“Our Father”

From time immemorial lawyers have ruefully observed that there are three different arguments. The first is the one you planned to make; the second, the one you gave; and third the one you give to the steering wheel on the way back from Court. (Of course, this used to be a horse!)

A similar thing happened this weekend. I was asked to speak for 15 minutes about two words from the “Our Father.” Which ones? “Our” and “Father.” Should have been easy, but since then I have been unhappy with what I said. Here is what I should have said:

We’ve finally reached the beginning. ‘Our.’ ‘Father.’

What do these two little words mean? Here is the best explanation that I can offer.

Come with me to May –, 1996. Place: Okemos, Michigan. It is a beautiful evening, designed by the Almighty Master of the Universe for one thing – golf. I wasted no time getting changed and getting my clubs in the car. I moved so fast that I forgot my wallet. I turned around, ran into the house, picked it up, but then was. stopped. cold.

“Honey, I think the baby is coming.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Golf out. Sparrow Hospital in.

Waiting. May 2- became the next day. More waiting. A difficult labor. An emergency C-section. Then it was over.

Standing in the operating room, a nurse brought a new perfect person to me. A girl. Blinking eyes. Ten fingers, ten toes. Fingernails. Toenails. Perfect.

It is impossible to describe the pure love that I experienced. That love was more than a feeling; in fact, all I was feeling was tired. But profound love. A love that that is as strong today as on that May morning all those years ago.

That love, however, is the love of an earthly, flawed father. A father who gets tired. A father who gets worried. A father who gets angry. A father who sometimes makes mistakes, but often has a hard time admitting them. A human father.

Now imagine that love without limits. Imagine that love without flaws. Imagine that love lasting forever. Imagine the Father’s love.

Imagine that love extending to everyone who ever was, everyone who ever will be, and everyone who is. And not just the ‘good’ folks. Imagine that love extending whole and entire even to those who misuse their freedom, sometimes in terrible ways. Nothing can diminish a father’s or the Father’s love.

That is what we mean when we call God “Father.” By saying “Father,” we acknowledge that love and reaffirm our commitment to live up to it, to return it to Him. By saying “Father,” we acknowledge our siblings, all those who share in that love. And just as my earthly love for that perfect baby girl is shared, undiminished, with her siblings so, too, is the Father’s love shared undiminished by “our” siblings.

This description may seem naive, silly to some of you. MY father certainly doesn’t live up to that. And you are right. No father, except the Father, does. I don’t. I try, but I don’t. So does that trash everything I’ve been saying? No.

What it does do is require something of you. What? “Honor thy mother and father.”

What does that mean? What that means is that you look to and appreciate your father’s strengths, rather focusing on his weaknesses. It means that you always remember that no matter how much his love falls short – in your eyes – he is giving you all the love he can. It means remembering that as much as you long for a deeper relationship with him, he is longing for a deeper relationship with you. Just as you want a Dad, not an ATM with hair or a rule enforcer with a scowl, he wants you to be his child. Not child-ish. Not a five-year old if you’re 15. He wants to know who you are now because that’s who he loves now.

Here’s a practical tip. From the ‘parent’s playbook.’ Keep this to yourself or they might kick me off the team. Sometimes when your dad makes a decision, he’s wrong. Sometimes he makes mistakes. What’s more most of the time he realizes it.

Let’s say he made a mistake. Let’s say he knows he made a mistake. Let’s say you’re arguing disrespectfully with him over that mistaken decision. How do you deal with that? “Honor thy father.” Tell him that you understand and that you respect his decision. Ask if he’d be willing to reconsider? Because of the earlier disrespect, probably not. But just maybe that will give him enough room to meet you halfway, to rectify the mistake that he knows he’s making. If not, the respect and obedience will go a long way toward leading to a different decision – maybe – the next time. Let’s say the issue comes up again. This time the approach is “Dad, I know you made a decision last time, but would you reconsider? I think you should because …. – and have reasons. The respect (“Honor”) in this approach will melt his heart.

11:35 AM. Exhausted. Sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair. My wife and my perfect little girl sleeping. My cup runneth over with love. And always will.

Four Fundamental Values of Catholic Social Teaching

We are all familiar with the two basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching: subsidiarity and solidarity. Along with the principles, CST refers to four essential principles. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains:

All social values are inherent in the dignity of the human person, whose authentic development they foster. Essentially, these values are: truth, freedom, justice, love. Putting them into practice is the sure and necessary way of obtaining personal perfection and a more human social existence. They constitute the indispensable point of reference for public authorities, called to carry out “substantial reforms of economic, political, cultural and technological structures and the necessary changes in institutions”.

That these are indispensable points of reference for public policy is surprising and refreshing. Focusing on these allows for a much more thoughtful approach to public policy than the sloganeering that often substitutes for analysis these days.

Definitely food for thought.

Our Father Who Art In Heaven

Back from retreat. We focused on one prayer – the prayer above all prayers, the Lord’s Prayer.

We first asked Him to “deliver us from evil.” Two of His priests then offered us the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We then asked Him to give us “our daily bread.” We talked about how we needed Him. How we were made for Him. How He calls us to Himself and how He feeds us with Himself.

As our reflections deepened, our thoughts moved from our relationship with Him to contemplating Him. We prayed for the arrival of His Kingdom.

We then contemplated the Name that is above all names. The Name that is deserving of all reverence, all honor.

We then reached the summit. Our. Father. “Our” because He is the Father of all. “Our” because Christ Himself has given us permission to join Him in praising the Father.

“Father” because He is not some ghostly, genderless being in the sky. Because He loves us with that special love that combines strength and tenderness, majesty and intimacy, justice and mercy.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Defending Religious Liberty In Court

Here are a some observations about the aftermath of the Church’s lawsuit against the HHS regulation.

First, the absence of the USCCB as a plaintiff appears to have been the result of internal divisions among the episcopacy. Although not a trustworthy source generally, E.J. Dionne suggests that some bishops wanted to delay a decision until the USCCB met in June. He also asserts that the “California bishops” wanted to negotiate with the Administration some more. Dionne also quotes Bishop Blaire from Stockton, CA. Although I presume that Dionne is exaggerating, the absence of the USCCB is telling.

Second, Dionne’s column (as well as a similar one by Maureen Dowd) show the beginning of the political response to the lawsuit. The response will have three bullet points:

(1) This has nothing to do with religious liberty. The premise of this argument is if you don’t support subsidizing something, you want to prohibit it.

(2) Catholics are divided so one can dismiss the position of the Church. Perhaps, this is why Cardinal Wuerl spoke out against Georgetown’s honor for Sebelius.

(3) While Catholics are divided, the bishops, controlled by the Vatican, have conspired against the good of the nation. This is one of the oldest anti-Catholic canards out there.

It will interesting to see how these ideas (esp. number 3) find their way into the litigation.

Stay tuned!

Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest

Last evening, Bishop Holley celebrated the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Francis. It was a solemn and moving experience.

Several elements stood out. The vestments were red as befitted the occasion. All the clergy were there. The formalities of having a bishop present were handled well both by the parish in giving and Bishop Holley in receiving. Bishop Holley was able to accept the formalities with humility, helping us to remember that as the honor was not just for him personally, but also for the One who sent him to us.

Bishop Holley’s preaching and inquiry were well-done. It was especially moving when he challenged the kids (and us) to live up to our baptismal vows. “Do you dare” to keep those promises? It was quite a challenge.

Another striking aspect was Fr. David. Throughout the ceremony, he beamed with pride and joy. He was not happy for himself; he seemed to take personal pleasure in the sealing of each person for his or her own sake and for Christ’s.

There were no tongues of fire. No doves. But our Counselor, Comforter, Keeper, the Spirit we long to embrace, was there, present and active, indelibly sealing all of us, binding us to Him who will love us forever.

The Church Stands Up For Religious Freedom: Initial Observations

By now, news of the Bishops’ lawsuit against the HHS mandate is quite widespread. Here are some observations, in no particular order.

(1) The first element of a case like this is plaintiff selection. The array and prominence of the entities adds significantly to the credibility of the suit. Indeed, they are prominent outside the Catholic world. The decision to file 12 separate suits is smart.

(2) The absence of the USCCB as a plaintiff is significant. That may signal an internal rift, politics, or litigation strategy. It could an internal rift in that Cardinal Dolan could not get buy in from the various constituencies within USCCB who support Obamacare and do not wish to have anything to do with challenging any aspect of it. As for lobbying, USCCB needs to be able to work with Democrats. Staying out of the suit minimizes the damage to those relationships. As for litigation, the USCCB’s participation as a plaintiff would immediately create the impression that that is the ‘lead’ case. That would undermine the effort to create a broad-based litigation.

(3) The timing is significant. The government’s Answer to the Complaint is due around July 21. The country will still be evaluating the Supreme Court’s decision on the individual mandate. Apparently, the lead lawyer in these cases was one of the leads challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. From the timing, I think he expects to see the mandate overturned but the remainder of Obamacare to remain in place, including the HHS regulations.

(4) The Bishops’ commitment is real. By hiring Jones Day, they are sending a signal of their commitment. Jones Day is a top-notch white shoe litigation shop. They do not come cheap – although hard to tell, I would guess that the final bill when all is said and done will be upwards of $ 15-17 million for the 12 suits. The Bishops are putting their money where their mouths are.

(5) The Complaint is high quality legal work. A good complaint tells a story. This one reads like an essay. It is worth reading in its own right. Non-lawyers who appreciate good literary work will enjoy it. Lawyers will like it because it provides an excellent model.

The next event will be when the government lawyers file their “appearance.” It will be interesting to see which DOJ branch gets the case (Federal Programs is my bet) and how quickly the appearance is filed.

Finally, we should all pray. Even in the best of circumstances, fighting the government is an uphill battle. But so, too, was the road to Calvary. While we cannot directly participate in the legal drama, we can join Him and his successors spiritually. Just as Christ needed the support of the anonymous women of Jerusalem, our Bishops and our Church will benefit from our prayers as they walk this road with, and for, us.

Stay tuned.

Thinking About Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity is back in the news. Rep. Paul Ryan has been arguing that the federal budget that he has proposed is consistent with Catholic social teaching. Naturally, those with different politics disagree. I don’t propose to resolve this debate in a single or many blog posts. I would like to offer three short observations.

First, it is interesting to watch politicians who have never once countenanced a restriction on abortion waxing poetic about budget issues and CST. It is similarly interesting (and this really bothers me) to see those same politicians dutifully lining up to make sure that some of our Sunday collection basket goes to fund abortions and other life destroying activities. Although each of us has blind spots, most aren’t as public or as deadly.

Second, this debate shows how dangerous and necessary episcopal participation in politics is. The Bishops must stand as prophets and boldly proclaim the Truth. Yet, to the extent that they have actually participated (I hear reports, but have not seen a statement), they are strengthening the political hand of those who spite them and us. But what else can a prophet do? I am sure Elijah and Nathan felt the same frustration.

Finally, the current debate reveals the poverty of thinking about “subsidiarity.” Just like property rights, subsidiarity is a recognized principle of CST. But just like property rights, it is a principle that has little or no effect in practice. Why? Subsidiarity states that the most localized level of community activity is to be preferred unless a larger scale would be otherwise preferable. The exception swallows the rule as subsidiarity is typically presented. And yet, Blessed John Paul II and the Holy Father reminded (and continue to remind) us of the principle in their teaching. Why? In another post, I will propose briefly what I think is the fundamental point of subsidiarity and, if I am right, why it is crucially important.

Stay tuned ……