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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Religion and Politics

Recently I have received several e-mails and been in direct face to face discussion as well with folks who ask why the Church speaks out on issues such as immigration, the environment, health care,etc. People object to the Church doing this using remarks such as, "What about the separation of Church and state?" or "The clergy should talk about God, help people to pray better but keep politics out of the pulpit." I would like to offer comments on remarks such as these.

First of all there is some myth busting to do. One of the greatest myths used today in everyday language and even on many talk shows and newscasts is the notion that the US constitution establishes separation of Church and state. It does not quite do that and never uses the expression "separation of Church and state". The beginning of the first amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The purpose of this part of the amendment was to prevent the establishment of a state church or religion or the favoring of one over the other and to allow people of all creeds to assemble in their respective places of worship without harassment and also to freely live out publicly the tenets of their faith. This amendment does not prohibit clergy and other religious leaders from trying to influence society on matters that they believe are in the public interest or public morality. In the 1800's it was the churches, especially some of the protestant churches in the north, who led the campaign against slavery. Today religious leaders speak out on the rights of immigrants, the availability of health care, the injustice of certain wars not by way of trying to impose their religious beliefs on society but because they believe that these things are true for all people. Likewise when they speak out on abortion. Now some people my disagree and sometimes religious leaders may be wrong, but it is their right to speak, the right of free speech, granted later in the same first amendment.

On the other side people get upset when a priest or other clergy person brings some of these issues to the pulpit. They say things like' "Father shouldn't talk about politics. He should stick to the Bible, or Church teaching, etc." The problem here is that the very same Bible speaks on some of these issues that are political. Your priest, minister rabbi has an obligation to address these issues from the pulpit. What cannot be done from the pulpit is to direct people to vote for a certain individual or to belong to a certain party. The general idea is that clergy should speak about political issues when they touch on matters of social morality but not enter into partisan politics.

What the constitution leaves room for from the various religions is that they serve as the conscience, or at least, a conscience for society. Complete separation of Church and state would not allow for that. For those of us who are people of faith we need to do some soul searching when addressing some of these hot button issues and ask whether the Democratic party, the Republican Party, the Tea Party or any particular talk show host or media outlet influences me more on such matters than does my faith.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pentecost: A Reflection

As a sit here on the day before Pentecost Sunday, celebrating 39 years of priestly ministry, my thoughts go to an event that took place at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school when in 1959 Pope John XXIII called for a council, the council that became known to us as Vatican II. In making this call he asked the Church to pray for a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Spirit, on the Church and on the world. The council began three years later in 1962 when this writer was a freshman at the Franciscan College Seminary in Troy, NY, certainly did provide for that outpouring. The Pope's prayer was answered with renewed enthusiasm for liturgy, especially the change to vernacular language, Scripture, the role of the laity in the Church, and ecumenism.

Every year we celebrate Pentecost and recall the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and ask for an outpouring of the Spirit. This year though, most especially I think, calls on us to cry out loudly for an outpouring of the Spirit. We need to call on the Spirit to heal the wounds caused by sexual abuse, it's cover-up, and exploitation of it by many in the media. We need to call on the Spirit to heal the wounds within the Church between factions who call themselves liberal or conservative and who forget that the idea is not to win out against the opposition as we do in political elections, but to call on the Spirit to lead us to what is best for the Church which is usually a mixture of change and tradition. The Church above all must be a win-win place and not one with winners and losers. We need to call on the Spirit to blow on us anew that we might realize that the Church is not the institution, but the vibrant living community of faithful members, clergy, religious and laity alike, throughout the world. The institution is needed, to be sure, but the institution is not an end in itself, but at the service of this great communion of believers.

When this new breath of the Spirit upon us takes place there will be fewer people saying things like, "I like Jesus, but not organized religion or the institutional Church," because they will see living witness to Him in the visible, institutional Church. When that happens the Church's wonderful social teachings touching areas like the economy, peace, justice, concern for the environment will be heeded because we will once again be credible. People won't be able to say, "Don't speak to us about justice until you clean your own house."

As youngsters preparing for Confirmation many of us had to memorize the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that though I am a friar and priest I still had to check the catechism to be sure I had them all down. Let us ask the Spirit this Pentecost to pour out on us these gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (or right judgment) knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These last two deserve some comment. Piety does not mean walking around with our hands folded and carrying our rosary. It means a strong devotion and loyalty to God and the things of God. Fear of the Lord means a sense of awe and wonder towards the Creator, not a fear of punishment by God. That awe and wonder is certainly created in me by viewing the video clip attached to my last posting.

Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit and pour out your gifts on all of us.

PS You might look to the column on the left on click on the blog of our bishop here in St. Petersburg (For His Friends)for a nice reflection on Pentecost.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Immigration Reform and Some Other Issues: A faith Perspective.

The Wandering Friar is not wandering this month and is enjoying some quality time at home. I've been able to work on mission talks, prepare more for the upcoming retreat for priests in Syracuse, NY as well as my summer adult education series in Eagle River.

I have also been giving thought to several important issues such as the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico--No, it has not hit Florida and there is a good likelihood that it won't. Nonetheless the fishing industry here still is getting hit and you can smell the oil at times when standing on a beach. It certainly tells this writer that we have to pursue other energy sources and that just saying drill, drill, drill is not the answer. The sex abuse crisis seems never to go away and while I'm certain that many in the media love piling it on the Church, we as Church still need to move towards a policy of transparency in everything. It's time for Vatican secrecy to go.

And last but not least among the issues is immigration reform. I believe that a challenge for Catholics is to step out of the slant of your particular political party and look at this issue from a faith perspective. If you click on the site below you will find a very fine interview from Our Sunday Visitor from Bishop Wester. He expresses some of the main concerns on people's minds, especially that of legality. After getting to the Sunday Visitor Web site click on the May 16 issue. I hope you read it and I welcome your comments.Bishop Wester on Immigration