Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Capital Punishment Moratorium?

For many years, the Catholic Church has been one of the most vocal groups worldwide, and especially in the United States, calling for an end to capital punishment. As Catholics, we see this call as an intrinsic element of the belief in the dignity of all human life. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “‘modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless’…The growing number of countries adopting provisions to abolish the death penalty or suspend its application is also proof of the fact that cases in which it is absolutely necessary to execute the offender ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” In their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, the U.S. Bishops say, “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”

On Monday of this week, the American Bar Association (ABA) called for a moratorium on the death penalty in the United States after releasing a study that found major problems in the death penalty systems in this country, including racial desparities, inadequate resources for defense attorneys, and unfair appeals processes - see the ABA website for a detailed report. In the words of one ABA official, proper punishment can only distributed if justice is ensured, and in the case of many death penalty cases in this country, there is no guarantee that justice and due process are being followed.

On the one hand, this call for a moratorium on the death penalty is good news for those who oppose this form of unreversable punishment. However, the reasons for not executing criminals in the view of the Catholic Church move beyond those given by the ABA, being based first of all on the instrinsic value of each human life and the possibility of redemption, rather than on faulty legal practices (which are also of high importance). This announcement is an important step in the capital punishment debate in this country, but it must be set alongside a faith-based view of human life.

For a good presentation on the Catholic teaching on capital punishment, visit the U.S. Bishop's Death Penalty Page.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beneath the Masks

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In just a few days, Americans will celebrate what has become one of the most extravagant and expensive party nights of the year – All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. This night of costumes and candy ranks behind only New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl as extravagant parties, and Halloween seems to be growing in popularity every year. Just look at the houses and yards decorated with cobwebs and tombstones, some decorated even more elaborately than at Christmas; or look at the ever-more creative costumes worn not just by children, but by people of every age. By one estimate, each person in this country will spend an average of $64 dollars on Halloween this year, with our national total spending topping $5 billion.

At its heart, Halloween thrives on being able to put on a new identity – a costume, a mask – that covers up who we really are. We revel in the opportunity to flee from reality into the realm of imagination – and when violence, war, and even a slow economy are becoming the reality of our lives, we long for any opportunity to escape the harsh truth that fills our evening newscasts. But on a personal level, we might wonder if the desire to put on costumes and masks – the desire to take on a new identity – is a sign that we are unhappy with the person beneath the costume, that we will go to any length to cover up our true identity. Now, watching young children dress up as Harry Potter or a princess can be innocent fun; but with the exponential growth of this fall holiday, we have to wonder.

Think of the Pharisee in today’s gospel. This is a man who looks great on the outside – he fasts twice a week, he pays tithes on his income, he goes to the Temple to pray; he probably even goes to the place in the Temple where the most people will be able to see him pray. He is enthralled with how good he looks in the eyes of God – not greedy, not dishonest, not adulterous. In a sense, he has put on a costume of righteousness – doing all the right things in order to look good from the outside. But it’s clear in today’s parable that this persona is nothing more than a show – a really good show, perhaps – but a show without much substance. He spends all his time looking at himself and complementing himself on how good he is. On the other side of the Temple is the tax collector – a man whose outside appearance is one of greed, dishonesty, and corruption. The difference between these two men is that the tax collector knows what he is really like, he knows his true identity – he knows that he is a sinner, that he has cheated people in his work – he doesn’t try to cover it up with eloquent words or public displays. The tax collector humbly admits his true identity, and then he takes a second, and just as important step: he begs God’s mercy and forgiveness. And only through that mercy, the tax collector has the opportunity to change.

The day after Halloween – and the reason Halloween came into existence in the first place – is All Saints’ Day. On that great feast day, we celebrate those men and women of every time and place who grew out of the necessity for masks and costumes, whose public persona corresponded to their inner identity. A nineteenth-century American author once wrote that a saint is a sinner revised and edited. We are all sinners in need of redemption. Many times, it’s not easy for us to take off our masks and costumes and reveal our true identities, but that is the only way for us to change, to receive God’s mercy, and to become more and more the person God calls us to be. Because if we don’t first of all recognize that we are sinners, then we can never become saints.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Saints Crispin and Crispian

Today is the Feast of Saints Crispin and Crispian, third century Christian martyrs who evangelized Gaul. These two brothers were shoemakers by trade and thus have become the patrons of shoemakers, as well as tanners and saddlers. These days, not much is known or remembered about these two ancient saints, with one exception. Saints Crispin and Crispian and their feast day were immortalized by William Shakespeare in perhaps the most inspirational and stirring speech ever written. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the title king stirs his small band of soldiers on to victory at the Battle of Agincourt through the rousing St. Crispin's Day Speech. But for at least some people, the Feast of Saints Crispin and Crispian has another significance, because this is the day when myself and seven other men were ordained deacons in 2003 in the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. As we lay prostrate on the floor of that church during the Litany of the Saints, we heard the names of Crispin and Crispian joined with the more traditional and familiar saints of the Church, and we sought their prayers for our life of ministry in the diaconate and later in the priesthood.

In case your Shakespeare is rusty, here are the last few lines of the famous St. Crispin's Day Speech from the play Henry V:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Religious Leaders Gather in Naples

Pope John Paul II drew great attention when he convened world religious leaders in Assisi, Italy, in 1986 and 2002 to pray for peace. Less attention is being paid, however, to an equally significant gathering of world religious leaders this week in Naples, Italy. The community of Sant'Egidio, based in Rome, has organized an summit of major religious leaders from around the world. After celebrating a Mass in Naples, Pope Benedict XVI gathered for lunch with quite a significant group of religious leaders, including Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, Methodist Rev. Samuel Kobia (Secretary General of the World Council of Churches), and Muslim scholar Ezzedine Ibrahim of the United Arab Emirates. Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders were also present. At a time when some people feel the Catholic Church is doing less to promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the significance of this gathering cannot be ignored.

We would all do well to mirror such high-level summits on local levels, initiating or continuing dialogue among Christians of all denominations as well as with the other major world religions. Jesus spent the majority of his public ministry in dialogue - speaking with people about the reign of God - and not just with the Jews of his own community. And when he did go off by himself, it was to pray - to dialogue with his Father. How can we imitate Jesus?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Welcome to the Perpetual Priest blog! This blog debuts on the Feast of the North American Martyrs (Ss. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and their companions), some of the first missionaries to preach the Christian faith in North America. My hope is that this blog will be a new opportunity to preach the faith and evangelize the digital world.

Check out this blog for my musings on all parts of the Christian faith, especially Catholicism, Scripture, saints, faith in the world, and much more. I also hope to regularly post homily texts and information about what is going on at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in New Albany, Indiana.

North American Martyrs, pray for us!