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Will the Catholic Church be hurt by the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage?

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Hats off to everyone who was surprised by today’s Supreme Court ruling that states cannot constitutionally ban gay marriage. Hats off for your optimism and your faith in the judicial branch!

Those of us with a more jaded view knew that this ruling was inevitable, and that the seeds for this decision were sown decades ago, when contraception and no fault divorce became the norm.  If marriage is just a financial and emotional arrangement to make adults happy, why not gay marriage? If marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other, then why not? Gay people can love each other.

 

Of course, Catholics don’t believe that marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other. And of course our job remains what it has always been: to faithfully, doggedly, charitably continue to explain that a sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman for the benefit of their children, for the benefit of society, and for the benefit of each other. It’s not that we will not accept gay  marriage, it’s that we cannot.

If we Catholics are clear on what marriage is, how much will it affect us when the rest of the country is all mixed up? I don’t believe that priests and ministers will be prosecuted – jailed, fined, or strung up in the public square – for refusing to officiate at gay marriages. But I do believe that churches are in immediate danger of losing their tax exempt status if they are found to discriminate against people in gay (and other non monogamous, non hetero) unions.

If you read the bottom of Huffington Post or any typical American combox, you’ll get the impression that churches are exempt from paying taxes because, in the bad old days, religion was in control and the poor taxpayers didn’t know any better than to fork over their hard earned dollars to a bunch of corrupt prelates who spent it on fancy robes, wine, and cages in which to imprison women and the occasional altar boy (and if we’re talking about Los Angeles, this was more or less true. It’s getting better!).

But now we know better, says the bottom of the internet, So tax ‘em, but good! Seem fair, especially if you’ve been taught that religion is mainly a giant oppression machine.

But the truth is, churches are tax exempt because they are good for the community. They serve the people, and the revenue they take in shouldn’t be taxed by the government because it’s used to do the work that government isn’t able to do on its own. Even if you think there is no God, you have to admit that churches do good for the community even while teaching and believing things that the community isn’t always happy to hear. This has always been the case.

In my state of New Hampshire, nearly every charitable organization is run by Catholic Charities. Food, shelter, counselling, services for homeless people, abused women, and immigrants — Catholic Charities does it all. They run under names like “NH Food Bank,” but it’s all Catholic Charities; and Catholic Charities is, of course, inseparable from the Catholic Church.

So what would happen if churches lost their tax exemption? Poof goes Catholic Charities (and all the fine organizations manned and funded by non-Catholic churches, as well! The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, but it is by no means the only one). Poof goes their ability to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the nuts, etc. etc. Poof go the vulnerable.

Goodness knows we’ve already seen how this works. When Catholic organizations declined to place children with gay couples for adoption and foster care, they lost their contract with many states. They were unable to comply with a law that violated their faith, and so they were forced to shut down. This secular media portrayed this as “evil Catholics would rather abandon helpless children than make a loving couple’s dream come true” rather than “society would rather see children go without parents if it means that gay couples won’t be able to work with every agency in the state.” So we know that the Tolerance Inc. has no qualms about sacrificing the helpless if they think they can make Christians hurt; and we know that these injuries will be portrayed as self-inflicted.

What to do about it? I have no idea. It makes some sense to get churches altogether out of the business of offering civil marriages. If the state wants to define marriage, let the state performs all those marriages, and let people pursue sacramental marriages in the churches as a separate thing. I suspect that even then, if sacramental and civil marriage are decoupled, churches will face discrimination lawsuits, just like bakers and inn owners faced lawsuits for refusing to facilitate gay couple’s weddings. They’ll win some and lose some. There is no legal coherence in this country anymore.

People have no idea how much our nation depends on the Church. Well, they’re about to find out.

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Because I said I would: Nope, the CDF has not ruled Medjugorje non-supernatural

medjugorje 2

So the Italian media was wrong!  Dun dun dunnnnn. I said I would acknowledge it if yesterday’s report turned out not to be true, so here I is. According to an interview in the Register with Father Ciro Benedettini in the Vatican Press Office

The Vatican said Friday that contrary to reports in Italian media, no decision has been made regarding certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje.

The CDF is slated review a report made after three years of investigation of the alleged apparitions, but they have not reviewed it or made a statement about it yet. According to the Register:

Vatican Insider reported Friday that the CDF did hold a feria quarta meeting but that took place on June 17, and the issue of Medjugorje was not discussed.

So, we’re still in a holding pattern. I’m content to wait weeks, months, or years until the CDF and Pope Francis speak definitively. While the alleged apparitions are ongoing (as they have been for over thirty years), the Holy See will not say, “Yes, this is a true apparition” — because what if they gave it the green light, and then Mary suddenly started saying “Everybody wear your underwear on the outside and go kill the Pope”?  That’s-a no good.

But while the alleged apparitions are ongoing, they may certainly say, “There is no supernatural activity here, so you may not behave as if there is.” This is what I expect them to say.

In the meantime, Jimmy Akin assembles some facts, including several comments by Pope Francis indicating that he is skeptical at best about the validity of apparitions in Medjugorje.

And Howard Kainz, back in 2012, wrote a crushing summary of the various bizarre and disconcerting details that have surrounded Medjugorje since the beginning. A thorough and enlightening read.

It couldn’t hurt to say this one more time:

Have there been good fruits from Medjugorje? Absolutely. Absolutely. People have had profound and sincere spiritual experiences, including messages of consolation, miraculous healing, and conversion. If the Pope comes out on his balcony wearing a  “Medjawhoosis stinks!” t-shirt tomorrow, none of that will change. Good fruits are good fruits, and nobody’s trying to take that away (even while pointing out the myriad bad fruits that also have grown).

But good fruits can come from . . . anywhere. The Holy Spirit is ready, willing, able, and ridiculously eager to come to us when we do things like go to confession, pray the rosary, receive communion, go to adoration, and open our hearts sincerely to God. That’s just what the Holy Spirit is like: not picky! My parents used to go to the Community Bible Chapel, where many of the holy people there spoke in tongues and even prophesied, because they loved the Lord and gave their lives to Him. Does this mean it was the one true Church? Nope. Once they realized the fullness of truth was elsewhere, they left, and sheltered themselves in the arms of the Catholic Church and her magisterium.

So, wait and see. And once again: pray for everyone who will be wounded and confused when the Holy See speaks. It’s not something I look forward to with glee; but I do anticipate it the way you anticipate a doctor lancing an infected wound. You know it’s going to hurt, but it has to happen eventually.

 

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Italian journalists: CDF says Medjugorje is not supernatural

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Catholic World News says (emphasis  mine):

According to several Italian journalists—notably Vatican-watch Gianluca Barile—the CDF agreed with [a special papal] commission’s finding that there is no evidence of supernatural activity at Medjugorje.

The only direct news reports about the CDF’s findings I can find so far are in Italian, so we will have to wait for more details. So far, nothing I’ve read surprises me.

If these initial reports are true, the next step is for Pope Francis to give the final word. He has given no indication that he sees the devotion to the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje in a favorable light, and has given many hints that he is suspicious at best.

I’ve written about the many red flags warning faithful Catholics away from behaving as if there are ongoing apparitions of Mary in Medjugorje — the reddest flag being the widespread disobedience to legitimate authority that so many Catholics display.

CWN says:

The CDF, according to the Italian media reports, has essentially supported the judgment rendered in 1991 by the bishops of what was then Yugoslavia. The CDF will reportedly recommend that pastors should not sponsor or support events that presume the reality of the visions claimed by the Medjugorje “seers.”

However, the CDF will reportedly urge recognition of Medjugorje as a special “place of prayer,” in light of the numerous reports of intense spiritual experiences enjoyed by visitors there. Pilgrimages to Medjugorje will not be forbidden, provided that they do not center on the alleged apparitions.

Sounds reasonable to me. It’s easy to become frustrated with the Church’s slow response to this and other matters. Why not just swat it down, we wonder? And the answer is that, like any good mother, the Church never wants to shut any of her children out in the cold.  A bruised reed she will not break, and a smoldering wick she will not quench.

As I’ve said many times, I fully believe that hundreds or thousands of Catholics have had genuine spiritual experiences at Medjugorje. I’ve said many times that this “good fruit” is no proof that Mary is appearing to Ivan & co. every day on schedule like a performing puppet. Instead, it’s proof that God loves us and wants to be with us, and is willing to meet us where we are.

So, we’ll see where we are with Medjugorje. I hope and pray that there will be no division or defection from the Church when (okay, fine, if) Pope Francis agrees that there is no supernatural activity there. Catholics who are extremely devoted to “Our Lady of Medjugorje” would do well to prepare themselves to obey the Pope, no matter what he says.

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Knock knock! Who’s there? A Catholic.

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As an evangelist, I’m laboring under a triple whammy: I’m a New Englander, I’m shy, and I’m a Catholic. (Also I was in my pajamas, but so is half the country.) All three together mean that I’m entirely focused on closing the door as quickly as I can and getting back to my comfortable, private living room. I have almost zero inclination to tell a stranger, “Hey, have you heard about this magnificent truth which will transform you life? Let me tell you .  .  .”

But that is what the Pope (and all the Popes since Peter, for goodness’ sake) has been telling us to do: not to be content with hunkering down and preserving the Faith within our fortress, but to actively go out and spread the Good News.

Read the rest at the Register.

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Make homemade vanilla extract now for Christmas gifts!

Last year, we gave a bunch of people homemade vanilla extract for Christmas. Was it appreciated? I have no idea. But we kept a bunch for ourselves, and it is wonderful. Here’s our current personal stash:

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It was quite cheap, and you can really taste the difference in recipes over store bought vanilla extract. (The boys also add a bit to their mice’s drinking water a few times a month, to make them stink a bit less. In theory.)

Best of all, it’s SUPER EASY. The only hard part is thinking ahead a bit. It takes a month at the very least, but the longer you let it sit, the nicer it gets. All you have to do is buy some cheap liquor, split or chop a bunch of vanilla beans, throw them in the bottle of alcohol, and wait. (More detailed directions here, but there’s really not much more to it.)

We used Smirnoff Vodka, but you can use rum or bourbon. Buying expensive liquor won’t make it taste any better, so go for cheapski or middleski.

You can make it in individual bottles,

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or make it in one big bottle and then decant it into something more decorative when you’re ready to give it to people.

We bought bottles like these (8 oz. each, case of 12 for about $20), but there are many lovely varieties to be found online. If I had time, I’d scout out thrift stores and find some pretty, old fashioned bottles in interesting shapes. Just make sure they have a tight cap or cork!

We chose Madagascar vanilla beans like these (about 30 beans for about $20). I think we may go with Mexican beans this year (they are supposed to have a spicier taste, but are a bit more expensive). Here’s an assortment of different types of beans (40 for about $20)

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plus labels like this, so we could personalize the bottles

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or you could go with tags. Lots of possibilities here, to make it as cute or elegant or artsy as you like.

I just bought a bunch of cheery red bows and tied them on with jingle bells from the dollar store, and it made cute little packages. This would also work for wedding or party favors, depending on how you decide to dress the bottles up.

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Has Etsy banned the sale of sacramentals?

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To a casual onlooker, it really does seem like Catholics believe that if you die with a scapular, God has to let you into heaven; that if you stick a St. Christopher medal to your dashboard, you can drive like a maniac and walk away unscathed; that if you pray on a rosary blessed by an especially good Pope, or sneak a relic of your favorite saint underneath some sinner’s mattress, then whatever you wish will come true.

This is not what Catholics believe. We do not believe in magic, and we do not believe that God is bound to perform for us like a genie in a bottle.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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Sola Americana

Day 255 - Clinger

I hereby move that American Catholics live up to their bad reputation and stop reading the Bible.

Or at least, I move that they stop treating the Bible like a grab bag of political gotcha lines, rustling around until they find something that has all the right key words in it, and then wrenching it out by the roots, leaving all the really really important contextbehind.

The latest example: On Herman Cain’s Facebook page,  a post from yesterday says:

Robert Laurie, Our resident lifelong Catholic, has made a difficult decision about his church, the apparent socialist who runs it, and the priests, cardinals, and bishops who refuse to take a stand. Read this one, folks….

So like an idiot, I went ahead and read it.

Now, I’ve heard over and over again that we’re supposed to be Catholics first, conservatives second; but I guess I had forgotten that there are some people who not only don’t do this, but don’t think they have to. They openly choose the worst extremes of conservatism over their faith. The guy seems to believe that the main reason Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si’ was because he is a big fraidy cat weenie who wants to be popular with his liberal friends (because if there’s one thing we know about Jorge Bergoglio, it’s that he’s a cowardly man who, above all, fears rocking the boat).

Says Laurie:

I mentioned before that I’ve made my decision about the church. It’s this: I’m not interested in being part of a group which is trending both anti-capitalist and anti-West. I’m also not inclined to ally myself with Priests, Cardinals, and Bishops who are unwilling to speak their minds. This isn’t a rejection of faith, or of Jesus, or of God.  I’m not turning my back on the Bible or its teachings. I’m simply acknowledging that, until it corrects its course, a socialist Pope sits atop an organization that’s heading down a path I can’t – and won’t – follow.

 

Horrifying. I hope he’s just grandstanding, and doesn’t really mean that he’s going to refuse to receive the life-giving Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ until the Pope starts agreeing with him about climate change.

Seriously, stop right now and pray for this guy, and for everyone else who’s so gripped with fear and confusion that they would trade the glory of the kingdom of God for this or any political belief. Lord, have mercy on us in our folly, and draw us back to you when we choose to wander around in the desert like idiots.

Anyway, the first comment after this article says this:

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Yessss. That passage where Peter cuts off the soldier’s ear, and Jesus is like, “WTG, Peter!” and a host of angels came down from Heaven to sing the praises of the second amendment. How come you don’t hear more about that, eh? Same reason your parish priest is too timid and weak-kneed to correct his flock when they get these pansy liberal ideas about looking for alternatives to the death penalty.

After all, as one scriptural scholar pointed out, if they hadn’t had the death penalty in ancient times, Jesus would never have died on the cross, and then He wouldn’t have redeemed us from our sins, and then what? You want to be redeemed, don’t you? Death penalty, wooooo!

This kind of argument illustrates very nicely that, when you have a political point you want to make, you will always be able to find something in the Bible to back it up. Just as Jesus makes Himself horribly, wonderfully vulnerable when He becomes present under the accidents of bread and wine, His words are open, vulnerable, available to be manhandled into any shape that is convenient to us. He lets us do this to Him.

But let’s not.

Let’s be clear, here.  The Church says we may carry and use weapons in self-denfense. (And no, the Pope didn’t say we can’t.) My husband is a gun owner.  What I object to is the way that American Catholics are so ready to grab the Bible by the scruff of the neck and force it to salute the American flag. God help me, I hate what my country has become in the last decade. I haven’t considered myself a Republican in years, because the party has become a parody of itself, and seems to want the Church to join it. One good thing: at least it’s gotten very easy to remember that, if your Faith asks you to do one thing and your fellow citizens are rallying around something else, your choice is clear.

Or, you know, go ahead and cut someone’s ear off. It’s probably what Jesus would have wanted.

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