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Quick Note About Copehagen

Today begins the negotiations over the next phase of creation of a world government.  The heads of states of over xx countries are coming together this week in Copenhagen, Denmark to cede a part of their countries’ sovereignty to an international accord.  This meeting takes place in a period of carefully timed press releases about the hottest decade in modern history, the negative health impacts of carbon dioxide, and the bad or good science behind the man-made global warming theory.

What we see today is a group of scientists and world leaders meeting to decide America’s economic future based on questioned science and very questionable world politics.  It appears that the results of the Copenhagen conference may be irrelevant as the U.S. EPA fully intends to start regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant in the very near future whether America signs on to a Copenhagen agreement or whether a Cap and Trade bill is passed.

We need to begin to brace for change no matter the truth of climate change, no matter the economic impact, no matter what China and India choose to do, and no matter the opinion of the American public.

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Advent, then Christmas

About a month ago, I was ready to begin writing a post regarding the Christmas season (which had begun around us in the retail stores).  At mass a few nights ago, the priest pointed out that the Christmas season began all around us in around the middle of October, at least for my area, but for Catholics we will begin celebrating Christmas on Christmas day and until February.

Last month I felt this weight of darkness for a variety of reasons  summed up in a mirror of our society, thus I was longing for Christmas.  I longed for the joy, the excitement, and the beauty that comes with the season.  I hoped it would help me escape the reality of the state of the world.  I then began to recognize how people (whether they are of religious affiliation or not)  are  more cheerful  during the season and hoped those around me would warm up even just a bit.

This excitement for the joy of the season is a truth, but I was uniting with the secular world instead of taking the time to experience the Advent season.  That is why I am glad I waited to write this post, God showed me during this past month before Advent even began that I need to shift my focus.  It is something I feel called to help others recognize as well.  Advent is a beautiful and “sacred season of anticipation and expectation in which we come to terms with the deepest yearning of our soul- a yearning fulfilled only in Jesus Christ” (except from The Magnificat Advent Companion).  Ah ha, the yearning I had is a sincere one, but we need to harness that and recognize this as a time of waiting.  The word “Advent” means “coming,” so we are preparing ourselves while waiting for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  During Advent we may experience hope, longing, waiting for Light, and the eagerness to keep watch.  We may  experience these feelings periodically throughout Advent, or relate to one particular desire.    I realized  I could use the darkness around me in society to meditate and try and relate to the past during the first Advent.  Think of the time Moses brought the people out of Egypt- they had been living in darkness of slavery and difficult conditions but they remained with hope that God would deliver.  We can look in the Old Testament and observe  their faith in God.  On the shopping day called “Black Friday,” I couldn’t help but see it as a reflection of those during the Advent season in the past without Christ.  I am not saying it is bad to head out on Black Friday to catch a great deal, but if you look around at the  chaos due to the greed, selfishness, and commercialism you will notice it is in those moments that people get hurt. So I took moments to pray that God will come in our hearts, into our lives.  It is in the dark of the night we look forward to the dawn to break. The liturgical color is purple as this is a season of penance, preparation, and prayer.  During the third week, we can really begin to relate to the anticipation those in the past experienced.  The anticipation is an exciting one.

We reflect on Advent in the past and we stop to reflect on the coming of Jesus at the end.  It can be difficult to meditate both on the past, and  in the present prepare for the second coming of Christ.  God asks the same thing  of those of the past as of us awaiting our death and preparing for Christ to come again.  He asks us to be ready, be ever striving to be saint like each day.  He will come when we least expect it.  It is out of love that we prepare ourselves. “May Christmas be for us all a preparation for eternity, as the concluding words of the Wesford Carol declare: ‘In faith and hope, whatever befall, we’ll wait in peace his holy call” (Magnificat Advent Companion).

There is  another time of Advent.  During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we experience Advent during the 1 hour fast, during the prayer before mass, preparing our hearts and minds during the general absolution and readings, and so many other great moments.  Christ comes to us in what looks like ordinary bread and wine.  Christ’s Body and Blood is truly present. In the same way that we see smiles on peoples faces while celebrating Christmas, I would like to see smiles on peoples faces while being in His presence.

Pope Benedict XVI states “It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

I ask that each of us amend our relationships and our lives during this time so we can continue with a sense of hope.  We will then stop and enjoy the Christmas celebration together. May God bless us this Advent season.

Iowa Moving Conservative

A recent Des Moines Register Poll shows that Iowans are leaning conservative.  This is the state that kicked off the successful campaign for President Obama.  Here is how the numbers break out: “Forty-three percent of Iowans consider themselves conservatives, 36 percent say they are moderate, and 17 percent say they are liberal. Fifty percent of Iowans consider themselves fiscal conservatives, while 42 percent say they’re conservatives on social issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

Des Moines Regsiter Iowa Poll

A majority of Iowans are conservative

I have long believed that Iowa is a fairly conservative state.  I am somewhat surprised however that the majority of Iowans do not consider themselves social conservatives.  Overlooking the social issues for a moment, this presents a good picture for the state Republican party in the 2010 elections.  But Republicans must overcome the general frustration conservatives have with the party.  According to the Des Moines Register “[m]ost current and former Iowa Republicans agree on two reasons why the party has lost elections and voters. It has nominated lackluster candidates, and officeholders have neglected to make spending control a top priority, according to the poll.”

The 2010 elections will see heated contests for 4 of the 5 US House seats, the governor’s office, and many state seats.  It is unfortunate that Tom Harkin is not up for re-election for the US Senate until 2014.  On the state side, the election season is starting off strong for the gubernatorial race.  Recent polls on the gubernatorial race shows the incumbent Democrat governor, Chet Culver, is trailing two different Republican candidates in head to head races.  One of the Republican candidates leads Culver by 24 points.  The real question is which Republican will be able to come through the primary process strong enough to be succesful next year.  Also creating a hurdle for the Republican candidates is a potential independent, Jonathan Narcisse, who believes in small government, is an activist, and is very public.  He is moving his battle for Iowa from the Des Moines airwaves, and Des Moines School Board to the entire state with his new initiative An Iowa Worth Fighting For and new debate series with one of the Republican candidates.

There is no telling what the sentiments of Iowans will be in 6 months, but every indication is good that there is a great opportunity for a big resurgence of the Iowa Republican party.

Big Tent Catholics?

Rekha Basu, a columnist for the Des Moines Register,  recently wrote a rambling article about the big tent concept.  The term big tent often applies to political parties and their need to be inclusive of many different populations and views (unless you are a pro-life Democrat in which case you are not very welcome in the Democrat Party).  The term has been tossed around by media and political pundits frequently in recent months regarding the need for the Republican party to have a big tent to survive (which, by the way, I oppose but will not get into here).  But have you ever heard it applied to a religious denomination?  Well read Basu’s column and you will.

Basu posses the following question. “Should there be an ideological litmus test for membership in a faith? Who gets to decide whether Catholics whose views differ from the Vatican’s can call themselves Catholic? Does the bishop?”  This is in reference to the scolding of Patrick Kennedy by his bishop, the Most Reverend Thomas Tobin.  Bishop Tobin stated, in other words, that Kennedy was incorrect to think that he is fully Catholic when he supports abortion and public funding thereof.  The Bishop simply responded to an attack by Kennedy against the Catholic Church for opposing health care legislation that expanded access to and/or funding for abortion (read more here).  Bishop Tobin was simply attempting to continue a previously private conversation with Kennedy in an attempt to redeem his soul and guide him back to the church and Christ.  As Kennedy’s bishop, it is his responsibility to do so.

Ms. Basu implies in her article that Bishop Tobin has no right to define what is Catholic but instead should be left to the individual members of the faith.  She quotes from an ultra-liberal (and in my opinion anti-Catholic) organization named Catholics for Choice, that claim a bishop has no right to tell Kennedy that he is “less of a Catholic” (Tobin used Kennedy’s words).  Why? I don’t have a direct answer, but I believe it is because they also disagree with the moral teachings of the church.  They believe the Catholic faith, i.e. Vatican, should not dictate to its faithful that it is a mortal sin to murder an innocent unborn child.

So should the Catholic church follow the U.S. Democrat and Republican parties and implement the big tent approach to their faith?  Should the Vatican release a statement saying that Christ was wrong to tell us we should obey the commandments?  Should they begin a listening tour to determine what the liberal “Catholics” believe in an effort to reform the faith to meet their lower moral standards?

Basu concludes her article by saying “Ideological purity sounds nice. But a party, like a religion, is no more than the people who sign up for it. For good or bad, the rest is negotiation.”  Well there is our answer.   The wise Basu has spoken!  Pope Benedict XVI take note!  Bishops take note! Parish priests take note!  The central tenets of the Catholic faith is up for negotiation.  No more homilies telling us what is right and wrong.  No more reading from the Bible as it may instruct us as to what is moral.  Reform now!  Let’s all just come to church every Sunday (or once a year or what ever feels right) and join hands and admire our wondrous self-worth, wisdom, and the eternal human spirit.  But do not talk to your fellow congregant as you can’t be allowed to tell them what you think is moral and correct.  The Catholic faith has now been declared as a faith of one, from one, and for one.

This reminds me of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead.  Howard Roark, an out of the mainstream architect, is asked to build a non-denominational temple called the Temple of the Human Spirit.  The temple intends to capture the essence of religion.  The essence of religion, according to the man wanting to construct this temple, is:

 “The great aspiration of the human spirit toward the highest, the noblest, the best.  The human spirit as the creator and the conqueror of the ideal.  The great life-giving force of the universe.  The heroic human spirit.”

A church not of or for God but to man.  Basu, Kennedy, and the Catholics for Choice have asked the Catholic church to become just that.  A Church to each one of our own human spirits, to celebrate the beliefs we have, and to celebrate the great things that we can do (such as killing our unborn).

I do not know where to begin.  Instead of responding to this absurdity I will simply pray, God help us.

Bishop Tobin v. Kennedy, II

I recently ran across a public letter written to Representative Patrick Kennedy from Bishop Tobin regarding the representative’s statement:  “[t]he fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”  This is an important read for all Catholics.  In fact it is an important letter to read if you are a journalist, apologist for abortion, or a critic of the Catholic Church.  The Bishop states very clearly the minimum requirements fo being in communion with the Catholic Church and addresses the hypocrisy of many Catholic politicians head on.  Again well done Bishop Tobin.

Read the original publication of this letter in the Rhode Island Catholic, 11/12/2009.

Dear Congressman Kennedy:

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” (Congressman Patrick Kennedy)

Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence

Prior to this month I knew nothing of Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Providence.  He has thrown himself into the spotlight by doing what every Catholic Bishop should do, protect the integrity of the faith and uphold the sanctity of life.  I applaud the Bishop for standing up and speaking out on both points.

As a brief history, I will ask you to read the following article written by AP.  To quickly summarize, Bishop Tobin responded to an attack by Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island against the Catholic Church.  Kennedy criticized Catholic Bishops for opposing the new heath care reform effort unless the legislation expanded restrictions on abortion.  Bishop Tobin, according to the AP, said “[Kennedy] attacked the church, he attacked the position of the church on healthcare, on abortion, on funding.  And that required that I respond.”  The Bishop has question Kennedy’s faith and said that his position on abortion is “scandalous and unacceptable to the church.”

Meanwhile Kennedy says that his disagreement with the “church hierarchy” does not make him any less of a Catholic.  On this point I agree.  A dispute with the church hierarchy does not make an individual any less Catholic.  Promoting or believing that abortion is acceptable however does make him much less of a Catholic.  In fact I may go so far as to say that he can not be a Catholic if he believes abortion is acceptable.  This post is not directly about Kennedy however, so I will go back to my point.

Bishop Tobin has asked Kennedy to not participate in communion until he changes his views on the topic.  I want to say THANK YOU Bishop Tobin!  In many cases I would say that US Catholic Bishops are weak when it comes to abortion.  Bishops should be at minimum privately discussing their disapproval of support of abortion with pro-abort Catholics.  Bishop Tobin took it a step further asking the representative to not participate in the holy sacrament, and it was done in private.  He has now confirmed this publicly.  It is important for Catholics to see their spiritual leaders set an example of what is right and wrong.  And the fact that most bishops are unwilling to publicly discuss the very public support of abortion among some of their flock is nearly a crime against the Church itself.  My hope is that other Catholic leaders will follow Bishop Tobin’s example.

Terrorists in the Heartland?

The Obama administration has decided that a western Illinois prison, Thomson Correctional Center, is perfect for housing Guantanamo Bay terrorist detainees.  This is apparently strongly supported by both Governor Pat Quinn and IL Senator Dick Durbin.  Does it surprise me that Quinn, Durbin, and Obama would support this?  Of course not.  And of course, I don’t support this effort.

First let me briefly address the most public reason for not supporting this effort.  Many opponents are citing safety concerns for opposing the move of the detainees to rural Illinois.  The concern of some Republicans is, according to a Chicago Tribune article,  that Illinois would become a ‘magnet for terrorists’.”  Republican U.S. Representative Don Manzullo, who represents the Thomson, IL district, said that “Gitmo is not being closed, it’s being moved to northwest Illinois.”  U.S. Representative Mark Kirk od Chicago said that “with the busiest airport in the world and the tallest building in North America, I do not think we should make Chicagoland the center of jihadi attention in the world.”  He also expressed concern over a nuclear power facility in the Quad Cities, a four city region spanning across the Mississippi River in Iowa and Illinois and located very near Thomson.

Manzullo’s comments suggest that there is a concern about the security of the facility and district of which he represents.  I would reply by saying that the early plans indicate that the prison’s security will be increased and will likely become the most secure federal prison in the US.  I believe that can and should be done if the plan is to move forward.  Therefore I think the security of Thomson will be fine.  Kirk’s concerns are, I believe, with more merit.  My gut says that jihadists will prefer to spend the remaining moments of their lives to kill as many christians and jews as they can, not waste it attempting to free prisoners.  Are Chicago and the Quad Cities viable targets? Of course.  But the truth is that Chicago should not be more of a target due to this prison than it was previously.  And, every nuclear facility is a potential target regardless of where it is located.

Residents of Thomson, IL appear to be in favor of the federal prison for employment reasons.  Springfield’s State Journal Register reports that the “Thomson Correctional Center is here, so it might as well be filled.”  Jim Falls, a resident of a nearby town, stated what many felt, “if they do bring them here, that would put more people to work here.”  And with September unemployment in Illinois reaching 10.5%, 8.4% in the Quad Cities, and 15.2% in Rockford located north-west of Thomson, it is not suprising to hear such comments.  The White House claims that the prison could “create” between 2,300 and 3,200 ongoing jobs (many of which will actually be military positions).  This may seem great for the region, but why did Illinois build a prison in 2001 that sits 90% empty in 2009?  Reports suggest it is due to budget issues.  Well doesn’t the construction and ongoing maintenance of this empty prison add up?  Isn’t that taxing the citizens of Illinois unnecessarily? No wonder Governor Quinn wants to dump it.  This just seems typical of Illinois, to build a prison at great expense for non-existing prisoners.  Illinois’ government appears to subscribe to the tax-spend-waste form of government.  I don’t remember being taught that form of government in high school civics.  Maybe Quin should look at shuttering the prison completely instead of selling it to the feds. 

The reason I have a problem with moving these prisoners to Illinois is the same reason I don’t support prosecuting terrorists in civil criminal courts in New York.  These terrorists are enemies of the state who either planned or were invovled in attacks on the United States of America.  These are not US citizens or US nationals that committed a typical crime.  These are terrorists that killed thousands of innocents.  Those not directly involved in 9/11 attacks, attacked our soldiers on the battle fields as extremists looking to bring down our country.  They should be brought in front of military tribunals just as enemy combatants have always been done since President George Washington established them many years ago.  If the tribunal finds a detainee to be innocent, then give him/her a plane ticket home with our apologies and maybe a little cash for their troubles.  If they are found guilty then punish them accordingly.  Let the tribunals determine guilt and punishment.  Bringing detainees to a federal prison in Illinois will only give more credence to the idea that these terrorists should be accorded rights under our Constitution.  Notice I said OUR Constitution.

These terrorists should be keep in a dark hole in a military prison until they can be brought to trial.  This does not mean that I believe they should be detained indefinitely, as I do not.  I think it is not fair to any human to keep them locked away for years upon years with no opportunity to face a tribunal and provide a defense.  Let’s start prosecuting these terrorists in the tribunals with fair but swift proceedings.