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

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.

Machismo Madness is Damaging American Politics and Our Society

The night before the election, the Republican candidate for Montana’s lone congressional seat, Greg Gianforte, body slammed the Guardian’s political reporter Ben Jacobs, who was trying to get Gianforte to comment on the CBO’s score of the American Health Care Act and captured the entire altercation on an audio tape.  Unsurprisingly, a number of prominent conservative members of the media were quick to attack Jacobs, calling him a “wuss,” saying that he deserved it, and that he’s a snitch for calling the police.  On Twitter, there are reports of Republican voters in Montana who are saying that Jacobs had it coming and that other members of the media deserve what happened to him.  Even more depressing is that members of Congress were making jokes about how they have wanted to “body slam” reporters in the past.

Gianforte’s assault and battery of a reporter is not a surprise, nor is the conservative response in defending him. President Trump has viciously vilified the media as liars, dangerous, enemies of the people, fake news, and dishonest.  Reporters at Trump’s campaign rallies were often threatened and felt endangered.  It’s surprising that it took this long for it to reach this point.

But Gianforte’s violent response to Jacobs, and the positive responses to it, are symptomatic of a larger problem in the conservative movement: an obsession with faux-masculinity.  The Republican Party has descended into what we might call “machismo madness.”  There’s a growing obsession with real men and how real men are supposed to act that borders on idolatry.

Few embody this machismo madness better than President Trump. Donald Trump has been recorded calling women “fat pigs,” “slobs,” and “Miss Piggy”; rating women’s bodies on a scale of 1-10; and bragging about using his money and his fame as an excuse to sexually assault women by “grabbing them by the pussy.”  Then a slew of women came forward to state that he had, in fact, sexually assault them just as he publicly said he did.  Trump said in a debate that Hillary Clinton did not have the “look” of a President.  None of this was problematic for either Republicans or conservative voters.  He was just being a real man with manly locker room behavior and banter.

Sexual assault is just a man being a man; all real men do it. Beating up protestors is how real men deal with people who are disturbing them. Grading women on a hotness scale is how real men treat women; and these women really want to be objectified by real men, even though they won’t say so. Real men don’t complain to the police when they’re choked, tackled, and punched; the man who did the punching is the real man because real men stand up for themselves with violence.  All real men have guns, carry guns around for protection, and will use guns to defend themselves.

These attitudes are a result of a post-modern conservative mindset in which conservatives long for a past that never existed, a fantasy golden age created from literature, media, and political speeches. In this past that never was, men were strong, violent, and powerful. Cultural changes in our society are causing people to flee to this false past as a refuge, instead of coming to terms with their place in the modern world.  Read More

Why Young People Should Embrace the Whole Life Movement

At first glance, the term “whole life” can conjure up numerous different feelings, depending on the context. There are those that believe it’s just another euphemism for the right-wing anti-abortion mob; there are those that see it as another movement in the Christian community that won’t actually take us anywhere. I believe it to be the opposite; yes, it is a largely Christian-based movement, but in the right context, the whole life movement has an extremely effective message that can be preached to people in all walks of life—not just the devout Christian ones.

To be honest, I have never liked the term “pro-life.” To me, nearly everyone is inherently pro-life in some sense—no sound individual consciously wishes for the destruction or oppression of any person or group. But far too many of those who identify as “pro-life” are simply pro-birth. Being pro-life must mean something more that. If one is truly pro-life, then they are concerned not only with the beginning of a life, but with all aspects of it, including its quality. This is the message of the whole life movement: that all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, or any other demographic traits, have an inherent dignity that should be upheld by all people.

The whole life movement covers a variety of bases when it comes to modern issues. It teaches that feminism is a good thing and that yes, we should protect the environment for future generations. It offers alternatives to abortion, improvements in the adoption system and access to prenatal care, rather than simply relying on laws that would restrict the procedure and criminalize women who feel they have no choice but to seek an abortion. I completely agree with this approach. I think the whole life perspective is extremely effective because it presents what has traditionally been seen as a conservative issue in a progressive way; it also includes some traditionally progressive issues in a way that should appeal to conservatives. It proves that there are achievable solutions to even the most controversial of topics. This is an effective and virtuous way to cater to both sides of the country, and to the world. As our country is continually divided by the two parties, it is important to be able to focus on a shared goal, and that is the common good for all living creatures.

As a young, Catholic, feminist, liberal woman, I have a lot to stand for. The pro-life and pro-choice movements simply do not fit my ideals—they turn large-scale moral debates into black and white issues with simple answers to complex questions. Identifying as whole life, however, signifies openness and willingness for change. It also presents an opportunity for Christians to abandon traditional ideas that are long out of date and become aware of important modern-day causes, such as the empowerment of women and girls. These issues should not be the subject of controversy, but a point of agreement that is based on the recognition that something must be done. Someone must advocate for those without a voice, whether that be the poor, the young, the outcasts, the trees, the animals, or the unborn. Through my exploration of this topic, I have come to believe that a whole life perspective is the way I wish to approach today’s challenging issues, and I hope that many others are ready for this fresh mindset.

Jillian Veader is currently a student, writer, and musician at the Academy at Penguin Hall.

The AHCA Doesn’t Meet Catholic Social Teaching, Pro-Life Standards

On May 4, Congressional Republicans gathered in the Rose Garden at the White House to celebrate a 217-213 vote to pass H.R. 1628 (the American Health Care Act, or the AHCA) that finally accomplished something they had tried more than 50 times before: to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as “Obamacare” (even though only 17% of Americans supported such legislation according to one poll).  President Trump took the podium to boast, “We’ve come up with a really incredible health care plan, this has brought the Republican Party together.”

Republicans have been quick to defend the AHCA.  My Congressional Representative, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH-2nd District), praised the bill because it “restores pro-life principles to our nation’s healthcare.”  He noted that pro-life organizations like the National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, the Family Research Council, and the Concerned Women for America supported passage of the bill.  But this cherry-picked list makes it seem like the AHCA is a slam-dunk for those concerned about defending human life at every stage.  On the contrary, a number of Catholic organizations opposed the AHCA, including the Catholic Health Association of the United States and NETWORK, the Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, which coordinated and published concerns from more than 40 Faith Organizations.  Widening the scope, Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN-5th District) listed 50 groups opposed to the AHCA, including the AARP, American Medical Association, American Health Care Association, National Partnership for Women and Families, AFL-CIO, and National Council of La Raza, among others.  Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA-2nd District) denounced the bill in a most eloquent manner, calling it a “shameful” piece of legislation that was rushed after a “pathetic process.”

Indeed, it seems it was premature to celebrate and defend the bill without an updated Congressional Budget Office report.  This nonpartisan review—released earlier this week—makes it difficult to claim this bill “restores pro-life principles to our nation’s healthcare.”

Here are a few highlights from the CBO report on the AHCA:

These features of the AHCA make it clear that “Trumpcare” falls well short of the standard set by Catholic Social Teaching, whether that refers to the life and dignity of the human person, the call to participation in social life, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, or solidarity. Read More