignity, rights, freedom, opportunities, and access.  Similarly, in the world today, to be poor is to have little or no power.  As Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez has claimed, to be poor is to be rendered socially insignificant, a nonperson, someone fated to premature death.

A significant part of Pope Francis’ Message for the First World Day of the Poor involves going beyond exhorting Christians to show special care, concern, and steadfast commitment to those in greatest need.  “Love has no alibi,” Pope Francis asserts, and it ought to lead to a “true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”  Here Francis connects this inaugural “World Day of the Poor” to one of the central themes of his papacy, the need to build a “culture of encounter,” to bring people together across differences with tenderness and solidarity.

Moreover, Pope Francis uses this message to remind Christians that we all experience poverty of some kind; we are all deprived in one way or another.  This is not a call to self-pity, but humility.  Aquinas defines humility as the truth: the ability to recognize our goodness as well as our finitude and moral failure.  Our poverty—material, spiritual, and marked by other social and political conditions—can be a starting point, rooted in humility to connect with others in vulnerability and openness.  As Brené Brown has highlighted, there is great power in vulnerability, a power that can bring about a change in the way we relate to ourselves and one another.

Instead of focusing on what we can give to others (especially in a spirit of pity or unilateral charity that can sometimes do more harm than good), this is a call to friendship, to right-relationship with God and all creation.  It is a call to be who God is in the world: a communion of love.

When we embrace our own poverty and refuse to ignore the poverty of others, we can make ourselves more available to the presence and power of God in our midst, who, as Jesus proclaimed, desires that we share life in abundance (John 10:10).  This First World Day of the Poor is a day to commit ourselves to be artisans of peace and builders of a “culture of life.”

You can read Pope Francis’ full Message for the First World Day of the Poor here.