Friday, October 24, 2008

Abortion Culture

Art Marmorstein is a professor at NSU in Aberdeen and a fine man. Here is his latest article from our local paper, the Aberdeen American News.

Healthy families depend on healthy society

Published on Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Two years ago, South Dakotans rejected a legislative measure that would have banned virtually all abortions in South Dakota. Polls showed that, had a couple of exceptions been added to the measure, it would have passed overwhelmingly.

One might have expected our state legislators to immediately propose a new abortion bill, this time including the exceptions that would have ensured voter approval. But that's not what happened. “Give the issue a rest,” argued many. “It's too soon to take it up again.”

And they had a point. Keeping the abortion issue on the front burner makes it very, very hard for us to be civil to one another. For pro-lifers, killing unborn babies is a lot like - well, it's a lot like killing babies. And if you've ever watched ultrasounds or listened to the heartbeat of a developing baby or held your own newborn, well it turns your stomach to think of what people do to so many of these little ones. Unless you shove the whole issue into the background and pretend it isn't happening, it is very hard to be civil.

It helps, however, to place the abortion controversy in historical perspective and to look at the reasons that many societies have accepted, not just abortion, but outright infanticide.

Infanticide, while an occasional practice in some cultures, becomes commonplace mostly in societies where men assume little or no responsibility for raising families or supporting the children they father.

In contemporary America, insistence on an abortion option for women likewise corresponds directly to male abandonment of family responsibilities.

We used to have no use for men who didn't marry the women they seduced and who refused to support the children they fathered. We called them cads. But “cad” is such a quaint and old-fashioned word it has lost its sting. We need something stronger. My students suggest that, in the name of gender-equity, we ought to call promiscuous males sluts. I think we need a combination of the slut/cad image: we should start calling irresponsible men “cluts” or (perhaps better) “scads.”

Now suppose a woman was counting on the support of her partner if she became pregnant. He turns out, however, to be a scad. One has to be sympathetic: If he can walk away, why shouldn't she be able to too?

The trouble is that, when a society accepts birth-control abortion, it's giving its tacit approval to the scads. Early feminists hated abortion, viewing it, not as a boon to women, but as a convenience for unscrupulous men. And they were right.

If abortion is legal, what exactly is a man's responsibility toward his pregnant partner? His half of the couple of hundred bucks it takes for an abortion - and that's all. If the woman wants the baby, well, that's her decision (choice), but leave me out of it.

Unfortunately, that's really the way many men have begun to think: We're getting scads of scads.

And here's the problem with the rhetoric of “choice.” Accepting abortion on demand changes society in fundamental ways. It alters profoundly the relationship between men and women, changing the whole pattern of courtship and marriage - and not just in those situations where there is an unplanned pregnancy. Marriage gradually moves toward obsolescence, baby or no. What good is “choice” if the option one would like most is not an option any more?

If one really wants healthy families, Measure 11 is a good start. It leaves plenty of room for choice and promotes a return to the kind of society where the choices available are more likely to be good ones.

Teachers and Saints

I presented the following to our Catholic School teachers as part of their inservice, enjoy!

I may still be under 30, but in my eleventh year after leaving the Yankton Public School District, I can still remember almost everyone of my teachers. There is something basic about a teacher. The memory of those teachers whom mentored and guided us is perhaps the most enduring throughout our life. I wanted to be a teacher. I originally went to school with the lofty triple major of chemistry, music, and secondary education. In my final year of high school nothing offered a more satisfying future than living as I had been taught.

Mr. Medeck was my hero. Mr. Powell was my friend. Bob Medeck taught chemistry at Yankton High School for over 30 years. He wore the same outfit everyday and was 100% nerd! He told silly jokes about Avogadro’s number and always found science in the news. I still remember some of his lines, “If you had a base you could wash yourself with yourself!”

Ted Powell was our band director and was easy going and a huge joker. Except when it was competition- whether in the field or in ensemble, you didn’t mess with Ted before a competition. Ted was self-depreciating in his humor, always willing to make a fool of himself, his weight, and even his job if it would bring the student a greater love of music. Some students made the mistake of thinking his sense of humor meant he didn’t care. Mr. Powell’s heart was the biggest part of him.

I wanted to be like them, to emulate them.

Mrs. Pierce
Mr. Merril
Mrs. Bailey
Mr. Gevins
Mrs. Notheis
Mrs. Winter
Mrs. Winner
Mr. West

What greater goal is there in a teacher’s heart, than for the student strive after them? Striving after is different than looking up to. Looking up to means the teacher is above and beyond the student and the difference between the two is emphasized. Striving after means the teacher invites the student to come up where they are in adulthood, maturity, knowledge and wisdom. To put it another way: teachers shouldn’t desire to elicit admiration but aspiration. This is teaching.

My teachers taught my heart to strive. Mr. Medeck’s love of esters, Mr. Powell’s love of Gustav Holst, Mr. Winter’s love of Arthur Miller, and Mrs. Schultz’s love of all fiction inspired me to the same. I am the man I am. I am the priest I am, not because of any singular gift but because I was taught to strive.

In your own heart of hearts, the joy of striving lives as well. Whether it is your own striving after your own inspiration, your own urging on of your students or some combination, you know this joy. Teachers must know this joy or else the prospect of Monday mornings, over-protective parents, and endless lesson plans will sap whatever other good they receive through salary, friendship, and summer vacations. You know this same joy.

This is the joy of sainthood.

If you understand this joy, then blessed are you, for you understand the joy of the saints. If you understand the joy of striving and achieving, then you know a taste of the joy of brothers and sisters in holiness. You also understand then, why nothing will ever replace teachers and nothing will ever replace saints. No matter how we try to learn from a book or a DVD or other medium, nothing will ever replace an “in-the-flesh” witness, whether that witness is chemistry, music, grammar or the faith in Jesus Christ.

Your decision to be teachers in a Catholic school means that you desire your students to aspire and strive, not simply in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also in faith. Your witness of an integrated and full Christian faith is testimony not only to the goodness, fruitfulness, and beauty of the Faith but also that it can be received and achieved. St. Augustine, in the 4th Century said that he believes the Scriptures because of the Church— not because he was commanded to believe but because he saw men and women living out the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ as described in the Scriptures. You are called and you are capable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your students.

We know that none of us is perfect, as teachers or as Christians. We know that we all need to grow and be strengthened and sometimes even to prune and to trim. My prayer for you as that you’ll view this little adventure this year with the Catechism for Adults as such an opportunity. It uses the story of saints and clear descriptions to show us who and what we should be aiming at. You do not have to be an expert to appreciate this Catechism, you just have to aspire and strive to imitate Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is living and effective, cutting more surely than any two-edged sword. The Truth is always this way. We think we have learned everything about a language, a science, or an art and then we find that the Truth is bigger. The Faith is the Truth and so the Faith is always bigger. The Saints are not those women and men who mastered the Faith and reached a state of perfection, but the Saints are those women and men who never stopped striving and reaching, they never stopped asking for forgiveness and healing.

My desire for each of you is to become Saints! To become a Saint is not boring or monotonous but is the greatest adventure of human life. Am I aiming high? No higher than Jesus who desires us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homily for 28th Sunday Year A

We all have choices: Doritoes or Cheetos, Chips Ahoy! or Oreos, Roncalli or Central…well at least sometimes you can choose both. As a Catholic priest, one nice thing about the Mass is that I don’t make many choices. The Church has set out the color of vestments, the prayers for each Sunday and the readings. But every once and a while, the Church throws us a curve ball and says, “You can choose between the long and the short form of the reading.”

Now, you might think there wouldn’t be much different between the long and the short form, but you’d think wrong. Today’s Gospel, if I had read the short form, would have ended:
“Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.”

But the whole Gospel passage, indeed, the whole story that Jesus tells in this 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel ends with this thought:
“Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen."

What a difference?

So if Jesus ended his parable the first way, my homily to you would have three parts: First, invite people to Mass, second, invite people to Mass, and third, invite people to Mass. Fr. Joe and I try to do that already but you meet and know so many more, whether in your work place or your neighborhoods. You know people who got mad with priests or had a tragedy and left the Church, invite them back. Maybe they aren’t Catholic but are interested in the fullness of the Christian life, invite them to join our RCIA classes that just started, or simply give us a call with their name and phone number so we can reach out to them.

Much like the Gospel, we might be comfortable stopping here, but, just like the Gospel, we need to continue on with this story of inviting people to Mass. Think about this poor fellow who was thrown out by the king, what were his neighbors thinking as they walked in with him. Surely someone else noticed that he wasn’t wearing a wedding garment? But no one said anything! If we invite people to Mass, we must not let them come unprepared.

First, invite them to Mass! Second, let them know that the Mass is different from a prayer service or Sunday Worship. The Mass is the prayer of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The Mass is not something we make up but Jesus’ own prayer in which the Holy Spirit allows us to take part. The Mass is the wedding feast of God and the human race through the Cross of Jesus Christ. With that in mind we need to remind our guests of the customs for this wedding feast.

If they are not Catholic, let them know that cannot invite them to receive communion when they join us. They have to wait for that full communion of the Sacraments and faith that comes at Easter time. If they are Catholic, gently remind them of the need for confession. Some people are afraid of confession, especially if they have been away from the life of the Church for some time. Don’t be afraid to invite them to come with you, leading by example is always very powerful. No one is too sinful or too far for a good confession.

When you invite them to Mass, remind them of the simple things you learned as a child but that might seem foreign to them. Remind them not to chew gum. Invite them to fast for one hour before Mass, just like you fast. Invite them to dress nicely- sometimes that small effort of a shirt or slacks to change into after a soccer match can be very moving. Finally, show them the missalette so they can see the prayers and readings.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this participation in Jesus’ own prayer, is the greatest gift that God has given us. Do not be afraid to invite in those who have left or forgotten it. Do not be afraid to invite your non-Catholic friends to consider the faith. Do not be afraid to let them know how to properly take part so they won’t feel awkward. Do let them know that through the Mass we can turn to the Lord.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Respect Life Sunday

Sin is irrational. Sin is illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Plain and simply- whether you want to think of sin as a violation of God’s Law or a betrayal of His Love- sin makes no sense.

Understanding sin in the hearts of the tenants in today's Gospel helps us understand our own illogical sin. These tenants, these managers, of this vineyard act illogically. They knew the promise they had made with the owner of the vineyard. They knew that the owner had a natural right to receive a share in the labor. Yet they rebel, beating and killing the servants and eventually going after the son of the owner himself. Listen to what they think, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.”

This makes no sense. In the tenant’s selfishness they forget that the owner has been fair. They forget that the owner has entrusted them with a beautifully appointed vineyard. They forget that the owner has only ever been just in what he has asked in return. Though we don’t know the exact fate of the tenants, it is fair to say they didn’t long hold onto the son’s inheritance.

Many of our own sins make no sense, either. We have been entrusted with many gifts: brains, brawn, money, success, and all of them have been given to us by God and we must put them all to good use. We in America especially have gifts of success and power that God has given in our democracy- even if we are in a recession. We will be accountable to God for the ways we treat the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. If we don’t use those gifts for good, we are acting illogically.

The greatest, most potent, most precious gift that God gives us is life. The fact that I have breath this day is a gift. I do not control it, I can not lengthen it, and I must cherish my life. As long as I am alive there are possibilities, there are opportunities for grace, goodness, and God. And I also must cherish your life.

I cannot imagine how sad it is for those for whom life seems like a burden. Is this not the ultimate curse- the gift of life, with opportunity and promise becomes a sign of despair from which the only hope is death, the end of life. Whether it is the elderly, the young, the depressed, or the unborn, all people need to be cherished, to be revered, and to be esteemed. Those who despair life: from their own suffering, their own unexpected pregnancy, or their own depression must be given every opportunity to find this irrefutable truth: life is hope.

As tenants of our own lives, of our families, our parish and our society, we will be accountable for how we care for the weak, the poor, the elderly, and the unborn. If we have opportunities to defend them, to visit them, and to protect them we must take it. Instead of fearing life we must choose life. Instead of fearing the owner of the vineyard, the giver of life, we must bring him a rich harvest, the fruit of our own life. And then we will be people of hope.