Saturday, September 3, 2011

We are not dogs

In the past week, I've had the unpleasant experience of engaging in a series of exchanges with a herd of "freethinkers", secularists, atheists, and gay rights advocates. Lemme tell ya, it's dark and cold out there, folks. I've never thanked God so much for His mercy. In the meantime, a young Bubble reader, Margo, sent me a homily preached by her hometown priest from last Sunday. It fit in so perfectly with what I have witnessed this week that I have decided to reprint it here, with his permission. 

Fr. Josh Miller
Saints Peter and Paul Parish
Naperville, Illinois 
August 27, 2011

Two weeks ago, I preached a little bit about my family beagle and what dogs show us about sitting at the feet of the Master, and today I thought I’d continue that theme of exploring something else dogs can teach us about how we’re different from animals.

One thing about dogs, if you’ve ever noticed this, is that they’re relatively easy to make happy. Food, water, attention, and they’re good to go: the tail’s wagging, they’re happy and content if their needs are met. This is because dogs live from one stimulus to the next: they’re hungry, they’re sleepy, they want to play. They move from one thing to the next and seem absolutely contented when they get what they want.

But this isn’t so true for human beings. We’re more complicated: We all know that we can have everything we need and be miserable; we can have everything we need and still feel like something is missing. This is because human beings seek fulfillment, not just happiness. We need a grander sense of accomplishment, of having achieved something; that desire we have for absolute and total fulfillment in life is a strange thing, something my dog cannot experience.

So let’s look at St. Paul today. Paul tells us about the need to “offer [our] bodies as a spiritual sacrifice,” and warns us not to “conform [ourselves] to this age.” He warns us of this because in every age, but most certainly in ours, perhaps in our age more than Paul, the world around us always seems to be focused on happiness, rather than fulfillment. And this is where the world stands to get us in trouble, because it treats us as if we were animals rather than human beings. Modern society confuses happiness for fulfillment and urges us to move from one stimulus to the next, like my beagle.

Just to give you an example of this, how we continually confuse happiness for fulfillment in this culture, John Paul the Great deals with the concept of “freedom” in his Veritatis Splendor. Now, don’t feel embarrassed here if this is your view, but when I say the word “freedom” most Americans in our society today would say that “freedom” means an individual should have the right to do whatever he or she desires so long as it doesn’t impede upon the freedom or rights of others. But what John Paul the Great notes is that this is actually a perversion of the word “freedom,” since the word has always meant our unimpeded ability to choose what is good. Not whatever we say is good, not whatever we designate as good, but what is truly and objectively good. What modern society has done in the past couple of centuries is say that freedom is all about your happiness, what you desire, rather than what will bring you absolute fulfillment, and this is absolutely problematic in our current society.

Modern society has reduced us to dogs. Everything in our culture has become emotionally driven nowadays. We make our decisions, we focus on everything through emotional desire, what we want in the moment. This is what St. Paul warns us about.

One of my favorite living Catholic writers is a man by the name of John C. Wright. He’s a brilliant man, and he spends most of his time writing science fiction novels. Strangely, the best and the brightest Catholic writers nowadays are writing in the science fiction and fantasy genres. I came across a quote this week that highlights precisely what I’m trying to get at with this misplaced emotion in our society, and I thought I’d share it with you. John C. Wright says:
We live in the midst of a Dark Age, that is, an age when intellectual and literate things are despised by the intellectuals and the literati. A Dark Age approves of emotional rather than intellectual response, the emotions judged and ranked according to purity and glitter, like precious stones.
It seems to John C. Wright, as it seems to me and countless others in the Church today who attempt to live according to the Gospel, that we have become entirely emotionally and impulsively driven. Humanity has been prone to this throughout time; when Peter is rebuked by our Lord in today’s gospel, he’s rebuked because he’s let his emotion overcome him. In his bravado, in his emotional understanding of things, he stands up and says, “No, Lord, we can’t let anything like your suffering and death happen! This won’t work!” And yet Jesus, who actually thinks things through, is focused on fulfillment. And this is precisely why he rebukes Peter, tells him to get away, to stop tempting him with his nonsense.

Nonsense. That’s really what the world offers us. If left to my emotional impulses I end up like my dog, moving from one thing to the next, endlessly choosing what makes me “happy” without ever finding fulfillment. And God forbid someone should try and break that chain for me, tell me that something I’ve chosen is actually toxic to me in the grand scheme of things: How dare they try and do that, when my emotional senses tell me something is good?

People sometimes ask me why priests never preach on controversial topic x, y, or z. The answer there is that the greatest social crime someone can commit in our fickle culture is making someone else feel bad. And because people today tend to form their opinions through emotional desire, preaching what is objectively true through Reason, which does not account for your feelings one iota, can end up with a lot of hurt feelings. The truth hurts, especially in a culture that rarely stops “feeling” their emotions long enough to think. Abortion, euthanasia, and a host of other topics are debated on the other side of the Church not through reason-able, rational argumentation, but through emotion, through that false sense of what freedom means, through our desire to make no one feel bad or put out. But what the Cross shows us time and time again is that fulfillment, humanity’s highest end, is often going to feel bad. Fulfillment isn’t always going to feel good.

But that’s what it’s all about. Fulfillment, finding our Highest and most Perfect Good. The world tells us that it’s to be found in emotional happiness. Don’t buy it.

Rather, pray for what St. Paul calls “a renewal of the mind,” so that we might sharpen all the tools God has given us to choose what will bring us to fulfillment. Let our emotions serve our minds, and not the other way around. In doing so, we will know a sense of true freedom as we continue to grow ever closer to the Highest Good in God, who is that Good which no greater can be thought.




  1. Oh Leila, this is just beautiful! How I wish my high schoolers could comprehend this. Not long ago I read a secular report that expressed concern about children raised on constant stimulation. As they get older, they need higher and higher levels of stimulation to avoid intolerable boredom. Not surprisingly, the sources of stimulation become more dangerous and more sinful. It is easy to see this happening among younger and younger kids. I do pray that we, especially the young, will be open to having our minds and hearts renewed. If people only knew that what they are experiencing is a terribly cheap substitute for true fulfillment! God bless Fr. Josh!

  2. Hm... kind of a catchy user name they assigned me, huh? I also sometimes go by the name "Sharon" but that wasn't an option this time! :)

  3. I feel like I have just been to Mass, but then I just read a real homily. One reason I go to Mass is to get refocused on what's important, not what the world says is important.

    Thank you for posting this homily.

  4. This is so wonderful. Reminds me of my favorite (if I can choose one!) quote from Flannery O'Connor: "Truth is truth regardless of our ability to stomach it." The truest expression of freedom there ever was (Christ on the Cross) is one of the hardest things to behold. Truth is not always pretty, shiny, and feel-good. Awesome reminder!

  5. wow, i love that! thanks for sharing.

  6. Wonderful sermon! These sort of sermons that tell it like it is is like a refreshing drink from the springs.

  7. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness!

    The beginning reminded me of Dave Ramsey. He talks about how when he first "made it" in life, he would lie in bed with his ferrari in the garage and he was just so restless, he couldn't figure out why. He'd just lie there awake, not full inside.
    He learned that the heart is restless until it rests in the Lord! And that's why his 'get out of debt' program is so bible-based and why he hires Christians to sell his program.
    Love it!

  8. Aaahhh!! So refreshing! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Okay, so we should focus on fulfillment rather than happiness. Who is in the best position to ascertain whether Leila is feeling fulfilled? I would think the answer would be Leila herself. SO if maximizing human fulfillment is paramount, shouldn't we still adhere to the general principle of: Let people do what they want? I can't imagine there is any person on Earth who could judge, better than I, the conditions that would grant me fulfillment.,

  10. Anonymous, no doubt you are "fulfilled" with worldly things from time to time, like after a filling, delicious meal. But soon you get hungry again, no? Always needing something later to fill the void.

    Have you ever experienced a longing for something intangible, something that you can't quite put your finger on? That beautiful, semi-painful ache when you see a sunset at the ocean, or when you hear a composition which makes you break into tears unexpectedly? I'm sure you do have those unnamed longings. That is a longing that only Heaven can fill, and I've never known a soul, atheist or not, that doesn't experience it.

    From St. Augustine's Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

  11. Leila, "Rather, pray for what St. Paul calls “a renewal of the mind,” so that we might sharpen all the tools God has given us to choose what will bring us to fulfillment."

    That's why it's so great we help each other learn. You have taught me so much! Thank you. :-)

  12. Wonderful homily! Thank you for posting.

  13. Have you ever experienced a longing for something intangible, something that you can't quite put your finger on? That beautiful, semi-painful ache when you see a sunset at the ocean, or when you hear a composition which makes you break into tears unexpectedly?

    Of course I have. But I've also experienced church attendance, which has left me with precisely the opposite sensation -- not moved to chills or tears by beauty or power but, rather bored and disengaged. I would not say that I feel "fulfillment" after a large meal, but I did feel fulfillment when I summited Kilimanjaro, and felt similarly when I learned that a year of arduous volunteer work had made a significant difference in someone's life. (Ironically, by preventing her from being deported and rendered into the hands of a brutal theocratic regime, where she would likely have been executed for adultery). These are the types of endeavors that have granted me a sense of fulfillment. I'm not saying they're better or worse than the endeavors that fulfill you. It just seems a bit illogical to presume that religion is the most fulfilling pursuit for everyone.

  14. Anonymous, two points:

    1) I was talking about a longing for something that cannot be had while we are still here journeying on earth. A "something" that only God can satisfy, and which comes when we are totally united with Him (either here on earth in the case of the very holy, very sanctified saints, or in the perfection and glory of Heaven).

    I was not talking about getting a "good feeling" (or any feeling at all!) in a church service. We don't go to mass to get a good feeling. We go to worship the Lord.

    2) Of course those wonderful things fulfilled you for a time. But the point is, you still have longings even after that, longings that none of those wonderful things can satisfy. Would you agree? Or would you say you no longer have those feelings of wanting something intangible?

    PS: Not sure if the thing about "theocracy" was somehow a slam against religion in general? I'm pretty sure she wasn't being sent home to be executed for adultery by a Christian "theocracy". Also, I hear tell that many atheist regimes do fairly ugly things to their citizens, who try to flee all the time (China? North Korea? Those aren't theocracies, are they?). So, please don't try to paint religion as the heavy here. That is quite unjust.

  15. Peter Kreeft, an excellent philosopher and professor at Boston College, has written a book on the subject of the heart's deepest longing:

    Just FYI.

  16. “herd of "freethinkers", secularists, atheists, and gay rights advocates.” Odd use of language ‘herd’ is a collective noun used for animals... In a sense taking away the humanity away from your ‘opponents’ (or someone who does that dreadful thing of just not agreeing with you...). Funny, the first rule of oppressing anyone is to take away their humanity – the idea of the judenschwein carved into some German medieval churches typifies this sort of thing – and we all know where that led...

    Well, perhaps I am part of the ‘herd’; tho’ I think should mention you e-mailed me and not vice versa! So who’s the victim here or unsolicited e-mail? I am afraid I have now designated your e-mail address as a ‘spam’ e-mail address. I know this could be because I don’t want to hear your words of ‘truth’; but the reality is a little more pedestrian – I realised you hadn’t actually read my replies – or if you did you only scan read them looking for what you wanted to see; otherwise your replies would not have been such stark nonsense tinged with jingoism.

    Thanks anyway for dropping by – but if you don’t like ‘Dark Places’ don’t harass people with e-mails.



  17. Peter, what a bizarre comment! How 'bout we set the stage with the truth?

    First: The term "herd" is meant to convey the fact that you all have the same lines and quotes. Get the irony? A "herd" of "freethinkers"? See, it's ironic. You all think the same. Now, you can use that line with faithful Catholics on issues of faith and morals (doctrine), because we all do think alike. That's called obedience to our Lord and our Church. However, since "freethinkers" make no such claim, it's an irony. Hope you get that point. I thought it was self-evident.

    On to my next point: Harass you with emails? Seriously? Guess what: When you publicly comment on Stacy's (or anyone's) blog, and you include a link to your email address, you are stating by those actions that you are open to emails. I wanted to address you privately, as opposed to letting the herd attack. This was the "harassing" email, if anyone would like to judge it:

    Peter, maybe this will help you understand why the issue of normalizing and even lionizing homosexuality is one of our biggest challenges as Christians today:

    I hope that explains the problem we are seeing now. It addresses some of your points.

    And remember, no one is trying to call drunkenness (for example) a virtue. Generally, we all still see that as a problem and a vice. No so the gay lifestyle and gay sex.


    Your reply began with "Many thanks for your email." We had three more fairly standard exchanges which I will gladly publish to show the lack of harassment involved. Unless you call that "harassment" in the U.K. now. So far in America, I think it's still just an exchange of ideas.

    To be continued….

  18. Odd use of language ‘herd’ is a collective noun used for animals... In a sense taking away the humanity away from your ‘opponents’ (or someone who does that dreadful thing of just not agreeing with you...). Funny, the first rule of oppressing anyone is to take away their humanity – the idea of the judenschwein carved into some German medieval churches typifies this sort of thing – and we all know where that led…

    Now Peter, here you have hit on something that I really do agree with: The danger of dehumanization. But not "dehumanizing" due to calling those who think in lockstep a "herd" of "freethinkers" (again, is irony lost on you?). But dehumanizing for real, such as in the case of the left and abortion. When one class of humans really and truly denies the humanity of another group. Like the Jews in Nazi Germany, yes… (hey, are you aware that I married an agnostic Jew? And I'm an Arab! Fancy that from a bigot like me!). And like slavery (which still exists in earnest in the many cultures, sadly).

    But of course the oppression and systematic murder of millions upon millions of unborn every year is on a scale never seen before. So, I am glad to hear that you are pro-life! Wait… I guess you didn't say that. But I'm guessing you would never dehumanize other human beings after you chastise me for doing so?

    You would never put human beings on the sliding scale of "personhood" now would you, Peter? Check this out:

    You can check out the interesting conversation we had with Michelle (a friendly atheist) here:

    Or Christa, a very unhappy woman, who does find great joy in the right to kill the unborn:

    So, yeah, Peter, I will take you seriously about your deep concern about dehumanization when you assure me of your support for the right to life of ALL human beings on this planet. My Church reveres all life. Do you?


  19. You do make me smile, the way you presume someone holds certain views. Tho’ if I was being unkind, I’d say, you’re making sweeping judgements about someone that have a curious effect of placing you on the moral high-ground – how so much of religion is about making ourselves feel better about ourselves... It has a habit of making us into Little Jack Horners – St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila talk at length about this – tho’ of course I can’t know this because I know nothing about Catholic theology, doctrine or teaching do I? From the tone of your little rant you seem to be implying that I am pro-abortion? If so I presume this is because in the divisive little world that you delight in perpetuating (what did St Paul say about factions?) that is how things are divided isn’t it? People are either one thing or the other. I don’t agree with something you sent me (via e-mail) so I must be pro-abortion? You presume – how wise you are – that holding one liberal view presumes a person will hold another. Is your life so neatly divided into black and white – I’d be surprised if it is, especially behind closed doors or when you think no one’s looking –few of us manage such neat divisions in our lives. I found the same with a few of your oddball mates. e.g. on a discussion on the subject of homosexuality I was suddenly subjected to a diatribe on gay-marriage; ‘Oh Peter’s a Liberal so he must be pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.’ I stagger at the wisdom and perspicacity of you people!

    It is curious that although I have never mentioned my stance on abortion or gay marriage these issues have been raised with you and your friends. It is a species of knee jerk reaction – immediately moving away from answering any sensible question or entering into discussion – rather it is preferable to talk about something emotive. It is of course a means of ignoring what anyone else is saying and just hijacking the conversation, pretending to gravitate to the moral high-ground, while, ironically, dwelling on the salacious - perhaps in the hope the original conversation will be forgotten; awkward questions whisked away in preference for something divisive and sensational...

    You know nothing about me – or my life; yet had the arrogance to end one of your e-mails with ‘When did you stop believing in Jesus?’ Who set you up as judge and jury over people’s beliefs? Let’s play a little game, since you are so wise Leila; and so omniscient when it comes to what I do and don’t believe. Please tell me what else I believe and what kind of life I lead. I would be interested in hearing your answers, because you seem to know so much about what I think and what I feel and what I believe. Considering we live 5,500 miles apart and have never met this is amazing. I am in awe of your powers of discernment. I sincerely hope they are powers of discernment and not mere and ignoble prejudgement, prejudice and arrogance? These are not, surely, the possessions of a good Catholic woman?

    Every blessing:


  20. Peter, one thing I have noticed from your emails, your comments on other threads, and your comments here: You are verbose. I just don't have the time to wade through the verbosity. Can you ask a simple question or make a simple statement? Then I will answer as best I can.

    On abortion: If you had said, "Actually, Leila, I am completely pro-life on abortion", you would have made a great impression and your statement would have spoken volumes on its own. So, either do that (and I will applaud you!), or state that you are pro-"choice". Why all the posturing and wordiness? You lose people when you use so many words.

    Sorry, but brevity is the soul of wit and all.


  21. Leila, I was thinking the same about Peter. He was going on and on about what we don't know about what he believes, because we are only deducing from what he says. Yet Peter never states what he does believe, in spite of his long message. How very coy!

    So, Peter, what is it? Where do you stand on abortion and gay marriage?


  22. Leila

    Thanks for this – yes, sorry, I do ramble on a bit! I don’t have time today Mon-Fri is supposed to be the time when I don’t really do much blogging, I have a lot more to do. I can type quicker than I can write, so I can get carried away!

    I am not saying one way or the other whether or not I am pro-life (though the answer is in my blog) – I just think it is funny (and sad) that people make shocking presumptions about a person and that often as not tribal, rather than ethical; altho’ these are moral questions, they are often reduced to emblems of belonging. There is so much effort put into being divisive. Just because someone is gay it doesn’t mean they’re pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage – the world doesn’t work like that. It is rather like saying because someone is Protestant they hate all things Catholic – yes some do, but many don’t.

    I don’t have time to be verbose now – and nor will I return before Friday to see if you’ve commented on this – I try and limit my blogging to the weekend in the main (tho’ do ‘slip’ - but then few, if any us of us manage such clear cut divisions in our lives do we?).

    Thanks for the comment.


  23. @Sharon – your comment reminded me of the Pharisees questioning Jesus. (And no, I don’t put myself on a par with Jesus, quite the reverse!). In the sense that you have a desire to judge a person from the outside. The ‘very coy’ a bit of a slur – an implication that I am deceptive (more judgement and that all too familiar finger pointing and sneering that mars the Gospel and Christianity in the eyes of wider society). Because you have asked, I will not tell – all you are doing is showing your desire to divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    The latter part of the monastic Rule of the community where I was novice read: ‘A sign of maturity in a monk is that he sees himself at one with all men: saints and sinners alike.’ In other words he no longer sets himself up as judge and jury of the world, but tries to be Christ like, accepting all as he finds them. An eagerness to brand someone ‘as one of us’ or ‘one of them’ is factional and certainly not Christian – it is rooted in deeper and far more baser desires and fears.

    One final point: if I said I was pro-abortion and/or pro-gay marriage what emotion would that generate in your heart? If the answer is anger and hatred then perhaps these issues are not being approached from a Christian angle? I think Cardinal Bernardin had the right idea on these subjects.

    Every blessing:


  24. To save you time should you feel the urge to plod through my blog (which I very much doubt), I think the following post probably will tell you all you need to know!

  25. Peter,

    I read your post but it actually didn't answer either question posed to you. I think the reason it is important to have a stance on these issues, and to proudly share your stance with the world, is because Christians were told to "go and preach the gospel" to the world. We were told to speak the truth in love. spent a lot of time talking about literalists concerning the bible. Catholics take some parts literally, and some parts we don't. By reading what you wrote it seems like you are saying homosexual behavior might not be a sin because we can't know which parts to take literally? Is this the case? Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm also curious to know how you personally interpret the first chapter of Romans.

    I noticed you had a lot to say about fundamentalists. Strange, considering you were so quick to jump on Leila for generalizing and judging you.

    It also seems you have been turned off by Catholics and Evangelicals...Is it the formal teachings of the Catholic Church you have a problem with, or your own experience with lay Catholics? I know many people who simply got turned off by the supposed hypocrisy in individuals claiming to be Catholic. The reason I have a problem with this is that they don't know what those people were dealing with in the privacy of their own bedrooms as they prayed about their weaknesses to God.

    It is so easy to judge someone by their actions, and we should always keep a watchful eyes on OURSELVES above others so as not to cause scandal or sin. But when I fail at living up to the gospel, I only hope to be in the company of those who realize my imperfections are a part of a life we all share.

  26. Peter, You were, in fact, being deliberately coy. Here's the definition, which I looked up before using the word so I would know I was using it appropriately: "2. Reluctant to give details, esp. about something regarded as sensitive." You were being coy, Peter. Why does it bother you that I said so?

  27. Peter, Christ said that he came to bring division into the world. Why did he say that? Do you think he stands in need of correction? We cannot pretend to be in union if you would allow innocent life to be taken, or if you would ignore the reality of homosexuality.

    I really enjoy learning from Leila's blog but the comments list gets so long that my duties prevent me for participating. Could you do me a favor and rather than asking me to follow a link to your blog, could you just answer whether you are pro-life and pro-gay marriage? Thanks.

    I am not trying to be nasty to you, Peter, even if you are taking it that way. I believe I am asking you questions fairly and commenting on your comments fairly enough.

  28. sorry, prevent me "from" participating

  29. Peter, Jesus also said, "Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Anything else is from the evil one."

    Evasiveness is not a virtue. I answer questions when they are asked of me, regardless of what the perceived reaction will be.

    Are you completely pro-life?
    Do you support gay "marriage"? And if not, do you think homosexual acts are sinful?

    Easy questions.

    Why would you think that answering in a way we Catholics wouldn't want to hear would make us hateful? Apparently you have not seen how we engage people here in the Bubble.

    And apparently you are not aware that most of the devout Catholics on this blog used to be "progressive".

    Don't be slippery. Just answer the questions. If you don't want to, then don't comment here, because my main reason for this blog is "clarity" (from both sides) not obfuscation.


    (I totally understand about wanting to stay away from blogging for a while each week to keep one's sanity. I haven't gotten there yet, ha ha!)

  30. Sharon and Manda, thank you for your great comments. I hope Peter gets the points you made.

  31. ‘A sign of maturity in a monk is that he sees himself at one with all men: saints and sinners alike.’

    Excellent quote! What makes you think that we don't see ourselves as sinners in need of God's mercy, Peter? We are to see Christ in everyone, and we are to see ourselves as the sinners that we are. Can we agree then and move on?

    As for this idea that we cannot speak hard truths but must be "nice" to everyone… that is not a Christian idea. Jesus did not advocate that. Here is what my wonderful bishop wrote about it, with a great quote from the saintly John Paul II:

    Do not be "nice"; instead, tell the tough truths. At no place in the Sacred Scriptures does it say: Be nice! However, popular portrayals of Christianity would lead us to think that the first and greatest commandment is niceness.

    The English word "nice" comes from the Latin word "nescius" --meaning "ignorant, knowing nothing." In English usage of the 13th century, "nice" meant "foolish, stupid, senseless." Today, it means hurting no one's feelings, without regard to what is true or good or right. Garrison Keillor said, You taught me to be nice, so nice that now I am so full of niceness, I have no sense of right and wrong, no outrage, no passion.

    St. Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim 4:2-4), Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths….

    John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae (#58): The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception.

    ....So what to do? Should we not recall Jesus' charge: Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. He knows what He is doing.

    ....Love our enemies. Love is not "nice." Love is kind; it is patient; love does not rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices in the truth.... Love is best illustrated by Jesus on the Cross, where He forgave those who put Him to death, where He died so that we sinners might have forgiveness and new life. Love is not cowardly but it is fair, while relentlessly opposing all threats to the dignity of human life.

    ....So, do not be "nice"; be kind and tell the truth. Love your wives, your husbands, your children. Love your enemies. Do not be discouraged.

    "Discouraged" is the opposite of having courage (note the root). We must be courageous and speak the truth. Would you agree, Peter?

  32. Thanks for the above thoughtful and thought provoking (not to mention balanced) answers.

    1) I am pro-life – but believe this extends to ALL aspects of life – and therefore do not support capital punishment (but mainly because I don’t trust the courts to convict 100% of the ‘real’ murderers!) Research and stats again and again demonstrate that the only way you reduce unwanted pregnancy and abortion is a good and thorough sex education for young people; ‘moralising’ is no good – and doesn’t produce results.

    I worked for many years as a social worker with the terminally ill (aged 16 yr olds onwards) and before that with the chronically disabled and older people with dementia and although I am anti-euthanasia I am appalled at the lack of debate about the right of doctors to prolong life, when sometimes it would be more dignified to let nature take its course. In addition to the fact many of those advocating ‘life at any cost’ are not necessarily keen to part with their tax dollars/pounds to ensure the sick, disabled and demented are appropriately cared for: euthanasia may seem more attractive to some if they think they are going to end their days in deplorable care facilities!

    2) I live in a same-sex, committed relationship. This was not arrived at glibly, I was for 20 odd years a confirmed advocate of celibacy for homosexual Christians (a major reason for spending several years in a monastery!). However I am not a fan of ‘gay-marriage’ because marriage is, in my view, a distinct state. I think the legal status same-sex couples have in the UK (a civil partnership) amply meets the legal and emotional need to recognise one’s relationship. I know many homosexuals etc. would disagree with me, but really I can’t see why gay couples want to copy marriage. My partner and I haven’t even bothered with a Civil Partnership despite being together for a decade – tho’ have taken appropriate legal measures to protect property and capital in the event of our deaths.

    3) I have a great admiration and respect for Fundamentalist and Catholics – a good portion of my PhD research has taken place within a Pentecostal religious movement that is steeped in Biblical orthodoxy (a bit prejudiced when it comes to Catholicism - but that often works both ways!!). However I am extremely concerned about groups that plump for ‘easy’ answers – or think their way of seeing the world is the only way. It is rare there are easy answers to many complex social questions and issues and often good outcomes and/or wholesome societies are only achieved through debate, pragmatism and understanding the point of view of others. (As an aside, before the retort ‘gays don’t do this’ is thrown back at me, a few years ago a Christian woman was arrested in Norwich, UK for sending a letter to the police complaining about a ‘gay pride’ parade to be held in the city – her letter was viewed as homophobic and a hate-crime by the police (the letter was really just incoherent ranting). One of her biggest supporters was Peter Tatchell, a British gay-activist, because he thought her right to free speech was being denied and campaigned against the arrest – which perhaps demonstrates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ worldview just doesn’t do anyone any favours. It’s fine in the confines of a church, but not in the interaction between the Church and the world.)

    I hope this is helpful – now I really must get on. You will be happy to note my partner and I have just booked our annual holiday – renting a cottage in the village of Little Walsingham (see - tho’ I prefer the RC Shrine to the nonsense of the Anglican Shrine...

    Every blessing:


  33. Why are you so proud of your bigotry?

    It's rather galling. You are indeed related to a few gay people, whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not.

    your bigotry is a decidedly un-Christian choice. piety. hypocrisy. very ugly.

    your being anti-gay will not ensure that your children are straight. it will, however, negatively impact their sense of self-worth.

    do you want to come home one day to find a child of yours hanging from a makeshift noose? keep up your ignorant prejudiced bigotry and it will happen.

    you are an insult to all the Christ lived and died for.

  34. Little Kiwi,
    Can you please cite an example (or all) of the bigotry you see on this post or the comments that follow?

  35. I think there is something to be said (in agreement) that much Christian truth has been cloaked in fantasy/sci fi for the last century (think CS Lewis' Time Trilogy, or GK Chesterton's fiction)...
    Being Catholic is about living in the center of Truth - that is to say, not at either edge of the widely diverse range of spirituality that is Catholic, but at that crossroads between the imminent and transcendant - at the meeting of the head and the heart. Only in this "both/and" place do we find the heart of Truth, and in this marriage of intellect and emotion we find what it means to be truly human, and also to be truly people of God.
    (p.s. wish we got more homilies like this one)

  36. I want to make a quick clarification:

    My partner and I haven’t even bothered with a Civil Partnership despite being together for a decade – tho’ have taken appropriate legal measures to protect property and capital in the event of our deaths.

    It's not that easy. Maybe in the UK?...

    But I have heard and read about numerous horror stories of same-sex couples who had lived their lives out together and had "taken appropriate legal action". One dies, the other goes about his business as usual, and all of a sudden government authorities aren't recognizing the "appropriate legal action" these guys had made. Nothing like building a life together only to have some distant bigoted family members swoop in to take it all away...

    Making it equal in the law prevents discrimination and is easier for everyone in the end. Even if I take "appropriate legal action", I still have to worry. That's all! I just get sick when people tell me I can just " write up some legal papers!". Please.

  37. Peter,

    1) I am glad to hear it! Do you vote pro-life and give to pro-life causes? Many here in America who use Cardinal Bernadin's "seamless garment" analogy do so in order to put abortion on par with other issues that are not nearly as important in the eyes of the Church. They use it as an excuse to vote for a pro-abort who "votes the right way" on, say, funding the welfare state. A whole topic for discussion there!

    The Catholic Church doesn't believe in preventing death "at all costs". If a person is imminently dying, they are certainly able to die naturally, and in peace. No extraordinary means of keeping them alive are required.

    2) You retained Christian teaching on abortion, but have rejected it on active homosexuality. Both have been taught as morally evil since the beginning of Christendom, and will be taught as morally evil till the end. While it's good that you retain Christian morality on one or more issues, it's sad that you have rejected Christian teaching on the truth and meaning of human sexuality. I do very much appreciate that you do not promote gay "marriage". Thank you for that!

    3) My belief is that people and emotions are complicated, but principles are not, Truth is not. Truth is simple and beautiful and clear and perfect. Fallen man's application of Truth and understanding of it? Not so much. There may be much confusion in the world (even the Protestant world) about moral truth, but there is no such confusion in Catholicism. It is the one voice on earth that is eminently clear. The Church has not reversed teachings, nor will she. We will not call good evil, nor will we call evil good. We cannot. The Holy Spirit has protected the Deposit of Faith from the beginning. It really is not complicated at all. What the Church believed on Faith and morals in the earliest centuries is what she believes today. We understand things more deeply today, but never, ever in reverse or contradiction.

    Your last part made me laugh a bit… When I was watching the royal wedding of William and Kate, I kept thinking, "Hey, give us our church back!!" But it was a beautiful wedding. Even if it was in a stolen church. ;)

  38. Little Kiwi, I hope you will answer Manda's question.

    Also, you said: you are an insult to all the Christ lived and died for.

    What did He live and die for, in your opinion?

  39. Peter,

    I am also not in favor of the death penalty. I believe we are in a place in modern society where we can protect law-abiding citizens from violent criminals with our prison systems. I agree that innocent lives have been taken by the death penalty, and I think although we have a responsibility to punish criminals, allowing them to spend the rest of their lives considering their choices could be more of a punishment than killing them. (I also think we spend way too much in tax dollars sentencing and keeping men and women on death row as opposed to putting them with the other violent criminals, but that's another issue.)

    I think a lot of Catholics agree that the death penalty is no longer the most decent option. I realize our prisons are over-crowded and often men who are exposed to them become even more violent because there is usually no effort (in the U.S.) to rehabilitate. But over-crowded prisons is not a reason to kill, just like the over-population argument would not be a good reason to abort.

    I am pretty sure the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty in almost all cases, and Blessed John Paul II spoke out against it. It's difficult to belong to a political party in the U.S. when the moral balance seems to be off in both. But I think in order for us to value human life we should start with the most innocent and helpless, and go from there.

  40. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for answering the questions about abortion and homosexuality. Much easier than having to dig through other websites - thank you!

    I forgot to answer your question, when you asked if I would be angry if I found out you were pro-choice or pro-gay marriage. I would not be angry but would be concerned. Concerned for you, and concerned that the pro-life message was not getting through to people. I'm so glad you are pro-life!

    You do express concern about an us-vs-them mentality. I would think you come across that kind of thinking within the gay community itself if you are not pro-gay marriage. I'd guess your opinion is in the minority in the gay community, although I have to admit that I really don't know that for sure.

    I'm sorry you were not able to live a celibate lifestyle, even though you tried. As CS Lewis said, I don't condemn you for a temptation I have never had to fight. (By the same token, how could I condemn someone who has failed where I HAVE suffered temptation, since when I am tempted... the fight has far too often gone quite poorly. We are all in need of God's mercy.) You may not feel the need for my prayers, but you do have them.


  41. the only way you reduce unwanted pregnancy and abortion is a good and thorough sex education for young people

    Peter, I did want to address this. I agree with the sentence. But I think we would be in vast disagreement about what constitutes "good and thorough sex education for young people". The way I educate my children is very different from the way Planned Parenthood and the public schools want them educated. I can assure you my kids know every fact of life and sex, and I answer every single question they ask. I don't understand in the least how one can leave out the moral dimension of sex? If there is one thing that is sacred and is to be viewed through the lens of truth, goodness and beauty, it's the very mechanism which creates human life! We are not animals, we are humans with an intellect and a will, and we are body and soul. Believe me, when kids are taught the whole truth, they respond to it. It's a beautiful thing.

  42. Leila

    Thanks for this (tho’ I shouldn’t be answering it because I am in the middle of tidying my study and I think this is really procrastination).

    1) There was a TV debate a few years here in the UK on sex education in schools and round and round the debate went: the government should do ‘this’; the schools should do that. I shouted at the TV screen – ‘And what are the parents doing?’ Not once was it mentioned that parents themselves have a responsibility when it comes to sex education. My father taught me about the mechanics before I was ten (using oranges (the egg) and matchsticks (the sperm)!). Moreover I think it is rather ironic that young people seem so adept at using social media and information technology yet remain strangely dim about getting information on sex and responsibility. Here in the UK I think this is in part due to the passivity and dependence that is the negative side of the welfare state. So good for you that you aren’t passing the buck as many parents seem to do.

    Part of my job in cancer care was preparing children for the death of a parent and it amazed me just how ‘responsible’ and resilient even young children can be, when you talk to them honestly.

    Here in the UK teenage pregnancy is rife - looks at some of the issues why. But they are also high in overtly Christian societies – which suggests the problem can’t just be solved by saying ‘thou shalt not’.

    2) I think one thing you have to remember when people have decided to live in a same-sex relationship that is sex is often a very small (and as years pass increasingly less) part of the reasons. An interesting and unexpected part of my PhD research with a Pentecostal type religious movement here in the UK is that the church celebrates singleness and encourages singles to live in shared houses (with married families) in a loose ‘religious’ community. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps if more Christian communities did more for singles – instead of the emphasis on marriage and the often unspoken notion that if you get to 30 and are unmarried then you have failed – gay Christians (and people single for other reasons) may have a greater place in churches, in addition to ways and means to overcome the loneliness of singleness. Just going to church on a Sunday, mid week and joining social events, is no substitute for a shared home.

    That said, I am happy with my decision and see it as an answer to prayer – we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that.

    3) The Duke of Westminster, who owns the land on which the American Embassy stands in London, was asked by the American government if he would consider letting the Embassy have the freehold of the land it is built on. The Duke replied he was more than happy to do this, if the American government would return him the lands in Virginia which his family had owned and but were confiscated in the War of Independence!! There’s lots of stuff in the Vatican Museum that other cultures and peoples see as theirs too! Alas all great powers have been pinching things of each other since Adam was a lad. Queen Mary (1553-8? From memory) did return the monks to Westminster Abbey, but when her half sister came to the throne (Elizabeth I) they were thrown out again.

    Funny on this last visit to America almost EVERYONE asked me about the Royal Wedding – and looked shocked when I said I hadn’t watched it. There are many of us in the UK who think the Monarchy and the Royal Family are just a joke – albeit an expensive joke. I’ve nothing personal against individual Royals, but what is the point of them? If the Queen were to turn round tomorrow and say she wasn’t doing as she was told by Parliament, we wouldn’t have a queen for very long!!

    Now, my Dyson awaits!


  43. Peter, I totally agree on the "where are the parents??!!" question! One of my biggest pet peeves!

    I do believe in not disturbing a child's latency period, though. Until children need to know or are asking questions (whichever comes first!), they should not be sexualized at all. Let them have their childhoods!

    I also agree that the Church should do much more for singles! It is also a pet peeve of mine (or more, of my single Catholic friends).

    One clarification about where we disagree: Do you believe that the Church's teachings on sexual morality (unbroken, unchanging since the beginning) are in fact somehow not Christian teachings?

    As to your monarchy: Well, if you didn't have that, you wouldn't have nearly as many tourists! They certainly do their part for the economy, I think! It is a huge reason why both my daughters chose London as a stopping point when their grandparents took them to Europe. :) So, don't knock 'em, as they make you stand out a bit from the other dying European nations! I mean, your nation and culture is still dying (I know you hate to hear that, but it's true), but at least we are all still entranced by the Royals!

    (PS: I only watched ten minutes of the ceremony, the following day. Still, very beautiful Christian wedding and we can thank God for that, no?)

  44. PS: I think my friend Marie speaks to the issue of agape love being more important than eros. If eros is disordered (as hers was), why not go straight to agape and live chastely?

  45. If I may be indulged to revive this thread...

    @Leila - You wrote "1) I am glad to hear it! Do you vote pro-life and give to pro-life causes? Many here in America who use Cardinal Bernadin's "seamless garment" analogy do so in order to put abortion on par with other issues that are not nearly as important in the eyes of the Church. They use it as an excuse to vote for a pro-abort who "votes the right way" on, say, funding the welfare state. A whole topic for discussion there!"

    This is another issue I have been questioning recently. I have heard the argument that it is never acceptable to vote for a pro-choice candidate, for example such as made by Archbishop Hannan.

    I have always found that view to be somewhat suspect though, and this is my rationale: Why should I allow my vote to be dictated by a single position /that the candidate is either powerless or unwilling to act upon/?

    The President of the US cannot change the status of Abortion. Pardon me if my math is off slightly, but it has been what? About 38 years since Roe v Wade, and in that time about 29 of those years were with Republican Presidents in office?

    My Senator or Congressman cannot change that issue. Neither can the Governor or local officials. Would picking the Pro-Life candidate for Dog Catcher be of any value?

    Wouldn't we be more effective at being a political constituency if we did NOT simply pledge our votes by default to whoever is paying lipservice the to pro-life ideal?

  46. Nicholas, great question, and to me, it's about the judiciary. Executive orders and legislations are important, for sure, but people don't realize that it's the appointed judges (sometimes for LIFE, long after the politician is gone) who are the ones doing the most damage to the nation, on the life issues and others. So, voting pro-life is important not only because of what the politician can do, but because of the stripe of judges he will appoint. So key.

    Here is my post on why I can't vote for a Dem (sorry if you've seen it):

    There are several non-negotiables, and ultimately if we can vote for someone who is in the right on those issues, it will be a benefit to our own souls, in addition to the nation.

    I don't think politics alone, and legislation, will change the nation to pro-life, but we have to legitimately work to change both hearts and laws. The Church is committed to doing both.

    Ultimately, we are not called to be successful, only faithful.


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