Daniel Murphy Retires

I digress today to a sports topic: the retirement last week of Daniel Murphy.

Most baseball fans know Daniel Murphy from his spectacular 2015 post-season performance, when his seven home runs, including a record six in six consecutive games, propelled the New York Mets into the World Series.

But I was a huge Daniel Murphy fan long before that; and remained one, even after the Mets made no serious effort to re-sign him as a free agent, and he became a Met killer extraordinaire—and one of the best hitters in baseball—for the division rival Washington Nationals.

I loved Murph’s hitting skills. For years, he and David Wright seemed the Mets’ only reliable hitters—and as Wright’s later years were beset with injuries, Murphy emerged as the team’s most consistent clutch hitter.

I also liked his hustle, hard work, and team-first attitude; and his devout Christianity, devotion to his family, and humility—a refreshing change from the me-first, ego driven personas of far too many modern-day professional athletes. 

To me, the 2015 post-season heroics that defined Daniel Murphy as a ballplayer were not the home run streak, but his overall performance in the deciding fifth game against the Dodgers in the first playoff round. 

He gave the Mets a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first inning; after singling in the fourth and jogging to second on a walk to Lucas Duda, he alertly took off and stole third base when the Dodgers’ shift against Duda left no one covering third. That enabled him to score on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly, tying the game at 2-2. Two innings later, Murphy homered to break the tie, and the Mets won by that 3-2 final score.  

So it wasn’t just the home runs. It was the awareness and situational play that always characterized Murphy’s game: a run-scoring opposite field double; a single and then heads-up baserunning setting himself up to score the tying run; then a home run to win the game.

As a Christian ballplayer, Murphy was never preachy, but he didn’t hesitate to publicly express how his faith served him in key situations. Once, after Yankee centerfielder Brett Gardner had robbed him of a three-run homer with a spectacular leaping catch, the post-game TV interviewer asked him about it.   

Murphy—who had been caught on camera slamming his helmet to the ground after Gardner’s catch—replied that he did “a lot of praying” for help in overcoming his frustration. Two innings later, he delivered a two-out, RBI single that won the game for the Mets.    

After that Dodger playoff game, the post-game interviewer remarked that Murphy seemed unaffected by the tension surrounding that elimination game.

“That was the Holy Spirit,” he replied, “that was Jesus” helping him stay calm. 

His humility, so obviously a product of his faith, was also displayed in that interview, as he passed credit to Lucas Duda for drawing the walk that made his heads-up baserunning play possible.  

Another time, Dillon Gee had pitched a great game, but the Mets trailed, 1-0—until Murphy belted a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, then made a brilliant, diving defensive play to help the Mets secure the victory. 

Afterward, the TV interviewer asked Murphy what he wanted to talk about first, his home run or his defensive play.

“I’d like to talk about Dillon Gee,” Murphy answered—deflecting credit, as he always did, from himself to his teammates.

His devotion to his family—his wife and three little children—was evident in his retirement announcement. He explained that Major League Baseball’s COVID lockdown last spring had revealed “a blind spot” to him. “I didn’t fully comprehend the trade-off that was being made each time I was separated from my family. I didn’t know this was what I was missing. I had a thought: You could identify what you were giving up” by retiring, “but now you can identify what you’re getting.”

Sadly, in today’s world one cannot be devoted to family and faith without being vilified for it. So even a fun tribute to a sports hero cannot avoid our great moral and cultural divide.   

In 2014, Murphy was ripped by Mike Francesa and other sports talk show hosts for missing Opening Day and the next game to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

“What are you going to do?” Francesa snarked. “I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?” 

Murphy gracefully defended his decision, and was subsequently invited to address a White House gathering on working parents.

Then there was his encounter with Billy Bean, MLB’s gay ambassador of diversity. After Bean visited the Mets spring training camp in 2015, a website reporter contacted Murphy for his response, as a Christian, to Bean’s presentation.

“Maybe, as a Christian,” Murphy was quoted, “we haven’t been articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree [with] the lifestyle.”

He had touched the third rail. It is an article of faith among gay rights advocates that homosexuality is inborn, and therefore not a “lifestyle.” Because Murphy disagrees, he has been slandered as a “bigot,” “hater,” “homophobe”—even though Bean himself said he appreciated Murphy speaking “his truth,” and Murphy has praised Bean and expressed appreciation for the respectful conversations they have had since.

“That was probably my biggest takeaway,” Murphy said, “that two people with different views, we could come and have reasonable dialogue. That’s a good thing.” And journalist Andy Marino, who interviewed him at the time, praises “Murphy’s willingness to engage civilly. … Looking back on it five years later, in a time of intense polarization, that seems especially valuable.” Indeed.

I and many others will miss the excitement of watching Daniel Murphy play baseball. Let’s hope he will continue to promote—through his lived example and his gracious, humble public statements—the faith, family values, and human respect to which he has borne witness on and off the field.

Life and Justice

In a statement on the inauguration of Joe Biden, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the nation’s second Catholic chief executive as “a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions”; and whose “piety and personal story,” as well as “his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor,” are “hopeful and inspiring.”

“At the same time,” Archbishop Gomez lamented, “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.”

Advance moral evils and threaten human life. Can there be a more harsh indictment of the agenda of a Catholic public official?

Yet there is no getting around it. Archbishop Gomez lists Mr. Biden’s policy positions on “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” as the most serious of these evils and threats, along with “deep concern” for “the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.” On every one of these concerns, Joe Biden has gone to the farthest extremes in embracing policies opposed by the Church.

He would force Catholic entities, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, to provide coverage not only for contraceptives, but for abortion-inducing drugs. He not only embraces same-sex “marriage,” he mocked the teaching of his own Church by proudly officiating, as Vice President, at a “wedding” of two men. He embraces gender ideology, which Pope Francis has termed “dangerous,” “evil,” and “demonic.” And, after decades of at least favoring some limits to legal abortion, he now wants none; pledges to codify Roe v. Wade, which allows abortion up to birth; and wants to force his fellow Catholics to be complicit in the killing of the unborn through our taxes.   

Archbishop Gomez, issuing his statement two days before the anniversary of Roe, reiterated that “For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority.’

“‘Preeminent,’” he stressed, “does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”

Moreover, he added, abortion “is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.”  

This is critically important. Some Catholics insist on reducing the mass destruction of pre-born children to a “single issue,” just one of many “boxes” to check on their social justice agenda—if they include it at all.

But as Archbishop Gomez points out, the use of abortion to target the poor, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations undermines the entire social justice agenda. Twenty-three years ago, the late Bishop John McGann of our Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, emphasized this in a Newsday op ed piece on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Roe.

Deploring promotion of abortion as a “solution” to poverty, disability, child abuse, and other issues of human suffering, Bishop McGann described how “this destroy-the-victim approach, combined with the ‘freedom of choice’ promoted by the abortion mentality, seems to have engendered a selfish individualism through which we dehumanize any whose lives inconvenience us: the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, the terminally ill, the immigrant, the prisoner, the unwed mother and her child.”

He detailed how “the resulting breakdown in respect for life” had brought us “to the brink of infanticide,” “increased the clamor for euthanasia and assisted suicide,” contributed to “a resurgence in support for the death penalty,” and left “countless numbers of women throughout our land” bearing “deep and lasting spiritual and emotional scars from the tragedy of an abortion.  

“It is time to acknowledge,” Bishop McGann declared—in a plea that rings ever more urgent today—that “our experience with legalized abortion has been a national tragedy. And it is time to try instead a truly pro-life response to issues of human suffering.”  

He called for re-doubling efforts to support women in crisis, develop life-affirming alternatives to abortion, and provide healing for women, and men, struggling with the pain and anguish of an abortion experience.

He urged “loving and compassionate care to the elderly and the terminally ill”; acceptance of “our responsibility, individually and collectively, for the ‘least among us’—the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the sick”; efforts to “build and sustain strong families, which can best welcome and nurture God’s gift of life.”  

“Finally,” Bishop McGann concluded, “we must all work fervently to restore legal protection for all human life, born and unborn. For, as Mother Teresa taught us, all our charitable works, and all our efforts toward social justice, will go for naught unless they are founded in an abiding reverence for the sacredness of each and every human life.”

That is why abortion is more than a “single issue”; why it must be, as the U.S. Bishops have long maintained, “the preeminent priority”: because as long as unborn children are denied the protection of our laws; as long as they continue to be legally killed, by the millions, there is no reverence for the sacredness of life. And there can be no true social justice.    

And until President Biden’s “priority for the poor” is joined to a reverence for all human life, it is not a “commitment to the Gospel.” And it cannot be called “justice.”  

The Hatred and Violence Must Stop

“How do you like this new democracy, that has a mob storming the Capitol and…blocking the access of the majority party into their offices and into the legislative chamber? It looks more like anarchy to me.”

“…cameras caught protesters storming the Capitol – breaking doors and windows – in a last-ditch push to protest and possibly block the vote.”

Those are not descriptions of the ugliness that transpired in the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.

Rather, they are about the forcible takeover of the Wisconsin statehouse in March of 2011 by protesters trying to prevent a vote on then-Gov. Scott Walker’s reform proposals regarding public sector unions.  

Protesters carried placards proclaiming, “This is what democracy looks like.”

But mob rule is not democracy. It is an attack on democracy—whether it was the union mobs in Wisconsin ten years ago, the Trump-supporting mobs that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, or the antifa and Black Lives Matter mobs that have been rioting across America’s cities for months.

One must not, of course, understate the unique, and uniquely dangerous, nature of Wednesday’s violent, deadly attack on the seat of our nation’s democracy. It should be, and is being, universally condemned.

But neither should we understate the danger to our democracy posed by the continuing violence of left-wing rioters, who over the past eight months have been smashing and looting businesses, setting ablaze mostly poor, minority inner city neighborhoods, assaulting police, menacing public officials in restaurants, and terrorizing their families at home—as they did just the other night to the wife and newborn daughter of Sen. Josh Hawley.

For just as our Catholic Church is not only the church building in which we celebrate the sacred Eucharist, but encompasses all of us as the body of Christ called to live and evangelize the Word, so American democracy is not only the Capitol building, but encompasses all of us as American citizens, called to live and promote the ideals of freedom by respecting the lives, liberty, and property of others. And so our democracy is endangered whenever and wherever those ideals come under violent attack by American citizens. And truth be told, these left-wing rioters have not received the same universal condemnation that the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol rightly have.

Supporters insist that all these protests have been “mostly peaceful,” that the violent aggressors at the Capitol Wednesday and the violent rioters in our cities have been just small fringes. True or not, that does not negate the terrible destructiveness they are doing, to life, to property, and to our system of ordered liberty and self-government. Not to mention the harm they are doing to the very causes they claim to support.

For example, there was growing momentum for responsible reforms in law enforcement following the horrific police killing of George Floyd last spring. But that momentum has largely faded amid the violence and rioting, the anti-cop overkill, and the frightening nationwide spike in violent crime that resulted.   

Similarly, following the November elections many Americans have legitimate concerns about the integrity of the voting process, particularly given the unprecedented level of mail-in ballots, susceptible as they are to human error, vote harvesting, and outright fraud. And while the presidential election was not going to be overturned, the objections and debate which were to be heard in Congress last Wednesday could have been the impetus for examining those concerns and, if need be, developing possible reforms for future elections. Now, any hope for such scrutiny has been lost amid the violence and chaos of the mob.  

All of the violence has got to stop. I’m reminded of my third-grade teacher berating me and a friend as she broke up one of our “play” fights. “I don’t care who started it,” she scolded (it was always my friend, of course, not me), “the next time you two are fighting you’re both going to the principal’s office!”

That’s the point we have reached now. It doesn’t matter which side is worse, which more to blame, even which may have been treated more unfairly. While healthy and spirited debate and disagreement are essential to our democratic system, the hatred and violence on all sides must end.

Calls for instant “unity” seem overly simplistic. The deep divisions which sear our country right now involve some fundamental issues of justice and morality that are not easily amenable to compromise. Even Christ emphasized that He had come “not to establish peace on the earth” but rather “division.”

But the division He sought to create was to help us distinguish right from wrong, that we might ultimately choose good over evil and then strive to lead others to do so as well. He did not intend for us to descend into the evils of hatred and violence, which He always rejected, warning that those “who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”  

We must now, while standing firm in defense of those moral principles we hold to be right and just, do so as Jesus would—peacefully, exuding His love and mercy—lest our democracy perish in the flames of hatred and violence.  

The Intolerance of the Tolerant

“Bigot.” “Traitor.” “Liar.” “Fraud.”

As Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard departs Congress, the vicious name-calling directed at her over the last month still echoes.

What did Rep. Gabbard do to merit such vilification from fellow progressives?

Simple. She dared to challenge the abortion absolutism and gender ideology that are defining principles of America’s secular left, dissent from which is not to be tolerated.

Specifically, Rep. Gabbard had recently co-sponsored two pieces of legislation: one that would mandate life-sustaining treatment for babies who manage to be born alive following an attempted abortion; the other that would prevent biological males, i.e., those transgendering to female, from competing in women’s scholastic sports. 

To me as to many Americans, both those proposals seem eminently reasonable. But that is not my main purpose in addressing this matter.

Instead, I want to focus on the hateful rhetoric directed against Rep. Gabbard as yet another example of how our public discourse is constantly being poisoned by ad hominem attacks and the politics of personal destruction, undermining any efforts to engage serious issues on their merits.

Among the pejoratives hurled at Gabbard is that she “vilifies women” with her bill to protect born-alive infants. That would be news to women like Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden, who both survived being aborted, and lived only because some medical personnel thought their lives worth sustaining—even though Melissa’s own maternal grandmother wanted her left to die without treatment.

And accusing Gabbard, a woman herself, of vilifying women seems just a clumsy attempt to avoid coming to grips with the central issue here. Should we, while allowing virtually unrestricted abortion, at least draw the line at infanticide? Orthe intent of every abortion being the destruction of a life—should the abortionist be allowed to end that life even after the baby has unintentionally been born alive?

Likewise with the “Protect Women’s Sports Act,” the issue is a serious one, deserving of a strong but reasoned debate. Do the protections for women’s equality in scholastic sports, set forward in Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act, require that biological males must be permitted to compete in women’s sports? Or—given the undeniable physical differences between men and women—does such a requirement actually disadvantage female student athletes?

For Gabbard, a twice-deployed military combat veteran, the issue is one of upholding women’s rights by respecting women as women.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy,” she has said, “for someone who claims to be an advocate for women’s rights to also simultaneously deny the biological existence of women. How can someone claim to be a champion of women while denying our very existence?”

But to her critics, the issue is reducible to Gabbard simply being “transphobic,” “a bigot,” who is “justify(ing) discrimination” and “fueling attacks on trans youth.” As such, her views should be dismissed as unworthy of consideration. Thus do her critics justify refusing to engage the issue on its merits.

It’s important to emphasize that, despite the claims of her critics, Tulsi Gabbard’s record in Congress has not been that of a “right wing” social conservative. She is not pro-life. She embraces Roe v. Wade and a woman’s “right” to an abortion. And while at one time she did oppose legalizing same-sex marriage—as did Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden—she, like they, long ago renounced that position and endorsed gay marriage. 

So she has been in lockstep with the progressive agenda on these issues. But because she draws the line at infanticide, and because she wants to protect the integrity of women’s scholastic sports competition, she is a “traitor” to that agenda. She is not just to be disagreed with. She is to be tarred as a “bigot,” and her views excluded from the bounds of acceptable public discourse.

To be sure, there are those on the conservative side of the ideological spectrum who also resort to personal attacks rather than engaging critical issues on their merits. But it is particularly egregious coming from progressives, both because it is so constant and ubiquitous, permeating their ranks in virtually every institution, from schools and college campuses, to media, entertainment, politics and government; and because of the hypocrisy. Tolerance and inclusivity are the holy grail of modern progressivism. Yet while regarding themselves as paragons of both, too many progressives feel they have a right to exclude from the public square any who express views antithetical to their own—even, as in this case, when such views emanate from a fellow progressive.

It is, as I have written before, the intolerance of the tolerant. And it is toxic to our public discourse.     

Christmas Hope

And so it is Christmas.  And it is a Christmas so unlike any we have ever experienced before.

Always, despite whatever challenges, crises or sufferings have confronted us—individually, as families, or in the wider world—Christmas has been a time of joy and celebration, of togetherness, and most important, a time of hope.

Now, from our families, churches and communities, out across the length and breadth of our nation and beyond, encompassing the entire world, we are in the grip of a pandemic that stifles our joy, mutes our celebrations, and greatly limits our togetherness. Add to that the economic deprivation caused by our response to the pandemic; the anger and hatred that afflict virtually every part of our culture and seem to be tearing our nation apart; and worldwide issues that many see as existential, whether the effects of climate change, the growing menace of Communist China’s designs for world domination, or the continued mass destruction of new human lives by abortion—and there seems far more reason for fear and trepidation than for hope, for our world or humanity itself.

And indeed, if we are limited to our human capacities alone, there is little reason for hope.

Yes, human beings and human institutions can make our earthly lives better; they can also make them infinitely worse. Throughout history, the world has experienced political leaders and political systems who have advanced justice and freedom; others, however, have imposed terrible oppressions and injustice. Some economic systems have enhanced prosperity; others have only increased poverty and hunger. Science, in human hands, has been used to advance the human condition and alleviate suffering, but also misused to terrorize humanity and threaten world survival.

But Christmas reminds us that we need not rely solely on our fallible human inclinations and abilities.  

Christmas reminds us of, indeed re-enacts for us, an all-loving God’s gift to us of His divine Son—who, having sinlessly taken all of our merited suffering upon Himself to atone for our sins, accompanies us with His love through every step of our earthly journey, leading us home to the eternal salvation He has won for us on the Cross.

That is the essence of the hope Jesus brings to us each Christmas—hope not in transient, earthly matters, but in our transcendent destiny. The hope He gives us, like His kingdom, is not of this world. He does not promise to make our earthly lives free of suffering and struggle. What He does promise is that He will be there with us, to lead us safely through those earthly trials, if we but seek His help.  

Every Christmas, when I listen to the hymn “Away in a Manger,” I think of my Mom when I hear this line in the third verse: “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.” I recall how her heart broke, and how she prayed, over the suffering of children, be it from poverty and hunger, abuse, disease, the fear and terror of warfare, or being violently dismembered and killed by abortion. And I am moved to offer my own prayer that God will indeed bless and protect all suffering children.  

This year, however, I would suggest that we all take to heart the entire third verse of that beautiful hymn. For it speaks to our need—always, but especially in these difficult, turbulent times—to put our trust in Jesus, not in human endeavors; to avail ourselves of His unending love and mercy; and to have hope, not in earthly aspirations, but in the eternal joy of heaven that is our God-given destiny.    

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

The Death Penalty

A spate of federal executions in the waning days of the Trump administration is deeply troubling.

Let’s be clear: capital punishment is not morally equivalent to abortion.

  • While innocent persons are sometimes wrongly executed, every abortion involves the intentional killing of a completely innocent young life.
  • Every person on death row is accorded extensive due process before they can be executed. Innocent unborn children are afforded no due process before their lives are violently taken.
  • The sheer difference in numbers: If the occasional execution of a convicted murderer desensitizes us to the gravity of killing—as I believe it does—then haven’t we become absolutely morally numbed by the deliberate killing of more than 60 million innocent babies over the last five decades?

So there are clear differences.

Yet recent popes, with good reason, have clearly and consistently called for ending the death penalty as a means of punishment for and protection from violent criminals. 

Saint John Paul II instructed that capital punishment should not be employed when “bloodless means” would suffice to protect society from violent crime. He later went further, declaring that in modern times instances when bloodless means would not suffice are “rare if not practically non-existent.”

Pope Benedict XVI urged “society’s leaders…to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.”

And Pope Francis has stated that “Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

There are many practical reasons for opposing the death penalty. It can be unevenly applied; extenuating circumstances, like mental illness, can mitigate a convicted person’s moral culpability; and of course, innocent people can and do get wrongly convicted. With advances in technology and DNA testing, and the seminal work of groups like the Innocence Project, more and more convictions are being overturned, and innocent people freed from incarceration. That cannot happen if they have already—in the name of “justice”—been wrongly executed by the state, in the ultimate act of injustice.

Yet none of these get to the heart of the Church’s opposition to capital punishment. For even when the facts are beyond dispute—guilt well-established, culpability irrefutable, the death penalty applied equitably—the Church still opposes it.

For—again, without equating capital punishment with the “intrinsic evil” of abortion—the Church sees that the death penalty undermines our efforts to uphold the sanctity of human life.   

Particularly in a world where violence and death are perpetually—some would say pathologically—employed as “solutions” to human problems, involving the state in one more manifestation of that approach can only accelerate the cycle of violence.  

Then there is the question of mercy. Recalling that Pope John Paul II, during his 1999 visit to St. Louis, had appealed for the commutation of a death sentence there, the bishops explained that the pope “did not request a re-evaluation of the merits of the condemned man’s case. Rather, he presented a simple and straightforward appeal for mercy.”

I find this particularly challenging. Not in every case. My heart goes out to some convicted of violent crimes, who seem tormented by terrible abuses or trials in their own lives. In other cases, however, murders seem so cruel, so heartless that—even as I remain philosophically opposed to the death penalty—I struggle to find in my heart any desire for mercy for the perpetrators.

Two of the murderers in these recent executions fit that category for me. In one case, the killer raped a 16-year-old girl over a drug dispute with her brothers, then buried her alive. Think about that. Experience in your mind the slow, agonizing, horrible death that young girl was made to suffer.  

Another man cruelly tortured and brutally murdered his own two-year-old daughter. Some who oppose the death penalty tend to romanticize those facing execution, and to harshly judge any who disagree with them. They need to read exactly what this man did to that poor, defenseless baby girl. 

Yet there are other stories, just as powerful. Bill Pelke initially supported the death penalty for the teen-age girl who brutally stabbed his grandmother to death. But later, inspired by the memory of his grandmother’s devout Christian faith, he envisioned her in tears at this young girl’s impending execution. He forgave the girl, intervened to have her death sentence commuted, and became a lifelong advocate for abolishing capital punishment until he died several weeks ago.

The mercy and forgiveness in his heart is something we all should aspire to.   

At the same time, just as we strive not to judge or condemn women who abort their own children, let us not presume to judge those who support execution for the murderers of their loved ones.

We seek to respond with love and compassion to the woman facing a crisis pregnancy. We try to offer her life-affirming alternatives, and to gently, lovingly persuade her to choose life for her child. But if she does not, we do not abandon her, do not condemn her. Instead, we who are pro-life continue to offer her love and care and healing.

Similarly with families of murder victims, forced not only to cope with terrible loss, but often to relive in their minds the unspeakable suffering their loved one went through. We must respond to their suffering with love and understanding; gently encourage them to embrace a nonlethal form of punishment for their loved one’s killer; try to help them find the true peace that only forgiveness and mercy can bring.

But if they too make a different choice, and support the execution of their loved one’s killer, we must not judge and condemn them. We must continue to love them unconditionally, and still try to help them find healing and peace.  

So let us oppose capital punishment—to avoid wrongly executing innocent people; to slow our descent into the culture of death; and above all, to temper justice with mercy, knowing that ultimately, our own salvation is wholly dependent on God tempering His judgement with His divine mercy, for each of us.

And let us not be judgmental toward those who, suffering from the violent murder of a loved one, cannot bring themselves to ask for mercy for the perpetrator. Let us have understanding and compassion for them in their pain—a pain that, please God, most of us will never have to endure.

In Defense of Religious Freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a welcome decision recently, upholding Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on religious gatherings in the wake of an upsurge in coronavirus cases. 

As recounted by Catholic News Service, the Diocese of Brooklyn first went into federal court in October to challenge the new restrictions, and on Nov. 12 asked the Supreme Court to issue “an injunction against the governor’s executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship to 10 or 25 people.”

The diocese noted that such arbitrary limits did not take into account the expansive size of various churches, which would have allowed for greater numbers with room for safe social distancing. Moreover, while imposing such stringent restrictions on religious gatherings, the diocese noted, the governor’s mandate allowed “numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions.”

In a 5-4 ruling on November 5, the Supreme Court agreed that Cuomo’s order did not appear neutral and seemed to single out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch was particularly pointed about this double standard, writing sarcastically in a separate opinion that “It may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike.”

It has also been fine, in Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York as in Democrat-run cities and states across America, for massive demonstrations to be held in which participants packed together shoulder-to-shoulder, shouting and chanting, with no concerns about social distancing or wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID.

Indeed, this was the second time a federal court rebuked Cuomo for subjecting churches to an unfair double standard. The first was back in June, when U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe contrasted restrictions on faith gatherings imposed by Cuomo and de Blasio with their allowing massive anti-police protests to proceed without any restrictions whatsoever—“encouraging,” the judge said, “what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules.” In doing so, he said, de Blasio and Cuomo “sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”

Only certain mass protests, however. Anyone think that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser—who also looked the other way when protesters disregarded COVID safety restrictions—will be so forgiving next month if March for Life participants similarly blow off COVID safety measures? That is, if city authorities allow the pro-life march to happen at all! Of course, if it does happen, it seems certain—given the more than 40-year history of these incredibly peaceful massive gatherings—that the vast majority of pro-life marchers will conscientiously follow COVID safety protocols, committed as they are to the sanctity of human life.

Similarly, there is probably no institution that has been more conscientious about following coronavirus safety protocols than the Catholic Church. Here in America—and indeed, throughout the world, under Pope Francis’ leadership—the Church has bent over backwards, not only to comply with government public safety mandates, but even to go beyond them.

For months, our parishes and dioceses prohibited indoor services, so that we could not attend Mass, let alone receive the Eucharist. During this time, a number of priests and bishops extended themselves in creative ways, holding outdoor Eucharistic processions or offering drive-up confessions so that we could avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Some began offering outdoor Masses when and where those were permitted. When indoor Masses were first resumed, here on Long Island and I’m sure elsewhere as well, Communion was not offered. When it was finally restored, it was moved to the very end of the liturgy, and we were told to exit the Church immediately upon receiving, with no time to kneel in prayer after partaking of the body and blood of Jesus.

The pews continue to be roped or taped off to maintain proper social distancing, and we still have no missalettes with which to follow the readings or join in the hymns. Now with Christmas approaching—a day when our churches are always packed—extra Masses are being scheduled in most parishes to accommodate all who wish to attend while still maintaining safe social distancing. And here on Long Island, whenever I walk through downtown Rockville Centre, seat of our diocese, I notice that while the rest of the village is bustling—office buildings, banks, restaurants, entertainment venues all open and active—our diocesan pastoral center remains closed up tight, going now on ten months.

Given this exemplary record of sacrifice in service to public safety, Catholics and the Church merit the utmost respect from government when we assert our right to worship and our ability to do so without endangering the public health.

Certainly, we deserve not to be singled out for “especially harsh treatment” by our self-proclaimed Catholic governor.

Kudos to Bishop DiMarzio for standing firm against such harsh treatment, and in defense of religious freedom. And kudos to the Supreme Court, whose ruling in this case—joined by President Trump’s three appointees—affords at least a modicum of hope that they will be a bulwark against all the attacks on religious liberty sure to come in the difficult times ahead.

Abortion and the Eucharist

Joe Biden’s apparent election brings to the fore the question of pro-abortion Catholic politicians being denied the Eucharist. Washington D.C.’s Archbishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, swiftly renounced any intent to do so, despite the Catholic Biden’s embrace of extreme pro-abortion policies.     

I have always been reticent about pressuring bishops to take this action, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. Nevertheless, there is both precedent and Church teaching that affirm doing so.

In 1962, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel excommunicated powerful local official Leander Perez and two others for their persistent promotion of racial segregation. Some today oppose “politicizing” the Eucharist by withholding it from pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Would they likewise have accused Archbishop Rummel of politicizing the sacrament by withholding it from those promoting racism?

And don’t some politicians themselves politicize the Eucharist, publicly receiving Communion in order to portray themselves as faithful Catholics while supporting policies the Church holds to be “intrinsically evil?” Some months ago, Cardinal Gregory angrily denounced what he saw as President Trump’s politicizing of the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington. Yet he musters only a vague reference to “some areas where we won’t agree” when discussing (or avoiding discussing) Biden’s pro-abortion extremism.

Definitive teaching on this matter came in a 2004 memo to the U.S. Bishops from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

“When a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws),” wrote the future Pope Benedict XVI, he should be instructed that “he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin,” and be warned “that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

If the person continues to promote these attacks on innocent human life, and “with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” Cardinal Ratzinger concluded.

Pretty straightforward.

So why am I reticent about urging such action on the bishops?

Well first, I do not share the belief that such action would be a “magic bullet” for the pro-life cause, prompting pro-abortion Catholic pols to suddenly reverse themselves and embrace legal protection for the unborn.

Maybe that would have happened 50 years ago, although I am dubious even about that. But today, with abortion enshrined in our culture; with the Democratic Party having made it a litmus test for political advancement; with various “progressive” Catholics, lay, clergy and episcopal, giving them cover; and with the bishops’ influence at a low ebb due to the abuse scandal and various other factors—I am convinced such action will change nothing with regard to pro-abortion Catholic candidates and officeholders.

Joe Biden well illustrates this. In the past, he tempered his support for legal abortion by embracing certain restrictions—opposing late term abortion; supporting the Hyde Amendment that restricted taxpayer funding for abortion; and even, at one point, saying Roe v. Wade had gone too far.

This year, seeking the nomination of a party that has moved to the furthest possible pro-abortion fringe, he abandoned all moderation, embracing late term abortion, supporting repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and promising to codify Roe v. Wade. And when a priest in South Carolina did deny Biden Communion, it did not deter him from these positions.   

Instead, pro-abortion Catholic politicians wear denial of Communion as a political badge of courage, depicting themselves as martyrs being “persecuted” by the bishops—while the truly courageous political martyrs are those like Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski, who lost his seat in a Democratic primary rather than betray his pro-life principles.

More fundamentally, I am against “lobbying” the bishops on this matter because that is not our province as Catholic laity—and because, being a sinner myself, I am not comfortable presuming to judge the worthiness of others to receive the sacred body and blood of Christ.

As I understand it, there are basically two reasons for a bishop to withhold the sacraments.

The first is therapeutic—to persuade the person to end his or her “obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin”—in this case formal cooperation with the “intrinsic evil” of abortion—and thereby to heal and protect their immortal soul. The bishop must weigh carefully whether there is a reasonable expectation that withholding the sacraments will have that effect—or whether, as seems often the case with our pro-abortion Catholic politicians, it will more likely push them into further obstinacy and thereby deeper sin.

The second reason for a bishop to take such action is to avoid giving scandal—defined by the Church as engaging in behavior that has the potential to lead others into serious sin.

Here, I think, an arguable case can be made. Aspiring Catholic politicians, seeing others suffer no consequences for promoting abortion in defiance of Church teaching, may be tempted to follow suit if it is to their political advantage.

Let me be clear. Whenever a bishop denies the Eucharist to a pro-abortion Catholic public official—whether as a therapeutic corrective to protect the person’s soul, or to avoid giving scandal that could lead others into the same serious sin—that bishop will have my unqualified support.

But I will not lobby the bishops to take such action—not only because I do not think it will be helpful to our pro-life cause, but primarily because that is not my role as a Catholic lay person.

My responsibility as a Catholic citizen is to promote laws and public policies that uphold the sanctity of life —and to elect public officials who will enact such laws and policies.

Judging whether to deny the sacraments to Catholic officeholders who fail to do so is the province of the bishops—for which they are answerable to God, not to me. And I am eternally thankful that that awesome responsibility is on their shoulders, not on mine. 

Catholic Teaching and Prudential Judgment

While I have emphasized from the start that I want this blog to be a forum for the kind of civil discourse so absent in today’s public square, I did not intend for that to mean an absence of strongly stated convictions. My point was and is simply that we can argue forcefully for what we believe—and against that which we consider harmful—while still respecting those with whom we disagree.  

My intention is to examine critical issues from a Catholic perspective—that is, from within the context of Catholic moral and social teachings. Of course, what I will be offering on many of these issues are my own prudential judgments—informed, I hope, by those Catholic teachings, but not the only or exclusive conclusions that Catholics may in good conscience reach on such issues.

I won’t, in other words, succumb to the temptation (paraphrasing an old Rush Limbaugh line) to  declare that “the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of all Catholics—but they oughtta be!”

Rather, I’ll try to keep in mind the teaching I have cited previously from Gaudium et spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: that while one person’s “Christian vision will suggest a certain solution in some given situation,” it “happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that some of the faithful, with no less sincerity, will see the problem quite differently”; and that “in those cases no one is permitted to identify the authority of the Church exclusively with his own opinion.”

So, for example, those who favor massive federal programs as the solution to poverty should not assume that all who disagree are necessarily uncaring toward the poor. Some might instead see free market policies, designed to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs, as the real answers to alleviating poverty.

Regarding criminal justice, those rightly concerned about preserving law and order should not dismiss those promoting “restorative justice” as being “soft on crime”; conversely, proponents of restorative justice need to be sensitive to the suffering of crime victims, and supportive of efforts to protect the innocent. Supporters of law and order, in turn, must recognize that protecting the innocent also means securing justice for those wrongly accused or wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit.

On immigration, those on both sides should stop demonizing their opponents. While there is an element of bigotry among some immigration opponents (going all the way back to Margaret Sanger, who targeted certain “undesirable” groups for immigration restrictions as well as birth control), that hardly characterizes all who have legitimate concerns about border security. On the other hand, while there are legitimate concerns about a criminal element among illegal immigrants (a concern particularly felt in immigrant communities, on whom that criminal element primarily preys), it is grossly unjust to stereotype all undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals. Regardless of one’s feelings about the need for border security, I have always been at a loss to understand the vitriol directed at people who come here, often at great peril, simply to try to do better for their families.      

On these and so many other issues of life and justice, as Gaudium et spes instructs, we are not justified in asserting that our policy position—even if it comports with Catholic moral and social teaching—is the only policy judgment consistent with that teaching.

Instead, we should thoughtfully—and prayerfully—examine each such issue in light of the Church’s teachings; try to reach our best prudential judgments as to how to apply those teachings in ways that best serve the common good; then share our conclusions while respectfully considering differing prudential judgments, reached no less sincerely, by others equally committed to applying Catholic moral and social teaching to the issue at hand.    

In short, let us, as Gaudium et spes encourages, “try to guide each other by sincere dialogue in a spirit of mutual charity and with anxious interest above all in the common good.”

Our Daily Bread

Commuting to Manhattan for the past five years, I tried to spend some of my time on the train platform each morning in silent prayer (usually having left myself no time for morning prayer at home before rushing to catch my train). And I took to meditating on one particular petition in the Our Father:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  

I would invoke it first to ask for God’s blessing on my own day, for the strength and guidance to meet whatever challenges that particular workday might present. 

Then I would call to mind family members, loved ones and friends, co-workers, neighbors, asking God to provide the “daily bread” they needed, either in a general sense or to cope with specific challenges I was aware of in their lives.    

And finally I would try to focus  more broadly on the myriad of problems, crises, and sufferings that afflict our world, asking our Lord to give to all struggling people whatever “daily bread” would help them, spiritually as well as temporally, through their day.

And it occurs to me that now, in the aftermath of a bitter and still disputed election, might be a good time, as Catholics, for us to draw back a bit from the political turmoil. Rather than looking to government to provide all the answers to human suffering and injustice, perhaps we might reflect on what we can do personally to help those in our families, our communities, our parishes, who are suffering or in need.

In short, we might ask God, as part of our own “daily bread,” to help us be the daily bread for those in our lives who need whatever material, spiritual, or emotional care we could lovingly offer.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the role of government. But too often we look to government as the first resort in providing for people’s needs, even when we can and should step in ourselves, in ways better suited to help individuals in our own midst.

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker who devoted her life to caring for the poor (and whose sainthood cause continues to grow), articulated this well, lamenting that in preferring “state responsibility” for those in need, we were abdicating our “personal responsibility.” She urged “delegat(ing) to smaller bodies and groups what can be done far more humanly and responsibly through mutual aid, as well as charity, through Blue Cross, Red Cross, union cooperation, parish cooperation.”

This is the essence of the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity: that human needs are best addressed by those closest to them, in families, communities, churches—and, where government assistance is needed, beginning with local government. Only when local, more personal efforts are impractical or inadequate should we turn to distant, impersonal—and, as Saint Pope John Paul II observed, often wasteful and overly bureaucratic—national government programs.

Of course, relying on personal responsibility requires that we become personally involved, that we exude “attentive and pressing concern for (our) neighbor,” in St. John Paul’s words.

“To reach the man in the street you must go to the street,” Dorothy Day wrote.

Now all of us are not in a position to devote our lives, as she did, to living among the poor and homeless.  But we can all look around us, in our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes, to see who is in need of some form of “daily bread” that we might help provide: a lonesome neighbor or relative who we might regularly invite into our home for a hot meal and warm companionship; a struggling family with whom we might share some of the food and clothing we are blessed to have; a sick or elderly “shut-in” or nursing home resident we could make time to visit; a young woman facing a crisis pregnancy, or a single mother who is struggling after choosing life for her baby, either of whom would welcome whatever material, emotional or spiritual support we can provide; a friend or neighbor whom we might accompany in their caregiving for an elderly or terminally ill loved one, perhaps even stepping in on occasion to give them a much needed respite.

The needs—and thus opportunities for loving service—are endless. Of course, these individual acts of love and kindness cannot negate the need for larger, more organized efforts through private and religious charities or government agencies. And we can also endeavor to do more, volunteering at our parish outreach or St. Vincent de Paul Society, at a local crisis pregnancy center, soup kitchen, or nursing home.

But at the very least, we can reach out individually to those around us, sharing our love and caring, as well as our material resources. And in fact that is not the least, it is rather the most we can do, because it is giving of ourselves in the most intimate, personal, and thereby most meaningful way, to people close to us.

So please, Lord, give us this day the daily bread we need to help be the daily bread for those in our lives who need, and long for, our love and care.