Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preparing for Lent

As we begin this Lenten season, I thought I would share a few thoughts, but before I get too far, I would like to give a hat tip to a few sources that have helped me prepare for this reflection. Earlier this week, my friend Tom Perna wrote a great reflection on Psalm 41. I’m hoping he will give a similar treatment on Psalm 51 for Ash Wednesday. I found it particularly interesting that as we begin Lent, much focus is brought to our sinfulness, our weakness, that we must also find comfort in that if we will give ourselves fully to God, we will find the joy of salvation, through God’s loving mercy.

Second one is not to a friend (yet, but would like to know him!) is Father Dwight Longenecker, Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, South Carolina. You may have read his blog, but I have found that I would like to add his book, The Gargoyle Code, to my reading list now. It is based on CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters¸ and focuses on two gargoyles during Lent, beginning on Shrove Tuesday. That post made me realize that the Enemy is always working against us, and never sleeps, constantly plotting our destruction. Fr Longenecker posted this excerpt today, and I pray he will forgive me for not seeking permission in advance, but I hope that you might find it to be efficacious and certainly poignant as we begin to prepare for the Resurrection of the Lord.

Those of you that attend Mass on Ash Wednesday will see the most peculiar phenomenon: In many cases, the church will be packed to the rafters, even though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation! I have often wondered why people that cannot find their way to any mass on any Sunday will search high and low to find a place to receive ashes on their forehead. Sometimes I wonder if we should not be seeking to get ashes every Sunday, if that would draw them in. This makes me ponder the message of today’s Gospel reading (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18), where Jesus warns us about practicing our piety in order that other men may see it. WOW! So why then, are we going to Mass, and then walking about showing them off all day? Doesn’t this seem to contradict precisely what Christ is telling us? So, I dug a bit, and then of course, I should have just turned to New Advent for the answer! On Ash Wednesday ashes are put on us by the priest to remind US that we are mere mortals, not so we can show off!”

Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and alms giving. We must also be mindful of Christ’s warning to be careful in how we approach this. Do not do it simply for the viewing pleasure of others, seek humility, meekness, and discretion in how you proceed on your Lenten journey. This morning we were all mindful to prepare for today in most ways that it were an ordinary day, teeth were brushed (even by the 12 year old!), clean fresh clothes, I took time to shave, while being mindful that today we are entering into the desert, and pray that with the Father’s mercy, and the Son’s saving grace, we will be a better instrument of the Spirit’s work in the world. We will attend mass this evening, and receive our ashes, and then go home together, strengthened by the graces received in attending mass with our community.

We have of course made some choices in things that we would offer up for Lent, most I will not mention, but the one I will is our choice to offer up the viewing of television during Lent. I was on the fence on this one until yesterday. I said to myself, “Self, you are strong; you can control your television viewing. That silly lady you married is being, well, silly.” Then I read the excerpt from The Gargoyle Code for Shrove Tuesday, and knew that I had to enter into this joyfully, and to provide my family the leadership and loving example we need.

Another goal is to refocus my prayer life, to keep it private as we are reminded by the Lord, but to find intentionality in my prayer. As the spiritual head of my household, I know that if I am not praying well, then my family is not praying well. A speaker at a conference once told us, “Prayer is your relationship with God!” So, if I my prayer life is not what it should be, then it stands to reason that my relationship with God is not what it should be. Let us use this time to strengthen our relationship with God that we might hear Him in the whisper in the wind, and find our place with Him in Heaven.

I am not suggesting that if you are not regularly praying that you should leap into a full Rosary every day! If you can do that, then you will be richly rewarded, but many try this and fail. Years ago, I was told to start off with an Ave and a Glory Be. Then up to a decade of the Rosary, and so on.

Alms giving is a subject that frequently causes many to cringe. But why, I wonder? All things come from God, though we may not recognize it as such. Our time, treasure and talents are from God, we are called to share them, not to hoard them. For what comes of that which we stockpile when we go to our eternal reward? You are dust, and to dust you shall return. At a later time, I will talk about how we plan for our alms giving, our charity. For now, I would remind you to set aside a portion of your time, your talent, and of course, your treasure to return back in gratitude for the life we are given.

So many focus on the “suffering” part of Lent. We should instead focus on the chance this is for us to grow in relationship with Christ, uniting all that we do, all that we are to Him, and especially, yes, to offer up our sufferings in unity with Him on the Cross at Calvary. He alone has borne our sins; He alone could provide us with justification. Only through Christ, the Son, can we find the Father. Only in these times of challenge can we change our lives and convert our hearts that we can properly receive the love intended for us from all eternity.

During this time of Lent, please do not think of it as an arduous task, something to be painstakingly endured and to suffer through. Empty yourself of worldly wants and open your hearts to be receptive of the gift that God so lovingly wants to bestow on all His children. Pray without ceasing, that your relationship with God will never cease, and you will find your life change in ways you could never imagine. Give until it hurts, and then give a little more. All of this, not so your neighbor can marvel at your piety, but that you might be grow in love with Our Lord.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Isn’t Really About Contraception, is it Mr. President?

On January 20, 2012, the Health and Human Services agency, led by former-governor Kathleen Sebelius, presented a rule that would require most employers to provide contraceptive services and products to their employees at with no copay requirements. The exemptions to this rule are so slim that it is speculated that even Jesus Christ and His Apostles may not have qualified for the religious exemption, because He chose to serve those that may not have been members of his specific religion.

The ensuing uproar caught the President off guard it is said. Others say the President knew exactly what he was doing. Did he really expect that virtually every Roman Catholic Bishop in the United States would rise up against this evil regulation? Did he expect the Bishop of Phoenix to tell his flock “We cannot- will not- comply with this unjust law”?

Did he expect that other Bishops and priests would start praying the St. Michael the Archangel prayer at the end of Mass?

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, oh Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the earth, seeking the ruin of souls, Amen.

I seriously doubt that the President expected he would lose the support of his toadies who proclaim themselves Catholic, yet openly discount the teachings of the Church as wrong, or not applicable to them. At least for the moment, anyway.

Never fear! Compromise is here! On February 10th, the President held a brief press conference, where he told the country that he would accommodate religious freedom while making sure that women have access to preventative health care, including contraception, at no additional cost, no matter where they work. Instead the insurance company will be required to directly offer the woman contraceptive care at no additional charge. He goes on to say that even if a woman’s employer is a charity or hospital that has not a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company, not the hospital or charity, will be required to reach out and offer the contraceptive care free of charge without copays and without hassles.

Let me break here for a moment- at no point do I think that contraceptive or abortive or sterilization services should be provided. I do not think it is a personal choice, I think it is inherently and intrinsically evil. The end does not justify the means.

As a businessman and insurance professional, I can tell you, nothing is free. Every item of coverage is calculated at some point. On the non-insurance side, let’s look at mobile telephones. At some point most carriers offer one or more of their handsets for free (subject to signing a two-year contract. How free is that?) This does not mean I can walk into the local Sprint store and ask for two or three of their free phones, unless of course I am prepared to commit to and pay for their service. Likewise, in the case of where the President is mandating that insurance companies pay for services that they do not “charge” for, at some point, you can sure believe a cost is calculated. Someone pays for that. You guessed it. The employer, the employee at some level (most employers do not provide free healthcare to their employees, even hospitals), and guess what? You the consumer end up paying for those services as well when you buy the employers products.

Well, after the President’s statement on 10 February, most of the Presidents toadies fell right back into the fold, saying that this compromise was great, and awesome and wonderful, and oh, never mind, it just made me sick. Later in the day, the USCCB issued a statement condemning the “compromise” calling it no compromise at all.

The President calls the rule “cost neutral” since it saves money by keeping women healthy. Pregnancy is not a disease! Has it been forgotten that chemical contraception causes cancer? Has it been forgotten that chemical contraceptives are abortifacient? What happens when the chemicals cause a miscarriage and results in excessive hemorrhaging, frequently resulting in hospitalization?

As I say at the beginning, this is not about contraception, is it? Fundamentally, what we must realize is this an attack upon the religious liberties granted us by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is an attack upon our freedom of speech as well. These are core tenets of the fabric of our nation, and with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, we are seeing them taken from us not by legislation, but by regulation. The fact that this rule is has been given until August of next year to be implemented further suppresses our right to free speech and religious liberty by attempting to not make it a “political” issue.

I never thought I would find myself in agreement with Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, who is well-known for his liberal stance on a number of issues. To say I was thunderstruck when I read his February 11, 2012 blog post entitled "Just a Minute, Mr. President!" would be an understatement. His statement says exactly what the problem is, and what is the greatest outrage:

As a Catholic American, I am outraged not only by your incredulous contortions to justify your untenable position, I am insulted that you would think that Americans who value and treasure our Constitutional freedoms would even question your overreaching infringement on individual freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.Your "accommodation" actually makes the entire matter far worse. Every effort must be undertaken to reverse your ill-conceived revocation of our Constitutional rights

So Mr. President, while I appreciate that you would like for us to believe that you are looking out for the women of our nation, I believe you have shown us your true colors, and that what you most ardently desire is a nation formed in your image, and for your newly minted ruling class to be the arbiters of what amounts to conscience and morals. I realize that you are not the morally relativistic man I thought you once to be, but find your moral compass pointed in a direction I cannot accept. Your path to morality threatens the existence of our nation and of our people. You perpetuate a Culture of Death, and whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, formally cooperate with evil when you support the notion that a child in the womb has no rights, making it perfectly okay, by your standard, to end that life with no sense of remorse that a human life has been lost. How many future Presidents have died because of this? How many chances for the cure to cancer have been lost for the sake of convenience?

No Mr. President, this is not about contraception, it is about LIFE! It is about freedom, seeking to do the will of God because it is good, not doing what you want because it feels good. And you cannot tell me that you support good morals in private, yet assert the right to make poor decisions in public. One day, you will be called accountable for your actions, and I pray that mercy is had upon you on that day.