Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Our New Family Bible

As a dad, I'm trying to come up with ways to make the faith something important for the boys. In looking around the house last month, I noticed we have perhaps a dozen different bibles in several different rooms, but nothing much distinguishes them from the books next to them on the shelves. I thought it was important to have a well made family bible that could be passed down through generations, and a special place to keep it, to show without words that the Word of God is important in our family.

After a good bit of research we purchased the Ignatius Family Bible, and are thrilled with it. It's an excellent translation, has beautiful artwork interspersed throughout, a full concordance, and the coolest part: a 16 page family record section to record our family tree, and all the sacraments our family receives, and other significant events. I look at what's been recorded (our marriage, the boys' baptisms) and am reminded of the great work God has done. I'm reminded that the things recorded in this book, and how I cooperate with God to see that the graces received in those events are nurtured, will be my ultimate legacy as a Catholic dad. I pray that if God wills, we'll fill in during the years ahead those many blank spaces with baptisms of children yet to be born, first Eucharists, first Confessions, Confirmations, and when the time comes and the Bible is well worn, marriages, ordinations, or religious professions.

Tomorrow, after Thanksgiving Day Mass, we'll bless our bible using this short prayer service (PDF) from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some thoughts on the election and a challenge to us all (Part II: Political Action)

Tom at Disputations raises an important point I think:
According to Bishop Hermann,
The question I need to ask myself is this: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I go into the voting booth this election day?
I respectfully submit that more important is this question: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I come out of the voting booth?

We have more than half a million minutes a year when we're not voting. When we come forth from that voting booth, do we stay tied hand and foot, in effect dead until it's time to go back in and vote again? Or do we come forth and live in such a way that, not only do people know how we voted, they know why?

So what will we do with the half a million minutes a year when we're not voting? Voting is a small part of political involvement, but for most Catholics it's our only involvement. This can't continue. Because Pro-Life Democrats are marginalized, we had Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competing with each other to promise goodies to the pro-abortion lobby. Because Republicans take the vote of pro-lifers entirely for granted, the candidate who in 2000 was opposed because he wasn't reliable on pro-life issues, is painted as a Pro-Life savior in 2008, when it's clear the issue was barely on his radar. We appear condemned to resorting to proportionalism and lesser-evil voting as the situation just gets worse with every election. Does it have to be this way?

I can't recommend enough this article by Fr. Rob Johansen on this issue. Excerpt:
The idea that we need to align ourselves with the party or candidate who most closely lines up with Catholic teaching is fine, as far as it goes. The problem is that it does not go far enough: It is hardly the robust, evangelistic, sanctify-the-world posture that our vocation to holiness and call to apostleship requires. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose stood up to and rebuked the Roman emperor Theodosius. Were he transported to our own time, I cannot imagine that he would find this policy sufficient.

As Deal W. Hudson has recently pointed out, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" has some serious flaws. But it does provide a valuable teaching that addresses our Faustian bargain:

As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong [emphasis mine]; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths (14).

Looking across the Catholic political landscape, it seems that we have far more Catholics who are in danger of being -- or have been already -- transformed, than we have Catholics who are making any headway in transforming politics.
So where are the Catholics in politics? The teaching of the Church and of our bishops instructs us to take our faith as our starting point and build our politics around that. Instead, we choose our politics and then see how we can shoehorn it into our faith. We find ourselves having to explain away the conflict between the tenets of the Faith and our political allegiances in order to defend our Faustian bargain.
Let me repeat that message from the Bishops: "When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths (14)."

So how might we get engaged? Here's a few thoughts.

First, for Catholic Democrats, whoever you voted for, go and join (i.e. send some Membership Due$) Democrats for Life of America. Work to support the 95-10 Initiative and the Pregnant Women Support Act. Read Angelo Matera on the need to open a second front in the American Pro-Life movement and Mark Stricherz on how the party that fought for the little guy came to such an abominable position on the littlest guys. Get on the horn to elected pro-life democrats and thank them for their support, and encourage them to be less timid and more forthright in advocating their views. Reach out to moderate Democrats who in all likelihood haven't ever given abortion much thought beyond sloganeering. They've come to their position out of ignorance and laziness, and are ripe for conversion on the issue.

I'm thinking in particular of someone like Patrick Murphy, whose district includes most of Bucks County and part of NE Philly. Mr. Murphy is an Archbishop Ryan grad, weekly Mass-goer, and was president of the St. Thomas More Society in law school. And he's a congressional co-sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act. I can't imagine though that this was any more than a pro-forma, "oh yeah, I'm pro-choice, I'll sponsor that." sort of action. He ran for congress out of deep conviction on ending the war in Iraq and working for economic justice, and it seems clear to me that he just simply takes for granted the pro-choice position as being consistent with the rest. Pray for him, e-mail, write and phone him until you know each of his staffers by name, send him things like Serrin Foster's talk: Women Deserve Better than Abortion or other things in a similar "out of the box" vein that are more likely to get a hearing and harder to dismiss. He is certainly reachable, we just have to show him we're serious. I'd put his colleague on the other side of Philly's suburbs, Cardinal O'Hara grad Joe Sestak, in the same category. I really think a wide swath of moderate Democrats can be moved toward a pro-life position with a combination of intellectual engagement and credible threats to not vote for them if they don't change or significantly improve their positions. The second part is critical, if you're not willing to ultimately withold your vote on principle despite substantial agreement on other issues, you won't see a lot of change among particular politicians or the party leadership. But let a couple incumbents lose, and you'll see others come around and the leadership recruit Pro-Life dems to run in the future. This has already happened in a several districts in the south in 06 and 08.

The Republican party of course also desperately needs transformation on life issues. In the aftermath of the big electoral defeat there are some party members trying mightily to recast the party in the Guliani mold, going to bat for every jot and tittle of libertine economics and Wilsonian internationalism, while throwing social conservatives under the bus. Dale Price rather humorously calls this the "Godbotherer heave-ho Project", but the results of a successful effort would be far from funny. My first suggestion to prevent this from happening would be to improve the delivery of the message, without at all watering down our commitments. Angelo Matera makes that point in advocating a Pro-life movement within the Democratic Party, but I think it applies in spades for the Republicans:

Right now the Catholic “culture of life” strategy has been to ally with Bible Christians, who have a visceral and simple attraction to life and family issues.

They are an important ally in the culture war.

But their approach is limited, often relying on harsh language about eternal damnation that fails to distinguish the sinner from the sin. They aren’t good at articulating the ethical reasoning behind the moral law, which is based on love and human dignity.

Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is one example of how the Church has developed new insights that go far beyond “dos” and “don’ts” to reveal the beauty and dignity of marriage. This is missing from most current debates.

I mean no disrespect to Evangelical friends, but I think this is in very broad strokes an accurate observation. What can be done to get this started? Sending legislators copies of Alcorn's Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguements and Kreeft's Unaborted Socrates would be great. Those books are very readable for someone without a philosophical background, and give strong, carefully reasoned answers on why abortion is wrong and why that should be recognized in law. Borrowing liberally from the message and style of Feminists for Life and their Women Deserve Better campaign would also help to short circuit the stereotype of pro-lifers as women-hating misogynists. It's also an electorally superior message. Pro-life politicians face a skeptical, unsympathetic media that will pounce on anything that sounds irrational or angry. Educating politicians to deliver a sound and compassionate message is critical to the viability of social conservatism within the party.

Secondly, significant efforts must be made to challenge socially liberal republicans in primaries. There seems to be very little of this that gets any traction. How Arlen Specter fought off Pat Toomey for the PA Senate nomination in 2004 is a mystery to me. I heard it argued in the subsequent general election (by none other than Sen. Rick Santorum, I think) that pro-lifers, depsite the presence of a pro-life third party candidate, should vote for pro-choice republican Specter over pro-choice democrat Hoeffel because that will keep the Republican majority in the senate, and that will ultimately help the pro-life cause. Talk about selling your birthright for a mess of potage! That's pretty far out on a very thin branch don't you think? The advice given above to the Democrats above has to apply here: work to change positions of those in your party, but if they don't you have to decline to support them with your vote. No wonder the Republicans take pro-lifers for granted. If Pro-life votes help elect the Arlen Specters and Mike Castles of the world, well, something is seriously wrong.

For the rest of us (or for the folks in the above categories who get discouraged trying to transform their own party) there is the big task of funding and creating a viable third party alternative that will truly promote Catholic values. Here's Fr. Johansen again:
And then what? Some of my fellow Catholics have decided that the best option is to vote third-party. Steve Skojec explains:

We've heard a lot of talk this election cycle (and the one before it . . . and the one before that . . .) about stopping a great evil by voting for a lesser one. And yet, the only certain outcome of constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is the perpetuation of evil.

The problem is that third-party candidates have little to no chance of being elected in national races. Those who do vote third-party are frequently accused of "throwing away" their vote.

But this need not be the case. If sufficient numbers of Catholics decide to opt-out of electoral politics as currently played and organized themselves, wouldn't they begin to exercise greater political clout? That is how politics works, after all.

What if Catholic Democrats, tired of having to choose between social policy and defending the right to life, said, "We're going to withhold our votes until the leadership takes our life-issue concerns seriously. When the national party is ready to countenance a legislative initiative that will meaningfully restrict the abortion license, we'll give you our support"?

And what if Catholic Republicans said, "For 30 years you have taken our support for granted on life issues. Unless you seriously reign in foreign adventurism and reject the Guantanamo-and-rendition assaults on human rights, we will withhold our support"? Eventually, political necessity would force them to pay attention (or if they didn't, we'd at least have our integrity). But as long as we are willing to sell our principles for a mess of political pottage, we will continue to be weak and ineffectual.

Catholics make up some 25 percent of the population, but we exercise an influence far smaller than our numbers. We have been manipulated and divided by partisan political hacks: Whenever someone raises the point of the primacy of life issues in making political decisions, he is automatically considered by those on the Left to be shilling for Republicans. Whenever someone makes an argument for protecting those who are injured by the rough-and-tumble of the free market, he is automatically dismissed as a tool of the Democrats. Surely we can do better as disciples of Christ.

Will any Catholics step forward to lead us beyond the constraints of the two-party game? Whether it means a third party, or making our power felt within our existing parties by changing the rules of the game, something must be done. If we are to fulfill our call to sanctify the world, we must engage in politics in light of the gospel, and not by the categories of those more concerned with elections than the Kingdom.
So here's the deal, whether it's working to transform the existing parties or creating a third party alternative, we all must be doing something to make the Culture of Life message more viable in the political arena. We've come out from the voting booth. Do we stay tied hand and foot, in effect dead until it's time to go back in and vote again? Hell, no.

St. Thomas More, patron of politicians, Pray for Us.
St. Ambrose, who confronted the Emporer, Pray for Us.
Mary, Mother of the Unborn, Pray for Us.

Part III ... on moving from Political involvement to broader work to change the culture, still to come.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some thoughts on the election and a challenge to us all (Part I: How I Voted)

I've tried several times to write and post something on the results of the election and what it means for Catholics, but I'm faced with having thoughts in a lot of different directions and I'm not sure how to tie them all together. I want to look particularly at the issue of abortion, and how we as Catholics can do better at moving the culture in this area, and how all of us, regardless of general political bent, spend too much time compromising and have pathetically low expectations of what God is calling us to do.

First, I figured I better lay my cards on the table. I did not vote for Barack Obama, which I don't think will be a surprise to many readers. But neither did I vote for John McCain, which could well be a surprise to some. I failed to see how Barack Obama's moral awfulness compelled me to vote for the 30% less evil candidate. I didn't support the cannibalism of embryonic stem-cell research; said no to the Hegelian Mambo. I would have like to have voted for Chuck Baldwin, but he wasn't on PA's ballot, and Pennsylvania essentially does not tally or report any write in votes. So I voted for the candidate with the most pro-life position among the four on the ballot (Ralph Nader was also on): Bob Barr. There are other reasons beyond the pro-life issue that led me away from both the major parties: not letting the Department of Defense be, you know, a Department of DEFENSE; and their swearing of everlasting fealty to big corporations. Now I'm not a capital L or small l libertarian, there's plenty in that approach I object to, but in the absence of Chesterton, Schumacher or Schriner being on the ballot, Bob Barr will certainly do.

Second, I don't want to condemn anyone for their vote. This is not least because I'm aware that some would condemn my vote as not having done all I could do to limit the greater evil of Obama by voting for the lesser evil of McCain. Indeed, even in many of the Bishop's pre-election statements, the message seemed to go beyond "you can not vote for x" to "you must vote for y". This gave me great pause; I do not take the statement of any bishop lightly. But ultimately I came to my decision through much consulting of the catechism, scripture, encyclicals and prayer. I think my conclusion is consistent with those, along with what I took as each Bishop's underlying message, that Life is a fundamental and primordial right, and this must be reflected in our voting. So, I'll assume you all did the same. We prayed about the issues, the candidates, what a vote is and means and what we want it to accomplish, entered the voting booth and cast our ballot, or maybe didn't cast a ballot, a la Alisdair Macintyre in 2004. Now, If you voted for Obama I think you weighed the issues incorrectly, or maybe bought into what I can only describe as the preposterous Kmiec Doctrine* that Obama was the real pro-life candidate. If you voted for McCain I think you were too willing to trust his and the party's commitment to the pro-life cause. The Republicans are Lucy holding the football, and we pro-lifers are Charlie Brown, thinking "this time I'll really kick the football" and we come running and fall flat on our backs. Every. Single. Time. And Lucy smiles, knowing we'll be back for more in 2012, and she doesn't have to let you get to kick anything then either. But again, I just think you're wrong not sinful. Well, we're all sinful, but you get my point.

But voting is done now. And we have a new president-elect. So what happens now? In upcoming posts, I'll lay out why it's important to engage in both the political and cultural spheres, and some concrete ideas on what we can be doing.

* Although I find Prof. Kmiec's position completely untenable, I also found this perspective helpful. Given the GOP's complete disregard for just war theory and their defense of torture, it's understandable that a Pro-Life, Anti-war person would look to jettison the GOP. But it's darn foolish and weak to turn around and embrace the Dems instead.

An Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

Had I written this I don't think I could have been as conciliatory. But the purpose isn't devestating rhetorical flourishes, but to actually engage some of the positive things President-Elect Obama has said and to ask him to act accordingly. I continue to pray for a Saul to Paul style conversion for him on the abortion issue, but just having him postpone FOCA and enter a sincere dialogue with the Pro-Life community would be a fine start.


President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.
If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Deal W. Hudson
Christopher Blosser
Marjorie Campbell
Mark J. Coughlan
Rev. James A. Nowack
Craig D. Baker
Susan DeBoisblanc
Megan Stout
Joshua D. Brumfield
Ashley M. Brumfield
Michael J. Iafrate
Natalie Navarro
Matthew Talbot
Paul Mitchell
Todd Flowerday
Henry C Karlson III
Darren Belajac
Adam P Verslype
Josiah Neeley
Michael J. Deem
Katerina M. Deem
Natalie Mixa
Henry Newman
Anthony M. Annett
Mickey Jackson
Veronica Greenwell
Thomas Greenwell PhD
Robert C. Koerpel
Nate Wildermuth

Toast from my Brother's Wedding

Happy 1st Anniversary to my brother Todd and sister-in-law Megan! I was privileged to be Todd's Best Man, and deliver this toast:

In a card he gave me last night at the rehearsal dinner Todd asked me to “always keep dishing out the brotherly advice”. Now, I would have kept it coming anyway, but it’s nice to finally hear a kid brother ask for it! So today I have some brotherly advice to a brother and a new sister. And against my better judgment; I’m taking that advice from two country songs.

Clint Black has a song called “Something that We Do”.

I remember well the day we wed
I can see that picture in my head
I still believe the words we said
Forever will ring true
Love is certain, love is kind
Love is yours and love is mine
But it isn't something that we find
It's something that we do

He continues on to say:

Love isn't something that we have
It's something that we do
Love's not just something that we're in

It's something that we do
Love isn't just those words we said
It's something that we do
Love isn't someplace that we fall

It's something that we do

I’ll add my lyrics – love isn’t a feeling. Love is a decision, and it’s a decision you don’t just make once. Today is a beautiful day that you will remember forever, but what’s most beautiful is the way today sanctifies all the days to come. Some days ahead are going to be exciting and memorable, others painful and difficult, but there are also going to be a lot of days that are hum drum, run-of-the-mill, maybe even a little boring. But it will only seem that way – because now even those regular days have an eternal significance – each and every day is a day you are called by God to live out in big and small ways the vows you’ve made today. As the Blues Brothers’ would say – You’re on a Mission from God.

The other song is “I come from a long line of love” by Michael Martin Murphy. A man is explaining to his fiancĂ©e why he thinks their love and marriage will last and he says:

I come from a long line of love
When the times get hard, we don’t give up
Forever’s in my heart and in my blood

You see I come from a long line of love

Todd and Megan, you are blessed to come from a long line of love. From Mom and Dad and Mr. and Mrs. Garrison you have been given great examples of love that has endured because of those daily decisions of self-sacrifice. And I know there are many other examples of great marriages in our extended families and going back in our family trees. Tonight I also wanted to point out who I think have been the most incredible example of married love in our lives -- the marriage of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop -- a marriage of almost 64 years -- of 23,262 days of seized opportunities to show love to one another in countless ordinary and extraordinary ways. Although we miss Mom-mom so much, we now have her as an advocate and a support from heaven. So if ever there are times when love is tough, say a prayer to Mom-mom and I know she will send you encouragement and strength to love even when it might be hard.

And so, I’d invite everyone now to raise your glasses … And mom-mom in heaven you can raise your Manhattan … And let’s all wish Todd and Megan a lifetime of happiness … and many, many thousands of days of showing their love to one another.

And to all my married readers -- remember that "Love is Something that You Do" and show that love today. Mom-mom will raise her Manhattan in your honor too.

Please say a prayer today for blessings on my brother's marriage, and for the soul of my Grandmother, Bernice Farrell.

(also posted at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mawwwage ... what bwought us togethew that day. Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow us fowevah... So tweasuwe youw wove.

Four years. Wow.