Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Catholicism as Counter-Culture

This isn't the usual "woe is me, everyone around me is sinful" tripe-post that seems to crop up whenever a mother sees two gay men at the park or so on, because the internet has enough of those, and it would be easier to simply link you to any of a dozen others than to write one myself. Having said that, the frequent trend among bloggers in the Catholic community needs to be addressed, and since the stones are already flying, I don't feel the need to worry about whether or not my soul is any more tarnished than anyone else's.

This morning, the lovely Cam over at A Woman's Place, which is a truly fantastic and heart-warming bit of literature, provided a link to one of these posts, as offered by Stacy Trasancos of Accepting Abundance (Article Linked). While I encourage everyone to read the whole work, in case I am somehow misrepresenting Ms. Trasancos, the issue revolves around public displays of affection by same-sex couples in her community, the impression it leaves on her children, and the overlying theme of the sexual immorality of our time.

Like Ms. Trasancos, I would hope to be able to raise my (admittedly hypothetical) children without exposing them prematurely to any sort of improper behaviour, and I share her view that homosexual sex is sinful. I also agree that every voice in the community gets a say in how that community behaves and endures. I disagree, however, with the "woe-is-me, the atheists (not sure how they got in here) and the LGBT community are mad at me for disliking their lifestyle choice" attitude that both the original post and Cam's repost seem to take up. I apologise to both women in advance for disagreeing there, and no offence is meant by it.

The main argument, to me, seems to be that the LGBT community considers teaching on that facet of sexual morality to be "hate speech", but has no problem lobbing insults back at the Catholics who give voice to that reality. However, as Saint Benedict taught us, we must listen with the ear of our heart. Why do they call it "hate speech"? Is it possibly because to them, it actually sounds hateful?

I wasn't born into Catholicism. My mother's family has Catholic roots, that's true, but my parents are agnostic. I've dabbled in other faiths in my youth and studied all manner of different dogmas before coming to rest in the Church. I know how annoying it is to hear "(such and such a behavior/object/discipline) is sinful" because I've heard it myself. Of course the conversation turns vitriolic. Sin is vitriolic!

You can't say "No offence but it's wrong that you and your same-sex partner have sex," for the same reason you can't say "No offence, but that dress makes you look fat." It will offend people to hear that they are mistaken. It will be a matter of contention. Ever get in a fight with your parents about whether or not it was okay to learn karate/get a tattoo/dye your hair blue? You were pretty cheesed when they said no and put their foot down, right? Same basic concept.

If the LGBT movement is going to consider itself counter-cultural despite being relatively mainstream, than Catholics should do the same. A commenter on the Accepting Abundance post suggested that Catholics form their own ghettos... maybe it isn't such a bad idea. After all, we already become close-knit through our parishes. Why not make that closeness literal as well as social?

The best thing any Catholic can do for any gay person is threefold. First, pray. Whatever devotional it is that you like, or even something as simple as an utterance on your way back into the car. Second, live. Saint Francis commanded his followers to "preach always, and when necessary, use words". Live good, moral lives, and don't be ashamed to answer when people ask. Third, and above all, be kind. If you meet a gay man, do not be afraid to be his friend. You never know who you're going to meet in life. I wouldn't have even become Christian without meeting my darling, never mind Catholic. It wouldn't have occurred to me to give it a second look.

Know, however, that, when you take up whatever country you're in and its rights to free speech, your enemies can do the same. Once those stones start flying, boy, then it's best you're prepared to catch one or two.

My dad used to tell me that it's alright to get pissed, as long as you realize that the other guy is probably pissed too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bias: Christians are all Right Wing

... And, of course, the furthest right are the Catholics.

I can certainly understand the source of this particular piece of sociopolitical wisdom. It does feel like the loudest mouths on the right are the Christians. Catholicism itself is counter-cultural, tending toward a social conservatism.   The positions the Church takes on issues like Gay Marriage, Abortion, and Sex are inherently seen as being "to the right". Sometime's that truer than others. The Catholic opposition to Gay Marriage is that they are not empowered to change the context of the sacrament. It is not a "Gays Are Icky" statement, though I imagine the strongest voices are, as ever, the ones fighting some private battle with an aversion to "Teh Gey". Marriage requires a man and a woman and always has. The Sacrament of Holy Orders, which creates Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, has also always required a man, but this is a matter of somewhat less contention in the mainstream of society. Similarly, the view that Sex should be saved for marriage is also seen as mediaevally right wing, and I'll cede that point, except to say that such abstinent behavior is a remarkable act of devotion between both parties, toward God. Any 21 year old man would tell you just how hard it is not to screw everyone who's up for it.

Abortion is a particular favourite of mine at the moment because it is argued as being conservative on the basis of women's rights. What about children's rights? What about the right to grow and live and learn and love? If anything, a stance against abortion leans further to the left than the right... but it's all about how you spin it.

The thing is, the Church has many positions that would make the right wing curl up and die. Not executing murderers, rapists, et al. has been described by at least one friend of mine as "Hippy Bullshit", and I live in Canada, who hasn't had a death penalty since well before my time. Jesus spent his earthly ministry healing the sick and curing the incurable, never charging so much as the smallest fee. Without even really demanding that those who were healed believed, though it was a necessary side effect of having been made un-blind, or cleaned of leprosy... but you've heard the rants. Our hopelessly liberal government is sending its money to Africa! Entitlement programs like welfare and publicly-funded health care are - gasp!- socialism! We shouldn't spend one penny on the poor or the ill! Funding healthcare publically means that more people will die and get sick!

... You get the picture.

The part where it becomes a problem for me is that, whether anyone has said that "Jesus told me public healthcare is wrong", people have stuck that label on it. Whether anyone has actually said that "Jesus told me welfare is evil", people are making that argument. What is more Christian than helping the poor? Healing the sick?

When POTUS announced an initiative to encourage volunteer-ism among the young people of the USA, the right was outraged. Why should my child help people if he isn't being compensated? It's far better that he practices Call of Duty online nine hours a day so that when he grows up he can be a doctor or a lawyer or another rich person! Socialism! Rampant Socialism!

Oh, but the yard at the rectory could use a trim. And the parish itself needs a fresh coat of paint. The tabernacle is starting to look a little tarnished! And there goes Father Peter about how the parish is once again forced to contract this all out, and how hard it is to meet both the diocesean assessment and the maintainance cost with the offertory! How dare he suggest I give up my hard-earned money to help the church! What happened to the good old days, when everyone in the parish got together and pitched in, helping where they could, without any thought of reward.

Oh. Oops.

See, though, the thing about public healthcare and welfare is that they're expensive. Why, in the USA alone they cost a whopping 43% of the budget this year! That's more than twice as much as the military at 20% and a whopping seven times the interest on the national debt! Oh the humanity, now they want to spend more money on it? My taxes are high enough already! (Stats courtesy of the CBO)

Settle down, son, let me teach you a brief lesson on statistical analysis. This next statistic is courtesy of the SIPRI's Military Expenditures Database. In 2010, the United States accounted for 43% of all global military expenditures. China was the next largest at 7.3%. Including China, the 14 next most expensive armies accounted for 39.7%. That's all the major NATO players, plus Russia and China. The United States could reduce it's military spending by 8% of its total, and be an even match for 15 other countries, assuming it had no allies, and NATO suddenly attacked alongside Russia and China. Assuming Russia and China were the enemies and the rest of NATO were pitching in, the United States could cut its army in half.

New taxes don't have to be levied to create money for spending. Any Christian could tell you it's wrong to kill people. Spend a little less money on hurting them and a little more money on healing them and you'll be doing yourselves all a favour. Yes, it's going to be expensive... but the population crash when the baby-boomers get too old AND the obese start dying off or taking disability would be more expensive. As a Canadian, you are one of my largest trading partners. As a current worker in the hospitality industry here in Canada, you are my biggest customers. Take care of yourselves. It's good for my chequebook, and for yours.

After all, that's all these people really care about, is money.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Homosexuality from a Young Perspective

One of the strongest arguments in opposition to the Church is also the byproduct of a misunderstanding. She finds herself berated in every avenue for her stance regarding homosexuality. It is said that Catholics believe that homosexuality is a choice, a sinful choice made by unrepentant folk, who deliberately turn their back on God, and should not be allowed to receive communion because they are evil and sinful! Oh my, someone save the LGBT community from this adult bullying!

This is not the Catholic stance, and the misunderstanding is rooted in the difference between the colloquial meaning of the term and a more narrow, focused definition. When we think of homosexuality as secular North Americans, we call to mind the entire lifestyle, from the attraction to people of the same sex, right through to that couple's act of lovemaking, and all the various behaviours ascribed, often erroneously, to homosexuals. Not every Lesbian is butch, and not every Gay man is a ninny or obsessed with chaps. Within the descriptions of doctrine, Homosexuality refers simply to the sexual portion of this broad definition. Attraction, what we as a society call "being gay", is just that: Same Sex Attraction.

Homosexual Sex [i]is[/i] proscribed against in various places through the bible, and not just in Leviticus. It is a misuse of Sex, whose proper form is unitive and procreative between married couples. Homosexual sex likely shares the unitive portion, but does not share the procreative. This is what is meant when it is called [i]disordered[/i].

Same Sex Attraction, on the other hand, is a difficult cross to bear, as difficult as any inclination away from Chastity (which, by the way, is not virginity, but the proper sexual state for one in one's current state of life. Married couples remain chaste even in the sex act itself), or any other strong inclination to sin, such as kleptomania. It is not the position of the Church that people must choose to be gay. Quite the contrary, it is they who choose to act upon that instinct, God-Given as it is. It is no greater a sin than the sin of a young man and young women who like to have sex out of wedlock.

The idea of sexual sin has become taboo to discuss in our sexually-liberated society. If a man, of Faith or Not, suggests that he would rather see women modestly dressed than otherwise, he is often seen as less than totally masculine, or somewhat backward or outdated. Similarly, we have taken homosexuality and made it an issue akin to racism or sexism. Those who speak against it, for the protection of those with SSA, are seen as backwards and bigoted.

I strongly urge everyone to consider the Stations of the Cross. What is your cross to bear? Sins of the Flesh? Sins of Anger? There is no man alive who doesn't have something to contend with. The difference between one and another is whether they choose to bear it, or to let it master them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Prayer Life, Maturity, and Habits.

Daily living is a series of habits. Some of my habits are good. Some of my habits are bad. Finding a way to my concept of maturity is necessarily going to involve culling out my bad habits and forming new, good habits. Some habits are easy to change. A lot of them seem harder. A few things I tend to see as habits aren't habits, but artefacts of my body chemistry and the way my brain was wired since I was very young.

I suffer from what my psychiatrist called Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder. I run through a cycle from mania to clinical depression in about a month or so. When you're on the upswing, its a heavenly state of mind with clarity of purpose, constant inspiration, and energy to spare. When you're all the way up, emotional states become brittle, prone to change. You feel everything more. Happy becomes ecstatic. Angry becomes a rage. Sad becomes devastated. When you're down, your emotions become more understated, but you feel like the world spins too fast, time flows too quickly. Physical and mental reaction time diminishes. You're angry when you're manic because it's hard not to be. You're frustrated when you're depressed because you just can't keep up.

I say all that, because I have always tended to self-identify with a temper, the same trait that people often mistakenly ascribe to people with BPD. My medication helps. It alters the amplitude and wavelength of my cycle. The massive, disorienting changes in the mental landscape become less oppressive, more manageable. The medication is cheap. With decent medical coverage, you pay no more than the dispensing fee. It's a very cheap, very necessary crutch that moves the user back into the driver's seat. It's not a wonder-drug, removing a temper and erasing sadness, but it makes all the emotional states that come with being alive closer to what someone without BPD feels. It turns life into something you can manage.

My habit, one of my major habits, is to take the medication only when I am having problems. It's not a wonder drug. Like any other drug that affects brain chemistry directly, it takes time for a usable amount to build up in the system. Two weeks is the old rule of thumb. You miss one dose, you're probably okay. You miss two or three, and you're starting over. It metabolize too quickly, you see. The perfect drug, if you take it every day at bed time like a good, responsible adult.

So, a good habit I want to keep building upon his my medication. Another is my Prayer Life, which I guess is how this becomes relevant. I bought a book recently called Christian Prayer. It's the liturgy of the hours published in a single volume, which I suppose means the publishers probably pulled something out of it. It's an easy enough book to understand, once you come to recognize the system for selecting the readings. Each office takes maybe a half hour to pray, if even that long. I've always liked the Divine Office.

Now, lay Catholics aren't under any obligation to say the Divine Office, but it's a sort of ever-changing but static, ritualistic prayer that I enjoy. My hope when ordering the book was to say four or even five of the offices daily. A more realistic goal for me is to say the Morning Office and the Evening, or maybe Night, office. One right as I get up, the other right before bed. That's a good habit to make.

I have bad habits, too. I spend more money than I should. Despite being a trained and accredited cook who was once well on my way to becoming a Red Seal chef, I eat a lot of junk food, a lot of packaged crap. I drink a 12-pack of pop, in cans, in a day. The only thing stopping me from doing that every day is the chore of going to the grocery store to get it. So diet needs to change. A lack of exercise needs to change.

... I wonder then, what are your good and bad habits?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Proper Formation: Armour of God.

Even if we aren't Catholics, Christians are under assault every day. Our enemies are many and their weapons are various. None of us well ever make it from one end of the spiritual battlefield that is Life without being injured, in some way, by Sin. Many of us will fall, unable or unwilling to reach out to Christ for aid and trust in Him.

Sometimes, our enemies are highly visible in the forms of actual people. The often venomous dialogue between other faiths and philosophies has made the whole Question into something of a joke. Sometimes its not an actual attack in terms of argument or aggression, but an offer to Sin; extramarital sex or other sins of impurity, or becoming enraged. Peer pressure is a powerful force that can push us to break laws both Moral and Material.

Other times, our enemies are more insidious. If you suffer from the Sin of Lust, an unmonitored internet connection or a quiet private moment can be potent enemies. If you are prone to Rage, the news can stir you into a froth. If you have problems with Gluttony, you will have a hard time in the kitchen... and so on. Opportunity can be an enemy.

God is our primary defence against Sin, because He wants us to love Him, as He loved us before creation. Staying on the Way to the foot of the cross is a challenge that tests our will and our righteousness. A piece of Gregorian Chant, rendered to English, has long been a favourite of mine. It reads:
The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and he thirsts for Justice; the Law of God is in his heart, and his footsteps shall not falter.
The first commandment is that God is the Lord Our God, and we shall have no other gods before Him. These other "gods" may not be deities, but they are the things we put before God in our daily lives. We are all called as Christians to grow in our faith.

As a Catholic, I've had the good pleasure to be introduced, just over the last few months, to dozens of different devotional practices, and I've seen how diverse and personal Prayer really is. Whether you prefer to say the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet, to sit quietly in Adoration at the chapel or to meditate on the Word in Lectio Divina, there is a way for you, within your tastes, to move closer to God through prayer and contemplation.

Most importantly of all, however, is to understand what God wants of us. To recognize an enemy, we must combat his arms. When I started on this journey, I disagreed with the Catholic position on many points, and spent a lot of time in the wings, learning about other Christian denominations and their faith. It wasn't until these positions were explained to me in terms of the Human Condition that I realized I agreed with these tenants. Everything from the communion of saints, to the high position of the Virgin Mary, to confession, and the church's position on matters of sexuality were reversed.

It was not an overnight process. It took careful study. Study of the doctrine, really understanding it, is what helps us to obey it. Knowing God's laws makes us closer to God... and in that way, a proper formation of the faith is Prayer in and of itself. Read, watch, or listen to apologetics, to catechism. Only in that way, may we begin to understand the Way.

Avoidance of Many Sins is itself a form of mortification, if only in a secular sense. We have to give things up. Examining our conscience to find the things we have done takes time, for one thing. Prayer takes time, more or less of it, depending on your prayer life. Once a week, we are called to give over entire days to rest and prayer. Those of us who find a sort of self-righteous indignation in being angry are called to give up their very anger. We are to forgo the modern trend toward promiscuity and even deny ourselves pleasures lawfully obtained.

We have to remember, though, that Sin is, in a strange way, something to be loved. It is a message from our Divine Father. While we may not like to be thus restricted, it is nothing more than a parent guiding its child to becoming a better person.

We must study. From there, prayer and faith will flow.