Comfort: Not Enough or Too Much?

Do you ever feel uncomfortable? I hope so because that might indeed be good for you. Thus is the thesis of my former colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover’s new book called Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul.

Not enough comfort and we’re dreading life and perhaps even untrusting. Too much comfort and we become complacent. Hoover discusses much of this citing examples throughout the book from friends, groups of people and even “me” his former colleague (I make 1-2 anonymous appearances in the book.

It’s honestly a great book that’s thought provoking and provides lots of good research studies in brief about how comfort helps and harms. And I love the cover—an old slipper! If only a plush bathrobe went along with it—ahhh!

So congrats to Dr. Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP. Another masterpiece is out there for you to discover. A great gift for anyone who’s down in the dumps, but it’s also good for us who might be flying high too and asking ourselves that dreaded question of whether or not we are too comfortable. As people who live in the creates nation on earth, this just might be a healthy way to seriously look at ourselves and find gratitude as well as challenge.

Let’s not forget…Jesus often accused the Pharisees of forgetting about the poor–or in short, becoming too comfortable–so comfy that they forgot the great needs of those around them.

Perhaps the same is true of us. If so, look no further for a remedy. I wanted to go out and get all kinds of things done after I read this knowing that I too, often get too complacent.

Did Chief Justice Roberts’ Ruling Give Catholics an Out on the HHS Mandate?

So I believe there’s a larger issue at play in yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling on the Affordable Care Act. But first, let me offer a preview of a few issues. First is, the ruling was not about the HHS Mandate which requires employers who offer healthcare to include provisions for contraception and other controversial procedures. The Bishops have been stating that this violates a conscience clause for religious individuals as well as Catholic entities who object to such procedures. And the court’s recent ruling says nothing about that, per se. The ruling, as stated for the majority by Chief Justice Roberts, only states that the government can impose a tax on those who don’t purchase a health plan and that the government has the right to impose such as tax constitutionally.

This ruling, I think, also provides Catholic Bishops with an out because now each individual must purchase health insurance or pay the tax penalty. So the Bishops could very well simply no longer offer employees in Catholic institutions health insurance. In fact, ALL employers could very well not offer health insurance to their employees. The argument I’m making is that health care now no longer needs to be tied to employment. The government also offers it (or will, starting in 2014) and individuals can purchase it on their own or even choose to pay the tax for not buying it. Creating a pathway for individuals to purchase health care would get corporate dollars out of the health care game and create a healthy competition among the health care companies for individual dollars as opposed to corporate dollars, which I believe would create a thriving marketplace, cause the price to drop for said individuals, allow the best healthcare companies to rise to the top and create good relationships between health care companies and hospitals and practitioners.

Wow! I sound very libertarian today!

But what’s important for Catholics here in particular and why do I think the Bishops should do this?

Well, because then they no longer have to violate their consciences! They just pay their employees a higher cost of living wage and no longer offer health care. The church as a corporate sole need not make any corporate purchase that violates their conscience, rather they would allow individuals to decide whether they should purchase heath care at all. They might even hope that Catholics at large would refuse health care costs and just pay the tax. In essence, this is a libertarian kind of argument where the individual liberty is exercised.

If I’m the Bishops, (and I’m not) I walk away and I do so quietly. I phase out the current plans at a specific date (preferably 2014) and inform my employees that they’ll need to purchase plans on their own. They can simply take the government’s plan, which by the way is mostly free. Or they can opt for private insurance. Employees could also negotiate for say $5000 more to help defray the cost of living expense that would go up–which would be available because the line item of health care is now gone.

The larger question is whether this is cooperating with evil. I would say that it might be—but then therefore so is paying employees any salary. Why? Because I can take the money I make right now working in the church and go and buy drugs, pornography, or a host of other immoral things. How would this be any different? It wouldn’t. Unless I’m missing something–which I very well may be. Help me out if I am.

In short, the Church wouldn’t have to violate their conscience and everyone would get universal health care and it would be up to the individual to use contraception or not. The Federal Government would offer what the church could seemingly no longer do without violating its conscience and the church would simply look to give their employees a just wage which is all one could hope for.

But here’s something that I really like about this idea. Why SHOULD healthcare be tied to employment anyway? Why shouldn’t I get to compare who has the best rates for my family amongst the number of insurance companies that are out there? After all, that’s what I do with car insurance and home insurance and even pet insurance (You’re welcome, Haze the Dog)! Instead, right now I’m forced to use the insurance that my Human Resources Department chooses and offers to all of the employees–which very well might not be in my best interest and right now if I opted out of that plan I’d end up paying a whole lot more because individual plans aren’t as good as corporate ones and that’s because corporate dollars are inflated by the insurance company because they have the businesses over a barrel–especially the small business owner who pays through the teeth for their employee. The Affordable Care Act will give them tax breaks, but I think it might still be too expensive.

In short, I think this is win-win. But tell me what I’m missing if I am.

Honest Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling

So the Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare is interesting. Justice Roberts, who is Catholic, by the way, ruled with the majority that the government’s plan is constitutional–but he did so in a most interesting way.

From the Washington Post:

If you read the opinions, he sided with the conservative bloc on every major legal question before the court. He voted with the conservatives to say the Commerce Clause did not justify the individual mandate. He voted with the conservatives to say the Necessary and Proper Clause did not justify the mandate. He voted with the conservatives to limit the federal government’s power to force states to carry out the planned expansion of Medicaid. ”He was on-board with the basic challenge,” said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. “He was on the conservative side of the controversial issues.”
His break with the conservatives, and his only point of agreement with the liberals, was in finding that the mandate was a “tax” — a finding that, while extremely important for the future of the Affordable Care Act, is not a hugely consequential legal question.

So in short, this means in layman’s terms that the government can’t force you to buy health care, despite the Republican wonks who will claim that this is what today’s ruling means. One should read the whole ruling by Roberts which is brilliant, especially this bit:

Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers.

What the government can do is impose a tax for those who don’t buy health care which is very similar to the state requiring us to buy car insurance or pay a fine if you get caught driving without it.

In the weirdest twist of Supreme Court Irony, Judge Kennedy who is usually the swing vote on these issues sided with the more conservative side, which signaled to many that the Affordable Care Act was going to be overturned. But Chief Justice Roberts turned the tables in a remarkable game of legal chess. He sided with many of the conservative arguments, save one, which made all the difference for the federal government.

The most straightforward reading of the individual mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance. But, for the reasons explained, the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. It is therefore necessary to turn to the Government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to “lay and collect Taxes.” Art. I, §8, cl. 1. In pressing its taxing power argument, the Government asks the Court to view the mandate as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product. Because “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality,” Hooper v. California, 155 U. S. 648, the question is whether it is “fairly possible” to interpret the mandate as imposing such a tax, Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22. Pp. 31–32.

Roberts goes on to say one further thing:

Such an analysis suggests that the shared responsibility payment may for constitutional purposes be considered a tax. The payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance; the payment is not limited to willful violations, as penalties for unlawful acts often are; and the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation. Cf. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U. S. 20–37. None of this is to say that payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance. But the mandate need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Affordable Care Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS. And Congress’s choice of language—stating that individuals “shall” obtain insurance or pay a “penalty”—does not require reading §5000A as punishing unlawful conduct. It may also be read as imposing a tax on those who go without insurance. See New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144–174. Pp. 35–40.

So I’ve seen thousands of well…frankly stupid comments from people who obviously didn’t read the ruling. Instead, they say things like this makes the government a dictatorship and that they are making people buy insurance. To them I say, “Nope. Buy it or don’t buy it. But if you don’t, you have to pay a tax.” Furthermore, some will say “But what if I can’t afford it?” Well in 2014 Obamacare will give you insurance free of charge. That’s the whole point of the law, that everyone will be covered. They should probably extend that to undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. as the U.S. Bishops have stated, but that’s something that can be amended later if enough people lobby for it.

Universal health care is a right in my opinion and the Supreme Court didn’t exactly say that in this ruling, but I think Chief Justice Roberts wisely stood with the poor today and still held his Republican ideals high. He’s exactly who he said he’d be in the hearings and for that we should all be grateful because that’s what the court should do–slug it out in healthy debate that’s free from bias.

Sorta like this…the way it should be….and what makes our country great:

Is An Abuse Victim Who Beats Up the Priest Who Abused Him Justified?

Take a gander at this:

From AP and the Huffington Post

Evidence will show the man on trial in the beating of an aging Jesuit priest was abused by the priest, but that still did not give him the right to take the law into in his own hands, prosecutors in Northern California said Wednesday in their opening statement in the trial of William Lynch.

Lynch, 44, is accused of beating the Rev. Jerold Lindner in 2010 in front of startled witnesses at a retirement home for priests.

Lynch has said Lindner abused him and his brother during a camping trip in Northern California.

I vote no as nobody should take the law into their own hands but I wonder how many comments along the lines of:

“He should be able to do things much worse to him.”
Or:
“Now he knows what it feels like to be abused.”
Or:
“This priest is a lower form of life, he deserves this and more. They should let the guy castrate him!”

Now before you rush to judgement on me for “making up outlandish quotes,” these were all told or written to me by people I know when we’ve discussed the abuse scandal. We easily forget that we are a religion of forgiveness when we are deeply wounded and offended. It’s why capital punishment is often looked upon as justified because many hold the view that criminals should be punished severely for their crimes.

As if that could change what they’ve already done.

I agree with the prosecuting attorney:

“The defendant beat this man up because he was angry and he wanted revenge,” she said. “The defendant planned and executed a violent attack against the man who molested him 30 years ago.”

But Gemetti said the molestation was not a defense to the charges. She called Lynch’s actions illegal “vigilante” justice.

So let’s not get into whether he can do this or not. Rather, regardless of where you fall on whether this guy should have the right to beat up his abuser-priest, do you think that he’ll beat the rap? I do.

Here’s why:

(Defense attorney) Harris also said he expects the priest to lie when he is called to testify. Lindner could be called to the witness stand as early as Wednesday afternoon and is expected to deny the rapes occurred. Harris told the jurors to take the priest’s credibility into account when deciding the case.

I hope that cooler heads prevail, but I have a feeling that revenge is what will win the day here.

And for that people should be ashamed of themselves.

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!

Preferential Option for the Rich

Charlie Camosy has an interesting take on ministering to the rich, not in opposition to the church’s preferential option for the poor, but perhaps just as important.

Why don’t we take the vulnerable position of the rich more seriously? In short, why don’t we have a preferential option for the rich? We should, of course, be concerned with the flourishing of the poor. But flourishing in this life is only of proximate value, isn’t it? Our ultimate goal is salvation and ultimate union with God. And many of the rich among us–and many of us (who are surely rich by any reasonable standard), period–have put our salvation in serious danger. We abandon the poor in buying luxuries we don’t need. We abandon them in supporting usurious policies. We haplessly attempt to serve two masters…despite our true Master telling us that this is impossible.

It is important, even essential, to have a preferential option for the poor. But isn’t this often connected with having a preferential option for the rich–many of whom, if we take Jesus seriously, imperil their own salvation?

The rich, who are told by Jesus, will have a hard time getting into heaven. So, perhaps they deserve our prayers. And as Camosy wisely points out—when we compare ourselves with the entire globe–we are the 1% here in the United States. Perhaps that’s why Mother Teresa often said that America was a country that was spiritually poor? A trip to any developing nation will show you just how rich you are, especially when you see people living in a garbage dump as I did in Nicaragua.

So today, let’s pray for the rich, that is all of us, who may indeed be asked by our maker why we didn’t do more to include the least of our brothers and sisters with us.

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.

Attacking Bishops From an Unlikely Source

Often people on the far Catholic Left have little use for Bishops on the Catholic right–which they would claim are most Bishops. While I’m not sure that’s true (perhaps popular Bishops would be more accurate?) Michael Sean Winters reports that Bishops often get more flack from the right-wing of the church.

From Distinctly Catholic

Now, we have two new examples of far-right attacks on the bishops. The first is an article in the American Spectator that calls out Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of the Guarnizo case and argues that the cardinal has been derelict in his duty. The author notes the stance of Cardinal Raymond Burke on the issue of denying communion, conveniently ignoring the fact that many conservative canonists agree that Guarnizo went too far. The author is clearly unaware of the role of a bishop in his own diocese when he writes: “Cardinal Burke has spoken; the case is closed.” Perhaps someone should inform the Pope that Cardinal Burke disapproves of the way he, and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, dealt with the issue of denying communion – they didn’t do it.
But, what truly shocked was this sentence: “I’ve heard Church insiders call the cardinal ‘Wuerl the girl,’ a reference to his precious personality.” What does this have to do with anything? Isn’t this just a slur cast at Cardinal Wuerl? Why publish such a thing?
The other example comes from a group calling itself Concerned Roman Catholics of America (CRCOA) although I think Crazed Roman Catholics of America might be more appropriate. They are calling for protests at the upcoming Catholic Religious Education Conference, annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They think the event is a hotbed of dissent and want all good Catholics and all good bishops to stay away. Here is their throwdown to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles: “”Why does L.A.’s new, reputedly orthodox Archbishop José Gomez bring back the same dangerous speakers whom his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony brought in year after year?

Even the like minded can’t seem to get along. As Charlie Brown might say: “We’re doomed.”