choose life

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” Deut. 30: 19-20.

When I was a young university student, our faith sharing community had a long discussion on morality. How do we discern what is right and wrong? We all knew the basic black and white rules and commandments. But what about all those situations in the fuzzy, grey in between? What do we do when the answers aren’t clear? We debated long and hard, with the passion of youthful adults, and came up with the following guide-line… When in doubt, choose the path that is most life-giving. Choose life!

Of all the discussions we had in those early years, this one has remained with both hubby and me. It continues to be at the base of many of our decisions, and a piece of wisdom we’ve tried to pass on to our children. In difficult situations or relationships, we often ask the question; is this situation (or relationship) life-giving or an energy sucker? Life-giving does not mean without challenge, for challenges provide experiences for growth. Also, we can’t just do things that please us, or hang with folks who make us happy all the time. But, if it’s one energy sucking experience after another than we need to re-evaluate our choices. We need to choose life.

I confess to also using this approach when it comes to faith issues and beliefs. Many well-intentioned Catholics will accuse me of being a “cafeteria Catholic”; picking and choosing what I want to believe in. Let’s just say that the over-loaded, groaning buffet table offered by the Church is sometimes too much for me to handle. Trying to take it all in gives me a nasty case of indigestion! I need to focus on that which is pleasant to the palate and leaves me nourished and satisfied. I need to politely refuse that which leaves me angry, frustrated, saddened, and drained of life-giving energy.

There are those who say that if you can’t handle the whole meal deal offered by the Church, then you should dine somewhere else. This is the height of in-hospitality. Would you ask a friend to leave the table just because they don’t like one of the dishes you have offered? Would you leave a table where you are being nourished just because your favorite dessert wasn’t served, or wasn’t served to your perfect standard?

So, what about those issues that we struggle with? A very dear priest friend, whom we’ve known since those early university days, used to tell us to put those issues on the back-burner. Re-visit them as time goes by, but don’t let them drain you of the life-giving energy at the core of our faith. He patiently explained the teachings of the Church to us, but never used vigorous debate to convince us. He encouraged us to question and dialogue without judgment. And, he nudged us to nurture our spiritual lives so that we could listen to the voice of God deep within.

There is so much that is life-giving in our Catholic faith. In this season of Lent, I’m going to try and focus on that which gives me much needed energy, and put aside that which gets my knickers in a twist. I’m going to have a Happy Lent!

(Note: the CHOOSE LIFE logo on the famous Wham T-shirt worn by George Michael above, was promoting an anti-drug and anti-suicide message in the 80’s. It is also used by the pro-life movement. A great logo. A great message.)

The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Reporter

The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Report

This Canadian woman spends too much time musing on American politics, especially when they intersect with the Catholic Church. This week’s news story on the Obama administration’s refusal to allow a religious exemption for health insurance coverage for contraception has me intrigued. I take universal health care for granted. What is available to one, is available to all – regardless of religious affiliation. Each person has the right to accept or refuse a procedure or treatment.

It’s not that Canadian’s don’t struggle balancing religious rights and civil rights. We have learned the hard way that tolerance needs guide-lines. With the passing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, a Pandora’s box was opened to outrageous claims hiding behind the right to freedom of religion and expression. The courts have tried to uphold the basic belief that individual freedoms cannot endanger or infringe on the freedoms and rights of others. It’s not always easy or clear cut.

Abortion is still a hotly debated topic in Canada, usually during election times.  Abortion deserves serious attention and ongoing dialogue whether it has been legalized or not.  Access to contraception, on the other hand, is a non-issue in the public forum. And, it is a non-issue for most Catholics. I can’t recall ever hearing a pastor preach on Humane Vitae from the pulpit. That’s why I’m so fascinated with this American news story. Is this really a case of anti-Catholic behaviour on the part of the government? Are Catholics’ rights really being impeded? Are the bishops in tune with the majority of folks sitting in the pews?

Earlier this week, I mentioned a well written editorial by David DeCosse. He explains the model of conscience used by the bishops compared to the traditional model of conscience espoused by moral theologians. The former focuses on obedience and authority; no questions asked. The latter on personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Now, Jamie L. Manson has added another valuable voice to the dialogue. It’s a worthy read!

pelvic politics, cont’d

The term “pelvic politics” describes the perception of an unbalanced emphasis on sexual issues by some bishops and conservative Catholics. Church teachings on birth control, abortion, gay marriage, co-habitation, celibacy and a male-only priesthood all become a litmus test for identifying a faithful Catholic. Too often, the test becomes a weapon of righteous judgment and condemnation. Sitting on the wrong side of the orthodoxy fence can deny you a church wedding, election support, or employment in church run institutions. Ecclesial promotions for ordained members are dependent on their public support of these teachings. In extreme cases, excommunications have been meted out to those who have publicly questioned or not supported them; usually by extremely-minded bishops.

Yesterday’s post included this quote from David DeCosse,

the bishops’ emphasis on law as the pre-eminent category of conscience means that they leave little room for practical reasoning to help the conscience figure out what to do in the face of complexity.

For me, of all the issues listed here, the one that is most black and white is that of abortion. It is not a form of contraception. It’s the intentional killing of an unborn child. And yet, there are cases that reflect the “face of complexity”; cases that show the moral dilemma that must be faced in the grey in between. Cases that need a wise mind and compassionate heart to discern what is right and wrong in a specific situation.

What about the woman in Phoenix who was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child and suffered heart failure? What about the nine year old girl in Brazil, raped and impregnated by her stepfather? In both cases, an abortion was performed to save the life of the mother. In both cases, excommunications were declared on all those involved (except for the young girl due to her age). Instead of praising the Church’s moral superiority and conviction, these stories showed to the world a Church lacking in compassion and understanding.

It is easy to raise the accusatory banner of hypocrisy at pharisaic church leaders who place heavy burdens on us while sexually abusing or covering up the abuse of others. It is difficult to listen to sermons on the importance of marriage and fidelity when stories appear of bishops having long term relationships and fathering children. Righteous rants on the “intrinsic evil” of homosexuality ring hollow, when the presence of homosexuality in the ranks of the ordained is ignored or denied.

But anger will get us nowhere. We need to stop and take a breath, together, and revisit the gospel call to life. Where should our focus be?

Up here, in the great white north, the words of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau still resound in the psyche of our modern history. In 1967, as a young Justice Minister, he introduced an Omnibus Bill in the House of Commons that included decriminalizing homosexual acts performed in private, telling reporters “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” His intention was good. But, we still need moral guide-lines and laws to support them. In Canada, we have seen the dangers of human rights and freedoms going amuck when pedophiles demand the right to own child pornography. Or white-supremacists hide behind freedom of speech to spread their hatred and pass it on to their children.

The state and the church do have a place in the bedrooms of the nation when those bedrooms hide sexual abuse and rape. We have the moral obligation to denounce and prosecute those who kidnap or buy and sell humans into sexual slavery. We must insist that the possession, itself, of child pornography is wrong; because behind the pictures are real children being exploited.

In this time of global violence and injustice, it’s time for Catholics to stop being the religion of ‘nay’ and begin truly promoting a culture of life that acknowledges the face of complexity of our modern times. Too many issues are being ignored while we continue to count the number of angels dancing on the proverbial pin head.

It’s interesting that while church leaders are still debating the moral use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa, Women Religious around the world are banding together to stop human trafficking.