The Catholic Voices Blog
The first Saturday of this month was one of the more uplifting days of my year -- and I am grateful that I’ve had a few of them in 2012. I was literally sick and exhausted, fighting a cough that would not quit. I’m a Manhattan gal and had to go to Brooklyn! As far as crosses go, it’s not a big one. But when you’re under the weather, drama has been known to happen and even get the best of you.
But my goodness what I encountered on the other side of the East River there was more powerful than any Vitamin C injection!: Respect Life directors and other apostles working in the vineyards to create and build a welcoming culture of life, a true civilization of love, shining the light of Christ through their service.
They had been gathered by Kathy Gallagher, who runs the New York State Catholic Conference. And the day was about media training. That is: How to communicate Christ’s love more effectively. These women and men do it with their lives. And they spent a Saturday out of their lives, just weeks before Christmas – when things tend to be a little busy – to dedicate time to doing it a little more clearly, a little more effectively, with a little more of Christ’s love showing through, in community.
Sometimes the beauty of the Catholic Voices model is that it can simply give people the confidence to do what they do, live what they live, even in front of a camera.
It’s the reverse that we tend to be more aware of, talk more about, watch on display: The tendency to talk a good talk on camera but not quite follow-through on the walk. But these people who are doing the walking – doing it in front of a camera, too, or in an op-ed, or Letter to the Editor, are simply opportunities to walk with more brothers and sisters, to issue an wider invite, to open a window or that door someone maybe has been waiting for.
It was an overwhelmingly uplifting day, for which I am grateful to Kathy, to everyone who participated, and to DeSales Media and the Diocese of Brooklyn for the use of their studio and personnel who gave up their weekend for the exercises.
It was such a reminder to me, too, of what a blessing a little truth in charity and clarity brings, seeking to model Christ’s pretty awesome communications skills!
This is an overdue report, but one that seems quite timely as the pope tweets and publishes on the op-ed page of the Financial Times today. We’ve got to engage with the world, friends, not hide the light -- of talents and the Good Word of God and the Magisterium -- under a bushel basket! And this imperative does include “put[ting] out into the deep of the 24/7 news media cycle and shar[ing] our Good News,” as Kathy put it after our Saturday in Brooklyn.
The big news today was of course Pope Benedict XVI's first tweet:
While many secular observers looked for significance in the fact that the Pope began tweeting on 12/12/12, Catholics recognized the true importance of the date: as the Holy Father noted, today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the New Evangelization. A wonderful day for the Church.
It will take awhile to digest the results of the election, but two initial reactions:
First, Catholic teachings on a range of issues drove much substantive debate during the campaign. Two Catholic vice-presidential candidates discussing the implications of their shared faith during their debate was a "Catholic moment" of a sort, and Catholics should consider what that moment signifies as we continue to engage contested public issues. One possibility: it's time to reject the tired paradigm that pits liberal and conservative Catholics against each other; instead we should think about how to stand together most effectively across a broad range of issues. We should work as Catholics first and partisans second to carry the Church's rich teachings and resonant vocabulary into the public square in season and out.
Second, the HHS mandate awakened people of all political views to recent erosions of religious freedom. Catholic opposition to the mandate -- not just from the right but from longtime administration supporters like Sister Carol Keehan -- was remarkably unified. Let's hope the the administration takes this opportunity to return to the long-standing bipartisan consensus in favor of common-sense conscience protections. Unless that happens, Catholics and others who object to the mandate will be forced to continue legal efforts to vindicate their civil rights. At last count, over 110 plaintiffs have filed some 40 cases; it's these cases that serve as mandate opponents' best hope that their freedom to serve others consistent with their beliefs will be upheld.
On the one hand, Catholics who attend Mass regularly are strongly opposed to abortion. But when asked if the Church’s public witness should concentrate primarily on abortion or on social justice, Catholics – including those who regularly attend Church – strongly favor giving priority to the Church’s social justice tradition.
Mark Shea has a good piece up at OSV on approaching the election as a Catholic:
Now the happy thing for Catholics is that we belong to a tradition that is 10 times older than the entire history of the United States, and this gives us access to a tradition of social teaching and political thought that we can draw on in order to break out of our cramped politics and try something new.
The Church calls us to "participate fully and creatively in public life", and that means choosing "those people best equipped to help serve the common good." As Shea explains,
Concern for the common good, in other words, means that we involve ourselves politically, not merely on Election Day every four years, but in the way in which we think about the human person and his relationship to the state and society all the time. The purpose of the state is to help the human person flourish in freedom so he can do the good he was made to do and grow in love of God and neighbor....A Catholic who seeks the common good over party spirit is beginning the long process of fighting with the weapons of the Holy Spirit instead of the weapons of this world. That’s going positive.
Read the whole thing.
In last night's debate, Vice-President Biden made an assertion that was just plain wrong:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
As the US Conference of Catholic Bishops quickly replied:
This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain "religious employers." That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to "Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital," or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
HHS has proposed an additional "accommodation" for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as "non-exempt." That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation "to pay for contraception" and "to be a vehicle to get contraception." They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.
Vice-President Biden serves in an administration that, rather than follow long-standing conscience protections, has forced Catholic institutions large and small to use scare resources pursuing lawsuits to vindicate their legal rights. Last night Biden could have stood with other Catholic Democrats -- like long-time administration ally Sister Carol Keehan -- and called for a return to common-sense conscience protection for his fellow Catholics.
That was left to Congressman Ryan, who contended that "our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties." Ryan also stood up for his pro-life beliefs, demonstrating that he's part of the "sonogram generation" of younger Catholics who increasingly recognize the importance of protecting life in the womb. Biden, on the other hand, demonstrated that he's part of an older, Mario Cuomo-influenced generation, managing to square a personal belief that abortion involves the taking of a human life with an unwillingness to "impose that on others".
Nonetheless, the Vice President has no problem imposing non-abortion-related Catholic beliefs on others:
I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And [that] has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who -- who can't take care of themselves, people who need help.
Tomorrow night Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, two proud Catholics, will face off in the vice-presidential debate. Much has been written regarding the different lenses through which to view their faith, with most commentary reinforcing the tired narrative pitting "liberal" social justice Catholics against "conservatives" who emphasize social issues.
That story almost writes itself -- Joe Biden back-slapping his way through a union hall; Paul Ryan going to Mass with his young family. But it doesn't accurately reflect how most everyday Catholics understand our faith. Catholicism isn't binary, with pro-life beliefs somehow crowding out a desire to care for the poor or vice versa. Just the opposite is true: we're called to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable wherever we find them.
The continuing controversy over the HHS mandate illustrates this well. Catholic opposition to the mandate stems from our robust understanding of religious liberty, an understanding that fosters a true diversity of beliefs on contested moral issues. But it also stems from our knowledge that the fines the mandate imposes will hit the poor and those who serve them the hardest. There's a reason that court challenges to the mandate have been filed by groups like St. Martin Center of Erie, PA, a small social service provider that directly serves the needy, and the de l'Epee Deaf Center of Gulfport, MS. These front-line groups live an integrated faith that can't be disassembled at will.
We should be proud of groups like these that witness to the the vibrancy of our faith. And we should likewise be proud that Catholic teaching will be at the center of the national conversation as the two vice-presidential candidates square off.