It’s natural to place a high value on things that cost us a lot to obtain. Often times the things of most value are the ones for which we are willing to sacrifice the most. Today we celebrate countless men and women who felt that our country was of such value that they would die for it. What is most important to you? Is there anything for which you would be willing to trade your life? Arlington cemetery is full of examples of people who found something worth dying for. Today and every day, let us be eternally grateful.
Every year when I go to file my taxes as a proud resident of the state of Kansas I am asked at the end of the process whether I might be eligible for any of a number of tax credits. It seems like I remember there being a credit for plugging a well or improving a swine facility. I also seem to remember something about soybeans. There was some kind of a credit for raising soybeans. Now you might wonder, “Why soybeans and not wheat?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Maybe we have all the wheat we can handle in Kansas and what we really need are soybeans. Maybe soybeans are endangered. I don’t know the exact reason, but for some reason the state of Kansas has chosen to offer an incentive for those who grow soybeans…or plug wells.
Things may be different in your state, but there are probably some kind of tax credits for engaging in various activities. By creating tax credits for some things and not others, what the government has done is to create what we call an “incentive.” In my personal opinion, I don’t actually like the way this whole tax system works, but that’s another story. For the most part, people seem to be fine with tax credits and creating incentives to do certain things.
Now suppose that people in Kansas who improve cattle facilities get upset there is only a tax credit for improving swine facilities. What if the well diggers get jealous of the well pluggers and their tax credit? What if corn growers get so upset that they occupy the statehouse in Topeka demanding the same tax credit the soybean farmers get? In a democracy like ours they are all free to make their request known.
Now, suppose that in the name of “equality” and “fairness” the legislature agreed with the corn farmers that it wasn’t fair that the soybean farmers get a tax credit and they don’t, so they add corn growing to the soybean credit. Now the wheat farmers are in shock and demand equal treatment, so the wheat farmers get bundled in with the rest. Eventually there are alfalfa riots and milo demonstrations…and the result is that they too get added into the soybean tax credit in the name of “equality.”
What is the result of all this? What happens to the original “soybean credit?” One might argue that the soybean farmers still get their credit, so why should they care if corn and wheat and other farmers are included. What should be obvious here is that if everything is “incentivized” then nothing is. There was a reason people were choosing corn all on their own and some “incentive” was needed to choose soybeans. If the soybean credit is now open to anyone, even if they don’t grow soybeans, then while it may be true that everyone is now “equal,” it’s also true that what was once a soybean credit is now completely meaningless.
While things seem to be fairly quiet on the soybean front in Kansas, something analogous to the situation just described is raising quite a debate concerning the civil aspects of the institution of marriage. For over 5000 years cultures have found it advantageous to try to ensure that when men and women engage with each other in the act of reproduction that they do so only when they are permanently committed to each other and to the children that could result from their activity. We have traditionally used the word “marriage” to describe this stable family structure.
What we are seeing now with the debate regarding so-called “gay marriage” is something very similar to the corn farmers demanding a soybean credit in the name of equality. Notice that a soybean credit doesn’t say anything negative about corn growers; it simply says that the people of Kansas have voted that the state has a reason to incentivize soybeans. In the case of Kansas I don’t know exactly what that reason was, but in the case of marriage we do know the reason.
The state has an interest in opposite sex couples engaging in reproductive behavior because children may result from this activity. If the mother and father are not stably committed to each other, then ultimately the state could become responsible for those children.
Now obviously we rightly understand marriage to be much more than this, but as far as the state’s interest, that there is what it’s about. Note that the state has absolutely no interest in who loves whom or even in the notion of love…and that’s a very good thing! Do you really want the government deciding what constitutes love and who is sufficiently attracted to whom? It’s none of their business. What is the state’s business is making sure that children are raised by their mom and dad whenever possible.
Sadly, most of the debate surrounding gay marriage is not focused on children at all; it’s focused on the desires and “rights” of adults. Proponents of gay marriage claim that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that two people of the same sex should have the same “right” to marry that a man and a woman do. This is like corn farmers claiming they should have a right to a soybean credit. And you know what? I actually do think that corn farmers should have a right to the soybean credit.
I think corn farmers should have a right to a soybean credit the same way I think that gay people should have the right to marry. There’s just one requirement. If you want the soybean credit, you have to raise soybeans. You don’t get to redefine the soybean credit to include those who raise corn. Kansas doesn’t want corn; we want soybeans. If you’re gay and want to get married, you have the right to get married. There’s just one requirement. You have to choose to engage in marriage, not redefine marriage to include what you want it to be.
Maybe the corn farmers protest that they don’t want to raise soybeans. They just have no desire for soybeans. Raising corn is what makes them happy. That’s fine, but don’t expect a soybean credit. I’m not particularly attracted to well-plugging, swine, or their facilities, but I don’t go around complaining that I’m being discriminated against because I don’t get those tax credits. Maybe you think there should be a tax break for two people in a same-sex relationship. Fine. Go out and convince people. Demonstrate to all your fellow citizens why the state should incentivize people to engage in homosexual activity. If the corn growers convince enough people, then next year on my taxes there will be a corn credit right next to the soybean credit. That’s how democracy works.
Obviously all analogies limp, and here’s the most important point where the agricultural references just can’t cut it: Marriage exists apart from any civil laws whatsoever. The state does not create marriage by its laws; it can only try to regulate something that exists already on its own. If the state tells a man and a woman that they can’t get married, they can still get married. If the state tells a married couple that they are no longer married, they’re still married. And if the state tells two people of the same sex that they are married, they are still not married.
If the state, and really all of us, continue to pretend that marriage means anything that we want it to mean, then ultimately the word “marriage” will be meaningless. In some way, we are only able to have a debate about gay marriage because this has already happened in large part. It was sad to listen to the solicitor general from Michigan try to explain to the Supreme Court that marriage is supposed to be about children. He almost got laughed out of the room by the liberal justices. Similarly, the state supposedly has an interest in permanence in marriage and yet we allow no-fault divorce.
Yes, to some extent our civil notion of marriage is already meaningless. But why choose to go further down this path? To be clear, homosexuals are not responsible for the sad state of marriage today; heterosexuals are. We’ve reduced marriage down to a relationship of convenience between two consenting adults who consent only to mutually pleasure each other in sterile acts of intimacy for as long as it pleases them. If we call this marriage, it’s no wonder that gay people ask why they can’t do this too. Rather than continuing charging blindly ahead, why not instead see this as a chance to face just how far we’ve fallen. Rather than legalizing gay marriage, why don’t we outlaw no-fault divorce? Why don’t we try to back the train up from the cliff?
The real meaning of marriage exists apart from any civil definitions. No matter what the Supreme Court does, the truth about marriage will not change. Men and women willing to sacrifice their own desires for the good of their family will still get married. What’s really at stake here is whether we as a country still see the value in what marriage really means or whether we will continue to play with words and definitions to fit our own desires until our language is completely separated from truth and the word “marriage” is meaningless.
In today’s first reading, St. Peter boldly tells the Jewish leaders that there is no salvation possible except through Jesus. This is a truth that the Church has continued to teach to the present day, using the traditional formula, “Outside the Church their is no salvation.” As we honor the world day of prayer for vocations today, I am reminded of the many religious brothers and sisters who have gone to the far reaches of the earth to spread the gospel. Many have heroically laid down their lives for the truth that the Church and belief in Jesus are necessary for salvation.
At the time of the Second Vatican Council, this teaching was revisited and nuanced it slightly. Most people until that point would have took the teaching to mean that only visible members of the Catholic Church could be saved. Vatican II added that those who through no fault of their own do not know Jesus or his Church could still be saved, but only in some mysterious way through the Church. Notice that the council fathers only said that it was possible for non-Catholic to be saved. They didn’t say it would be easy or even all that likely.
I can’t imagine how difficult life would be without the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist and penance. Here again our attention is drawn to prayer for vocations. Without the priesthood we wouldn’t have the sacraments and therefore would not be the Church. We must all be incredibly grateful to our Lord that he has given us the beautiful gift of the sacraments in the Church and therefore also incredible grateful for the good shepherds through whom we continue to receive those sacraments today.
The sacraments do matter and Jesus really does want everyone to be Catholic. St. Peter faced far greater danger in professing this then any of us are likely to encounter. So what’s stopping you? Go out with great joy and share your Catholic faith in Jesus, the only means possible for salvation.
Jesus is risen! In today’s gospel we see the risen Jesus enter a room where the doors were locked and bring a message of peace. We know the effect that this encounter had on the apostles. They left their quiet hiding place and fear behind and went out preaching the gospel everywhere. All of them except John would eventually lay down their lives in testimony to the truth that they had seen the risen lord. Jesus had died and was alive again, so there was nothing to fear from the world, not even death.
This freedom from the fear of death reminds me of the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead that we heard in the days before Easter. The Scriptures tell us that so many people were coming to see Lazarus and being converted that the Jewish leaders decided that they had to put an end to this. Their incredible solution was…they would attempt to kill Lazarus. Now that just seems silly to me. Imagine how Lazarus would have felt in the the face of threats to kill him. “Well, I’ve already been dead once…so I guess go ahead and give it your best shot!”
Like Lazarus, we too have “already been dead once.” St. Paul reminds us that we have already died with Christ when we were baptized. Why is it that we still seem to live in fear? We’re afraid of such inconsequential things like the esteem of human beings or living comfortably. Why is it that so many Christians seem to keep their faith locked up in a room and are afraid to go out as the apostles did?
Today, we are the ones spoken of by Jesus to Thomas who “have not seen and yet believe.” If we truly believe in the resurrection then there is no power in this world that should give us cause for fear. The apostles met the risen lord and their lives changed forever. What about for us? Jesus is risen. He is truly risen. Now, what difference does it make?
It always seems to me that the Palm Sunday liturgy moves so quickly. At the entrance we’re acclaiming Jesus as king and yelling Hosanna, and then just minutes later we’re on Calvary wondering what happened. The good news is that today is only meant to be the introduction to what we will now commemorate solemnly…and more slowly…over the course of this upcoming week. Today’s homily gives a brief overview of the events of this special week we call “Holy Week.” God has much grace he wishes to give us over these sacred days. I pray that you will enter fully into these special celebrations which remind us what our faith is really all about.
Today’s celebration of the 5th Sunday of Lent comes directly between two great solemnities that fall during the Lenten season. On Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary. On this coming Wednesday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day Mary consented to be the Mother of God and the Word became flesh for our salvation. Although Jesus is of course God from the first moment of his conception, the Scripture tells us that in his humanity he grew in wisdom and was obedient to his parents.
Like any child, Jesus would have picked up aspects of his character from the example of his parents. In today’s homily I consider some of the key virtues of the two great examples that would have helped Jesus to grow in wisdom. As we enter into Passiontide today, I believe that we can find many ways in which Jesus found the strength for these days in the example of his earthly parents. If we also want to have the strength to take up the cross each day in our life, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to do as he did and place ourselves between Joseph and Mary.
Hopefully, before we make a big decision we listen to advice from others. Even the Code of Canon Law requires Church officials to listen before they do certain things. But who do we listen to? The Church has traditionally given us three enemies to whom we should not listen: the world the flesh and the devil. What we should do is to follow the directions of God the Father in today’s gospel and listen to Jesus. Today’s homily considers Abraham as the model for listening to God and offers advice as to how we might become more like him.
Given a choice between war and peace, we would naturally choose peace. Yet sometimes, to maintain peace, we have to fight. Imagine what would happen if we refused to take a worldly enemy seriously and refused to fight simply because we preferred peace. Soon we would have neither peace nor freedom. Sometimes we have to fight. The same is true in the spiritual life. We have a real enemy that is going to fight against us whether we like it or not. We cannot simply sit complacent on the sidelines.
This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the World War II battle of Iwo Jima. This fight is perhaps best known from the famous picture taken of the marines raising the American flag on the top of Mt. Suribachi. Here in Washington the picture has been made into a large sculpture which serves as the Marine Corp War Memorial. We all love to contemplate this great scene of final victory. Yet this victory came after great struggle and as the fruit of much training and discipline. Today’s homily speaks of how we can take a lesson from the marines to help each of us fight the good fight of Lent and plant our own flag of victory at Easter.
The disease of leprosy, is the sad context for our readings this weekend. This terrible disease was not only a painful physical milady, but also had serious social implications. We see in the readings how lepers had to stay away from the community and yell “unclean” if anyone came near. By highlighting the issue of leprosy, the Church on this last Sunday before Lent gives us a meditation on the very real effects of sin. Sin, like leprosy, makes our souls and often our bodies unwell. Likewise, because there is no private sin, it also has a communal effect, isolating us from God and our brothers and sisters.
Like the leper, we are called to acknowledge our sin and then come humbly and kneel before Jesus the divine physician. Jesus makes the leper clean. Through the Sacrament of Penance Jesus wishes to make us clean of our sin. This is not some figurative healing; in the Sacrament of Penance we are truly made clean. Notice in the gospel that Jesus does not invite the leper back into the community right away. If Jesus had simply chosen to ignore the disease then the leper would still be a leper and soon the entire society would be sick. Rather, Jesus first cleanses the leper and then invites him back. This Lent, let’s have the humility and courage of the leper to get right with God and neighbor. We too are meant to hear the words of Jesus, “Be made clean.”
Several years ago I was invited to receive knighthood in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This is an honor conferred by the Vatican and is a very big deal. However, I had a somewhat important reservation. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of course have their origin from the Crusades. At the time I remember thinking, “Wait, weren’t the Crusades a bad thing? Aren’t we kind of embarrassed by the Crusades?” I decided I needed to do some learning about the Crusades, quickly.
In doing some internet searching I came across a book entitled “The New Concise History of the Crusades” by Thomas F. Madden. As providence would have it, Dr. Madden is the leading American expert on the Crusades. This was not a short book or a simple book, but I read it cover to cover. I’m so glad I did. Not only did Dr. Madden remove any doubts I had about accepting knighthood in the EOHSJ, but he actually made me proud of the Crusades and what our Catholics brothers and sisters had done almost a thousand years ago.
Yes, that’s right; not only should we not be ashamed of the Crusades, we should be very proud! If you don’t understand that yet, I urge you to do some research.
Recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama showed what happens when we speak from uninformed hearsay. In what must be the greatest factual error in the history of Crusade misinformation, he equated the defensive rescue mission of the Crusades with modern day Islamic terrorists who murder by the thousands those who refuse to convert to Islam. Making such a connection is grossly negligent; however, there is in fact a connection between the Crusades and modern Islamic jihad.
The Crusades were launched in response to the Islamic conquest of the day. Wealthy and comfortable Christians in Europe left their families and their fortunes, traveling hundreds of miles, to save their Christian brothers and sisters whom they had never met. Over a third of the Crusaders died and never returned home. If they did manage to to make it home, most were financially ruined, having spent their entire life’s fortune on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They did this not for land or glory, but for the physical salvation of their brothers and sisters and the spiritual salvation of their own souls.
It is true that some Crusaders did terribly sinful things. This happens in war. War is never good, but sometimes it is justified and even required of morally upright people. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” PeaceMAKERS: Peace doesn’t just happen; sometimes it has to be made. When Islamic terrorists began killing Christians, taking their homes, and desecrating the holy places a thousand years ago, Christians took up arms to stop the unjust aggression and to restore peace.
In the face of Islamic aggression a thousand years ago, the leader of the free world at the time, the Holy Father, formed a rescue mission while reminding the Crusaders, “Greater love has no man than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It was a noble, self-sacrificing, holy thing. In the face of far worse Islamic aggression today, the leader of the free world won’t even acknowledge that there is an unjust aggressor, told us not to “get on our high horse,” and then called our Christian ancestors terrorists.
I thought I would post some links to good articles about the Crusades, but happily I am finding that the internet is now filled with them today. Just do a search and you will find lots of helpful information. Crusade scholars have long bemoaned the fact that people are so uninformed and that there seemed to be no way to set things straight. In an amazing twist, President Obama’s comments might just be the spark that actually gets people to learn about the Crusades and stop being embarrassed.