Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Monday, March 23, 2009

Christian humanism made of gratitude

Submitted to Cumberland Times-News March 23, 2009.
Update: Published in Times-News Letters on April 13.
"Gratitude nourishes in us humility to endure lean and low points in life, and grace to embrace abundance and joy. We strive to arrive, as St. Paul did, at a stage of self-sufficiency – spiritually, that is."

“Without gratitude,” writes Theodore Dalrymple in his 2008 book The Politics and Culture of Decline, “it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have; and life (becomes) an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.”

The difference between Christian Humanism (a culture of life) and Secular Humanism (the culture of death) seems to be the difference between gratitude and emptiness.

“Secular ideologies have lost much of their appeal and once again people are hungering for the unifying vision of the religious imagination.” So says the Center for Religious Humanism (based in Seattle, Wash.), which aims to cultivate respect for truth by celebrating creation and nurturing the soul through art that expresses faith.

The Christian life is filled with gratitude: God gifted us Christ, who died to redeem us. St. Paul says in Philippians 4:13: “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything.”

Gratitude nourishes in us humility to endure lean and low points in life, and grace to embrace abundance and joy. We strive to arrive, as St. Paul did, at a stage of self-sufficiency – spiritually, that is.

We live in community; and community creates culture. Culture is rooted in religion. Religion sustains and tempers us: It inspires us to hope and instructs us to love. Christians hope for eternal union with God; and we aim to help others attain the same.

Mysterious and difficult, these tenets take a lifetime to unfold and to realize in concrete ways. Sadly, what is difficult to understand or do, or takes time, often is dismissed. At the end, though, our relationship with God is a personal one; and it is our most important relationship.

Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary cites St. Justin Martyr (born in the year 100) as the first Christian Humanist -- the first to enunciate that truths of faith are more important than human culture.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin recounts his quest, around age 30, to acquaint himself with God. His teachers, though, either don’t know God, or they believe He is irrelevant to other matters of learning.

Finally, Justin finds a Platonist: “And the perception of immaterial things…and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity,” for Justin had learned only “to look upon God.”

Then one day he converses with an old man about God and life and teachers; and the old man says to Justin: “There existed, long before this time, certain men…who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets…and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things...since they both glorified the Creator…and proclaimed His Son, the Christ….”

Justin reads the prophets’ writings and discovers contentment in their “words filled with the Spirit of God, and big with power, and flourishing with grace;” and he yearns to share it. (St. Justin taught and defended the Christian faith in Asia Minor and Rome, until his beheading in 165.)

A culture without God lacks gratitude and contentment; and the lights of truth and beauty and imagination go dark. Anyone who wants to create a culture of life can set out today, as St. Justin did, to know God and his intent for us – to be fully human in a relationship with His son – and to be fully alive, even (and especially) in a secular culture of death.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thou shalt not kill, in word or deed

Though he said he failed to see the connection betwee the fifth and eighth commandments ("Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"), Father Paul Byrnes led our "Why Catholic" group on March 12 to pray for mercy for all the times that we destroyed relationships or reputations.

I believe those commandments, and the reqeust for mercy, also would apply to the times we confuse or corrupt others' thoughts or perspectives by our own dissidence or rebellion against authority, simply because we feel that we are entitled (or beholden to an opposite point-of-view or opposing group of characters) to stir up bad feelings among our audience.

Father Paul did it again: He contradicted more than clarified. He confused more than amused. He left me, anyway, feeling uneasy about him when the session was over. He leaves an impression that he is very uncertain, even uneducated, about his topic -- the Catholic faith -- and his pastoral responsibilities.

In response to one participant's question, "When will we hear priests speak out from the pulpit against abortion?" he replied: "Oh, I wouldn't! You're presuming that I would!"

Well, yes. You are a Catholic priest. We just might expect you to feel comfortable addressing the issue from the pulpit -- not politically, of course, but pastorally.

Catholics today yearn for pastoral direction. It would be lovely if more of our priests would speak clearly, comfortably and concisely on the issue of abortion -- and on other matters of moralitty. (Fortunately, I know at least two priests who do.)

I didn't find anything worth notating in Father Byrnes' session. He showed clips from the movies Friendly Persuasion (having to do with matters of conscience related to the commandment "Thou shalt not kill") and Dead Man Walking (related to the morality of capital punishment.

Father Bynes did enunciate his personal position that the church's teaching on life should include all aspects of it, from womb to tomb; and he handed out two articles, Abortion Absolutists and Finding Renewal. Both appear in America, the National Catholic Weekly, published by the Jesuits, a very liberal order.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secular monument not needed

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters Tuesday, March 10, 2009.

“[A]lthough a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and
(events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.”
-- Supreme Court decision, February 25, 2009, Pleasant Grove City, Urah v. Summum

Just because Allegany County commissioners approve display of the Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s) on the courthouse lawn, they are not obliged (under pressure from Jeffrey Davis, founder of the local Citizens for a Secular Government) to put up a companion monument to secularism.

A unanimous Supreme Court decision on February 25, 2009, ruled so in the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.

Summum sued when Pleasant Grove City officials determined that the group’s proposal for a monument to its Seven Aphorisms didn’t fit the city’s guidelines for displaying monuments on public land, though a Ten Commandments monument (donated by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971) stood.

Justice Samuel Alito writes in the court opinion that the city “explained that it limited Park monuments to those either directly related to the City’s history or donated by groups with longstanding community ties.”

Alito summarizes: “This case presents the question whether the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment entitles a private group to insist that a municipality permit it to place a permanent monument in a city park....”

The opinion concludes that “although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and (events)…the placement of a permanent monument…is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.”

The court considers that since public monuments “commonly play an important role in defining the identity that a city projects to its own residents and to the outside world, entities rightly exercise discretion when accepting donated monuments to be placed on public property….”

Alito reflects on Summum’s notion of entitlement: “[W]hen France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, this country (would have) had the option of either (a) declining France’s offer or (b) accepting the gift, but providing a comparable location in the harbor of New York for other statues of a similar size and nature (e.g., a Statue of Autocracy, if one had been offered by, say, the German Empire or Imperial Russia).”

He continues, in the same vein: “Every jurisdiction that has accepted a donated war memorial (could) be asked to provide equal treatment for a donated monument questioning the cause for which the veterans fought.”

Our county commissioners consented recently to consider guidelines for constructing a monument, to stand on the courthouse lawn, ostensibly to honor the U.S. Constitution, at the insistence of Davis and his irreligious group.

Davis threatened the county commissioners with a law suit in 2004 that resulted in the commissioners removing the Ten Commandments monument. In response to public outcry, they moved it back.

According to a Times-News article of Jan. 27, 2009 (“County OKs study into U.S. Constitution monument idea”), Davis has advocated for the secular monument since November 2007. He apparently threatened to sue the commissioners if they wouldn’t give him a go-ahead.

It seems, as reported in the Times-News article, that Davis proposes a 138-word inscription to include his own viewpoint that the U.S. Constitution is “a secular document that was intended to form a more perfect union and to protect the liberties of all its people.”

“Legally, he’s got the right to do it,” Commissioner Jim Stakem says in the Times-News article. Davis also is quoted in that article: “My preference…is, (that) they would not keep the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn. I don’t belongs there.”

The Supreme Court disagrees.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Family, 'Domestic Church,' seat of personal formation

"The family is creation's natural unit for producing and protecting its members and for developing commuity and society."

We Christians/Catholics learn the societal aspects of compassion, service and respect in our family settings, hopefully. If we don't learn these values and behaviors in our family relationships, we may possibly learn them in other settings and circumstances; but it is difficult.

In our "Why Catholic" session this week, facilitated by Margie Meyers, we discussed the fourth commandment (honor father and mother) and the family unit as the "domestic Church" -- that is, the Church in miniature, the Holy Family replicated -- where parents and children learn and practice reciprocal expressions of love, caring and nurturing. The family is creation's natural unit for producing and protecting its members and for developing commuity and society.

We Catholics/Christians must foster family values and advocate for their protection. We should keep ourselves informed of threats to the institution of marriage and family and call community to uphold the family standards that keep community and society safe, healthy and productive.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Love God, honor His name, keep holy His day

"The law of the Sabbath day is in the life of the spirit what the law of gravitation is in nature." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath -- Its Meaning for Modern Man

The sixth semester morning meetings of the four-year Why Catholic program (that meets twice a year) began February 26. Father Ty Hullinger taught on the Ten Commandments overall and particularly the first three -- all having to do with our love for God: Serve no other God; keep His name holy; keep His Sabbath holy.

Father Ty presented a wealth of information -- in a hurry and a flurry -- that boiled down to 1) be aware of material possessions or social priorities that may (and must not) take precedence in our lives over our love, attention and obedience to God; 2) cherish His name and honor it in thought and speech; 3) avoid secular pursuits and prefer to desire a deepening understanding of faith and service to others on Sunday.

Father Ty sent us home with a couple of handouts, one containting excerpts from Abrahan Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath -- Its Meaning for Modern Man, in which Heschel states: "What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us. The law of the Sabbath day is in the life of the spirit what the law of gravitation is in nature."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Courage to proclaim religious heritage America's most pressing issue

"Unless we define who we are and have the courage to proclaim it, we will lack the wherewithal to face future exigencies." -- Louise Friend of Friendsville, Maryland

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters March 2, 2009. (Written by Louise Friend of Friendsville, Maryland.)

To the Editor:

When Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliamentarian, arrived at Heathrow Airport to present to the British Parliament a screening of his film, Fitna, the frightened Home Secretary ordered him deported.

Lord Ahmed, a Muslim member of the House of Lords, had threatened descent of 10,000 Muslims on Britain’s Parliament if Wilders were admitted. Wilders’ short film is a compilation of video footage from various recent Muslim terrorist atrocities and its documentation has earned him death threats as well as the Home Secretary’s unwelcome.

Wilders appeared on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor recently, and during the interview he made a simple but profound statement. “I think we should embrace our identity and be proud of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” Wilders said. He is correct.

Unless we do embrace our identity and take pride in our Judeo-Christian heritage, then America, like Britain, will cower in the face of evil tyranny. This, I think, is the most pressing issue facing America today — even more than the economy, important though the economy may be. Unless we define who we are and have the courage to proclaim it, we will lack the wherewithal to face future exigencies.

America’s richness derives in part from its multicultured and multi-faith composition. But despite our varied backgrounds and faiths, most of us share an overriding belief that by some power greater than ourselves, we have been granted certain inalienable rights.

While the multiculturalist, perhaps in an attempt to be “fair,” would deny distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice, nobility and baseness, most Americans would not ascribe moral equivalency between life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, say, and death, bondage and despair.

And one need not be a Jew nor a Christian to believe such. So where did we Americans get such a notion?

We often describe America’s Founders as being men of the Enlightenment, and so they were, but by and large, most were also men of the Bible. They displayed an interesting array of theologies, and a few merely articulated a vague and shadowy sense of a Divine Providence.

But whence the Enlightenment? I am convinced that the European Enlightenment with its argument for individual significance and consequent freedoms could not have arisen from any philosophical seedbed other than that provided by a Judeo-Christian foundation.

So while each American, in his or her right to conscience, may adhere to any faith or lack thereof, each of us may also imbibe, enjoy and treasure the fruit emanating from a Judeo-Christian rootstock. And this we should celebrate.

Geert Wilders offers a courageous voice in a politically correct West run amok. We do not need to “reboot” America’s image to ingratiate ourselves with those who hold a world view altogether contrary to our own.

We need to reinforce our image and identity by proclaiming boldly our heritage and world view, and we need to do it with pride and without apology.

Louise Friend