A Time for Peace

The streets of Boston are safe tonight and I can imagine that there will be much celebrating in the streets of Beantown.

An amazing law enforcement effort to capture the suspect and that they were able to take him alive. We are all indebted to their service and need to remember this the next time they seek pay raises.

Now the question that remains is whether we can really move towards peace as a country? Can we move into a place where we value the safety of our citizens, but also the dignity of human life?

Massachusetts does not offer the death penalty, but this is a federal issue and therefore the death penalty may be invoked by the powers that be, acting on our behalf.

And that, after all Boston and our country has been through, should disturb us.

We deserve better. The world needs us to be an example here and terrorism needs to see that we do not act as they do. We value human life and those principles need to be upheld.

Vengeance, even when we think it can be justified, is never OK. We cannot latch on to hatred, but must always cling to love. Love of country, love of life, love of justice. Justice will punish, but will never hate.

Those that died will not be brought back by our taking of another life. It will only turn us into what the terrorists hope we become.

We can honor those who have been lost best, by not taking revenge in the taking of another life. We’ve already killed one of the two terrorists and that’s a tragedy, albeit not necessarily intentional. Now we need to get information from the second terrorist and lock him up for a long time, making him restore justice long-term.

The death penalty, the taking of another human life is just one more form of violence that we should not tolerate. We are one of the few countries that still impart this penalty. The others? You’ve got the world’s great dictatorships and autocracies: Iran, Zimbabwe, China, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba, Belarus. Then you have many undeveloped countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Congo, Chad, Yemen, Guinea, amd Bangladesh.

So who’s left among developed countries? India, Japan, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

And of course, the United States.

That’s not a club I want my country to be a member of. The United States is also the only G-8 country to use the death penalty.

We’re better than this. We cannot afford to be associated with barbarism, under the guise of state sanctioned justified vengeance.

We deserve more. We are far more resilient than simply moving into murder. Violence begets violence.

Can we finally stop the violence? If so, we need to take the first step.

So let us pray for justice that is humane and places us in an honorable place of defending life. All life, even life that we don’t like and are angry with. For that courage to seek peace, to meet violence with peace, is where we must turn this day.

When You Survive a Shooting Only to Be Killed in Another

The Colorado movie theatre shooting gives us just one more look into the lives of young people who’s generation is marked by a number of random acts of violence. It’s so rampant in their lives that one person could in fact have been present at more than one random shooting now.

And I’m not talking about someone who lives in a gang infested area–that’s obvious. Two of my colleagues from my former career in sports pointed me towards this story of Jessica Ghawi, also known as Jessica Redfield, an aspiring sportscaster and prolific tweeter.

Ghawi was one of the 12 killed by a madman who threw tear gas into a movie theater filled with people about to watch the Dark Knight Rises. Sadly, Ghawi also was in Toronto at the Eaton Center Shooting just about a month ago and survived because she “felt funny” and went outside.

She blogged about being at the Eaton Center at the time.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

This is too eerie and ironic to not be true unfortunately. This young woman at the start of her young career could have been gunned down a month ago and then ends up being randomly killed because she decided to go to a movie. I wonder if her “spidey sense” tingled again in the theatre last night only to ignore it this time around?

Some friends on Facebook and I’m sure more around the world are angry and hope to see the killer executed. Colorado reinstated the death penalty in their state in 1975 and three people await that penalty on death row in Carson City. None of their deaths will bring back the lives of those that they have killed (Two are accused of murder and another of conspiracy to one of the murders) and neither will that happen in this case. Capital punishment does not restore justice. What it does do is perpetuate evil. Evil wants us to go to that hopeless place where all that can be present is violence and revenge.

The killer whose name I won’t print because he doesn’t deserve any notoriety, should be punished obviously and I hope he gets put away in prison for a very long time to pay for his crime. That’s justice. But it is unjust for us to kill someone and disguise the same act that was committed as justice.

Today let us pray for the victims and for peace in our streets and in our hometowns and in the world. May we move away from evil and into God’s peace. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we do not let anger get the best of us and that we can move into a world where violence does not beget more violence and where we can learn to offer grace in the face of evil.

And for Jessica, especially, may you rest in the arms of God, who redeems you this day and holds you closely forever. And may our young people one day live in a world where they need not worry about simply going to see a movie or grabbing sushi at a mall.

Voices of Hope and Doom


E.J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post and he rightly points out that the voices of doom seem to be all around us.

First he points to the voices of doom on the left.

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

He immediately grasps that the secular left doesn’t care much for Catholicism, or I suspect religion of any kind, preferring to lump all of us “religious-types” together.

But there’s another kind of progressive minded group. And it’s those of us who believe in much that liberal principles hold and that it reflects much of Catholic teaching.

We’re the ones who remind some narrow minded folks that it’s not OK to just be against abortion when you call yourself a pro-lifer but that the title also demanded that we support women who struggle to not just bring a child to term, but also to support that child and mother well long after the birth. Not to mention those of us who call for an end to war, violence and the death penalty. We hope to care for the poor who all-too-often are in harm’s way and for the environment which continually gets ignored too often as well.

And we do so by pointing people to the wisdom of our tradition as the reason why.

Dionne then takes up a second group of doomsayers. Those on the Catholic right.

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? ….has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question?

Indeed. While I certainly think that those who oppose abortion, for instance (I would count myself as being in that group), are doing their darnedest to try to change the law and to protect the innocent who so desperately need our assistance, what good has it really done? Our opposers are more firmly entrenched because of the vitriol of some and they liken the words coming forth from well-meaning and dedicated people (Laity and Bishops alike) to hate speech and at best, mean-spiritedness.

I don’t think that’s the message that people need or even want to hear. It doesn’t call us to change and it doesn’t produce results apparently.

What do people want? They want two things: action and results.

It seems to me that this is what the nuns were doing pretty darn well and their heroism seems to be brushed off because they didn’t spew venom often enough.

Even with a Republican President for 4 years recently and a congress that also shared those principles what were we able to do about abortion?

Nothing.

That’s not a good record. And we should be ashamed. All of us.

There’s an old adage that some in the church should carefully heed.

“It’s time to put up or shut up.”

Why, might I add, haven’t we heard much about a small organization called Malta House in the state of Connecticut –a state I might add, that just abolished the death penalty?

Just a sample of what Malta House does:

Malta House promotes the dignity of God given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services, and independent living skills to expectant mothers of all faiths, and to their babies.

Residents of Malta House participate in educational programs covering issues of Health, Nutrition, Parenting and Child Development. During their stay at Malta House, mothers also receive guidance designed to foster a positive self image for themselves and their children. Personal finance and budgeting advice is offered to promote self sufficiency as our young families assimilate back into the community.

In addition, each resident agrees to participate in an individualized educational component that may include GED preparation or certificate programs at a local community college. Tutoring is provided to support the rigors of each class.

Michael O’Rourke, Malta House’s founder, is a saint in my opinion. He put up and then he didn’t shut up–rather he went and spoke to thousands of people leaving no stone unturned in order to gain support for his cause. It was an easy sell. And he did it all with grace and a quiet voice of peace.

So why, might I ask, has nobody bothered to say…

“Y’know what might be a good idea? Let’s have one of these Malta Houses in every diocese! Heck, let’s have two! Get O’Rourke on the phone.”

It would provide jobs, care, and it’s clearly a pro-life message that can be seen and produces results.

Do we think that the secular left couldn’t get behind that? Despite the law, we Catholics need to find ways to support the cause of life ANYWAY.

And other causes that support and claim who we are–a people of action.

Or we can just keep crying foul as a voice of doom that claims that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are powerless to change that because of those pesky little laws.

Now c’mon folks, we’re smarter than this. A lot smarter.

Perhaps, as Dionne suggests, we should heed the words of John XXIII:

“Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed.”

And as Dionne rightfully notes: “The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.”

Amen.

Oh! And if you’d like to help to Malta House click here—their gala event is Thursday!

Supporting Sisters

So I know a lot of Sisters.

I think it’s important to note that the recent investigation that has been in the headlines this week is an investigation not of every single religious women’s communities. That investigation did occur and the results have not yet been released. Rumors state there is much positive news coming out of that investigation.

This investigation was of a professional organization–a conference of women’s religious leadership, namely the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious. So the Vatican isn’t saying that Sr. so and so’s’s dedication to the poor in our neighborhood isn’t wonderful, or that another sister’s work in Catholic education for years wasn’t amazing…no they are taking a particular organization of women’s religious leadership to task. You read about the problems they have raised—some that I think are justified and others that I think are a stretch.

But let me say something about the encounters I’ve had with religious women in ministry and in my life in general. Most of the religious women I’ve worked with have been wonderful colleagues and friends. Sr. Jeanne Hamilton, OSU was one of my campus ministers at Fordham and she’d often stay up into the wee hours with me in her office talking to me and making sure I knew of my self-worth. She really led me to take better care of myself and to be more able to see gratitude.

There’s colleagues of mine today who are sisters, like, Sr. Jeremy Midura, a Felician sister here in Buffalo, who knows more about urban renewal than anyone I know. She’s led our RCIA team for years and has brought so many people into the church. She also has a special care for the poor in our community–but you won’t see her letting people panhandle. She’s set up an entire system where we can care for the poor in a more dignified way. She’s always walking with someone on Sunday morning who needs just a bit more attention.

Sr. Eileen McCann, SSJ who works for the U.S. Bishops is one of my closest ministry colleagues and she has gone to the mat for me more times than I can remember. She’s been a voice for young people for quite a long time and brought attention to the hierarchy in ways that none of us could have done. She’s used her influence to make sure that young adults are heard and has prayed with us in our struggles to keep them on the minds of everyone who calls themselves Catholic.

Sr. Caroline, who I don’t think had a last time, was my CCD teacher back in the day for my first confession and my first holy communion in the late 70s. She was a Franciscan with a special love for children, both in and out of the womb. She had a quiet way of speaking and was always encouraging children. When I started as an altar boy, I made the usual foul-ups and mistakes that anyone would make. As time went on I got better and the rhythms of the mass became second nature. As I was extinguishing candles after mass, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. There she was, habit and all, with her rich Irish brogue and she only said four words to me that day:

“You’re getting much better.”

For a nine year old kid, still unsure of himself, that was all I needed. I probably got more involved in the church as a kid because of that moment. And the words I said back to her that day is words we should express to religious women often:

“Thank you, Sister.”

Now, not all the news is good. Like in any other walk of life, there are Sisters who haven’t always lived up to what God and the church has called them to. How many nuns did our parents fear when they were in Catholic School and who perhaps used corporal punishment as a way to dominate? The Magdalene laundries in Ireland are certainly a blight on the record of the nuns in our church. There are also some nuns who I have found to be bitter, angry women and I have met some who just seem to hate men and others who crave power and prestige and some who are just simply goofy.

But I’ve met lay folk and priests who exemplify the same attitude.

Simply put, there are nutty and challenging people in every way of life.

But just as sure as we know that every priest is not a child molester, we also know that every nun is not a heretic, or an angry man-hater. In fact, that’s not even close to the majority. And in reading around the Catholic blogosphere this week, you’d never know it.

So let’s remember how much the good Sisters have sacrificed for us, for the poor, for the unborn, for those who have no voice. Let’s remember how many of their prayers have been our prayers –for our families and our dead. Let’s remember how many hands of the sick and the dying they’ve held and how many have done all that they do without a personal assistant or a blackberry. They’ve baked the bread that will become God’s body and they’ve gone to prisons and the developing world and cared for those who everyone else seemed to have forgotten.

Sorta like this sister:

These women are truly free. They offer their lives for each one of us and for all those who they speak for—and they do it with a grace and a passion that most can only dream about.

I hope you all have a Sister in your life…

And if you do, just take a second today to thank her.

Will Connecticut Ban the Death Penalty?

From CNN:

The bill is thought to enjoy majority support in each chamber of the state legislature, which are both Democrat-controlled, and would replace death penalty sentences with life imprisonment.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, has vowed to sign the measure into law should it reach his desk, his office said.
State senators could vote as early as Wednesday, though officials say they expect the debate to drag on well into the evening hours and could possibly surface for a vote on Thursday.

This would make 5 states in 5 years that have abolished the death penalty: New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois and my home state of New York are the other 4. 16 states total do not allow the death penalty to be used along with the District of Columbia. 34 states still have it on record along with the US Government and the US Military reserving the right to enforce it. I’d like to see the President get rid of it for the Military and the Government as well

Serving Life

I missed this last summer but the Christopher Awards which were announced today caught me up with this amazing story.

I have always said that hospice workers are saints, can we look at these men, incarcerated men, men who have committed heinous crimes, in the same way?

Let us remember these men are much more than their crimes. They serve life while serving the dying.

And that just might save them from all that is evil and set them free.

Should Teens Be Given a Life Sentence for Crimes They Commit?

That’s the question that the Supreme Court will be deciding for some time this spring and summer culminating in a probable decision this June.

Here’s some sparring amongst the Justices on this issue from the Huff Post:

(Justice) Alito soon asked (Lawyer Bryan) Stevenson to “tell us where the age line needs to be drawn for constitutional purposes,” and Stevenson obliged.

“I would draw it at 18, Justice Alito, because we’ve done that previously, we’ve done that consistently.”

“And you would say that at 17 — a person of 17 years and 10 months, 11 months, who commits the worst possible string of offenses still — and demonstrates great maturity — still cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole,” Alito asked.

“That’s right,” Stevenson replied, pointing again to the previous two cases that drew that line.

Justice Stephen Breyer later played the opposite with Alabama Solicitor General John Nieman, asking him to name a lower age limit for the sentence of life without parole. “Do you want to say 12? Do you want to say 10? Do you want to say 9? Because as soon as whatever you say, I’m going to say, ‘And why not 14?'”

Kennedy, however, seized upon Stevenson’s more modest argument, put forward in his briefs, that the court could also declare unconstitutional the mandatory imposition of life without parole, leaving juries with the ability to mete out that punishment after they considered mitigating factors such as age, mental health, and home life. So seriously did Kennedy seem to take this option that several times he tried to pull Stevenson back from his maximalist argument.

Stevenson inspires me and it looks like he might gain a half victory for sure. My guess is that the justices will rescind the mandatory imposition of life without parole and leave juries to decide whether they can impose such a sentence after meting out all the factors involved.

Bryan Stevenson discusses the moral arguments around poverty, life in prison for teens and the death penalty in this TED video which is worth every second to watch.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

For the record, I believe Judge Ginsburg made the best point of the day when she responded to this exchange:

Still, life without parole “reinforces the sanctity of human life and it expresses the State’s moral outrage,” Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Kent Holt said in defense of his state’s sentencing law.

“You say the sanctity of human life, but you’re dealing with a 14-year-old being sentenced to life in prison, so he will die in prison without any hope,” Ginsburg retorted. “I mean, essentially you’re making a 14-year-old a throwaway person.”

I agree we have no right to do that to someone, especially a poor someone who grew up without the opportunities that even lower middle class families have.

My mother would often say about children who get in trouble with the law, or who get addicted to drugs or alcohol a simple phrase. “What do we expect? That’s all they know. That’s all they see. That’s all they’ve been exposed to. For them, this is “normal.””

And while some escape a life of poverty there are far too many that don’t. The incarceration rate amongst impoverished people, regardless of race is sky high. Wealth is the great emancipator and for that we should be ashamed.

No Clemency, No Peace

It saddened me to learn that the state of Mississippi has executed another person and this time there was quite a shadow casting doubt on the guilt of Mr. Matt Puckett. A person who reviewed some of the public transcripts regarding this case revealed:

It is of interest that the husband of the deceased, who admittedly was at the scene, was never questioned about the blood on his own clothes and they were not taken into evidence simply because he was a relative to someone on the police force that arrested Matt. It is also of interest that he was the only one that had the victim’s blood on his clothing. None was found on Matt. Too many inconsistencies and not enough hard evidence….he needs a new trial.

I used the term “Mr.” to remind all of us that Matt was a person. Heidi Schulmpf over at NCR wrote about him last week and inspired me to sign his petition to the governor to ask for his clemency.

After a social justice project at her church several years ago, a fellow Catholic writer I know began corresponding with a young man on Mississippi’s Death Row.
My friend never considered whether Larry Matthew Puckett was guilty or not; she assumed he had sexually assaulted and murdered a 28-year-old woman in 1996, when he was just barely 18 years old, as the Department of Corrections website claimed.
A convert to Catholicism, Puckett impressed my friend with his intelligence and thoughtfulness. He liked to read science fiction books she sent, as well as the books of Jesuit prayers. He tried his hand at writing essays and got involved with some literary efforts from prison.

One of the saddest things I have ever read was written on his Facebook page tonight by his mother:

“We have talked to Matt and he is calm and at peace. He asked that we not worry about him. We prayed that God would free Matt but God has a different definition for free. Matt will finally be free. I told him that he was put on this earth for a purpose and that was to teach us lessons. He asked that we not squander what we had learned and that if we can’t love our neighbor, then we cannot get right with God. We want to thank each and every one of you who joined us in this fight. We appreciate the petition signatures, the prayers and all the encouragement we as a family have received.”

God has a different definition for free.

Mrs. Puckett, Matt was already free, long before death he had made peace with God, who forgives him all of his sins and sets him free to live and love. It sounds like Matt was able to find forgiveness as well.

I care not whether Matt was guilty or innocent of his crime. I care that Matt was a person with all the dignity that we give to human beings. He did not deserve death as we do not have the right to murder, to take the life of another in vengeance.

Killing Matt didn’t bring anyone back from the dead. But forgiving Matt and forgiving ourselves of this crime just might bring us eternal life, God willing.

May God have mercy on Matt’s soul and on each one of us, now complicit in this death as citizens of the United States.

Meanwhile the state is scheduled to execute another man, William Gerald Mitchell, 61.

From the Clarion Ledger:

He was sentenced to death in 1998 in Harrison County for the killing of Patty Milliken, a 38-year-old store clerk, on the night of Nov. 21, 1995. Authorities said Mitchell took Milliken from the store where she worked, brought her under the north end of the Popp’s Ferry Road bridge and killed her by beating her and driving his car over the top half of her body.

May God grant us all mercy and forgiveness for our vengeance.

Gibson: Can Any of Us Avoid Cooperating with Evil?

David Gibson has an interesting take on the HHS debate which is tough to argue with. It’s similar to what I’ve been struggling with when I’ve said things like “Aren’t we already cooperating with evil just by dealing with the healthcare companies in general?”

It seems, in general, it would be hard not to.

A snip from Gibson’s article:

Some critics of the administration’s “accommodation” for faith-based employers argue that the distance between a Catholic (or other religious) employer is deceptive on two counts.

One, they say that the organization’s health insurance company will simply pass on the cost of the contraceptive coverage to the religious institution in the form of higher premiums, so the institution will in effect be paying for contraceptive coverage. But studies show that providing coverage for birth control actually saves insurers money (pregnancies and abortions cost more than contraceptives) and it is at least revenue neutral. So there are no costs to pass on.

The second objection is that the faith-based institution will be sending its money to an insurance company that provides objectionable coverage, and so the religious group’s dollars will still be subsidizing a sinful practice.

One response is that health care premiums do not “belong” to the institution but are actually part of an employee’s compensation, like their paycheck. Just as an employer deducts withholding for taxes, it is sending the employee’s money to a health insurance company for coverage. An employer has no control or culpability if an employee buys condoms with either her paycheck or her insurance plan.

In addition, insurance works by pooling risk and premium dollars, and anyone who buys a policy from an insurance company is indirectly paying for the birth control — or chemotherapy or Viagra or heart bypass surgery — of other clients of that company, just as those clients indirectly pay for treatments you will need.

As Boudway put it: “It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to avoid remote material cooperation with evil in a complex modern economy.

So in essence, we’re screwed any way you look at it.

A second point, different from Gibson’s brought up by my friend Alex in conversation recently:

Should there be a new standard that you dont have to put your tax dollars into government spending that doesnt fit your belief system? (For example, the Iraq War) Should Quakers have to pay for military expenditures?

I’d go a step further. Should Catholics in states that have the death penalty be able to remove themselves from paying taxes? States that have poor environmental practices–do they deserve my tax money?

Once we have universal health care does the same principle apply?

The larger question here, of course, is a federal vs a state issue. Does the Federal Government have the right to tell us what we have to buy? We know that the state government has the right to tell you that you must buy car insurance for instance (or of course, face the consequence when you get in a three car pile up). The question now, which will go to the Supreme Court eventually is does the federal government have the same right. I believe their answer will be to say no.

Regardless, is this what the Bishops and the church at large is also concerned with? That’s doubtful. They more don’t want their employees to have to purchase something that goes against their moral principles.

But leads to bigger questions. Should I have to pay for war, the death penalty, policies that we know keep people in poverty? The list could be endless. What about companies that make it difficult for us to buy their products because of their practices (Now even, girl scout cookies are bad to buy because they endanger gorillas!).

Just as we have socially aware investing, we may have to go down the road of socially aware health care or moreover, socially aware politics. I’ve tried to do this at the supermarket, buy local, avoid some of the morally questionable food companies, buy organic, etc. It’s difficult and I don’t always succeed in avoiding cooperating with evil but I at best have minimized it to some point.

The question here is how do we best minimize our cooperation in this area?

Perhaps it’s time for a health care company to get some phone calls and see if someone somewhere wants all the business that Catholic entities want to offer them? Then it will be up to them to lobby the administration to let them do exactly that instead of them being forced to offer health care that includes contraception, etc.

This is not going to end well for anyone I fear and frankly, I’m tired of hearing and talking about it.

From Birth to Martyrdom

With Christmas Day now in the rear view mirror and with the death of so many in Nigeria, we are reminded that the world indeed is a precarious place despite the fact that God comes to us as one of us.

St. Steven, the first Christian martyr knew that well and yet it didn’t deter him from proclaiming his faith, a faith that led him to be stoned to death.

From the book of Wisdom:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead.
But they are in peace.

We all know peaceful people. People who have this serenity and an unshakable faith. People who just seem comfortable in their own skin and who have a quiet confidence, rather than an arrogant one.

Imagine, if you would the family of St. Stephen, who had to endure his death. Did they think him foolish or peaceful? What comforted them after his death? Who could bring them peace?

The answer I believe that is proposed by Fran over at Pastoral Postings today is both accurate and touching:

One answer remains clear – the only answer really, the answer that is Christ the Lord. Christ comes in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby. That tiny one however is the source of our transformation and new life! That is why in birth and in death, we have hope. As the reading from Wisdom points out – we may seem foolish, but we have the promise of peace.

Let us also remember that Stephen was alone while Paul, then Saul, held the coats of the stone throwers. A friend used to muse about the meeting of the two great saints in heaven. “And in the great embrace of the great saints,” he would say, “there are no need for words. And we find both forgiveness and understanding in their meeting again.”

Birth and death. These are the two facets that both start complete our life. And throughout our lives we will face disturbances that will cause us to feel small deaths and re-births. Confusion and conversion. Hopelessness and then vibrant hope. Desolation and consolation in Christ.

As we turn towards a new year, may we be granted the peace that Stephen had in life and in death. And may we have the courage by that peace to proclaim our faith without fear. And let us pray for those who are put to death, that God grant them now the peace and serenity of his Kingdom where they will live with him forever and ever. Amen.