Wednesday, May 18, 2011

a catholic love

Last month, a few news articles amusedly reported on an article in the magazine Civilta Cattolica in which a Jesuit priest, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, praised hackers for their creative, open model of work, pointing out common ground with Catholic teachings on work. The story reminded me of one of the reasons why I love being Catholic, why in many ways the Catholic Church is the only organization in which I have ever felt at home: It is the only place I have found that, in purpose and aspiration, is truly universal - truly catholic. I love reading the reports of the Church reaching out to various groups, calling out what it sees as good and praiseworthy in each one. Another one that made me smile was the Vatican's letter to letter to Buddhists for their celebration of Vesakh:

Dear Buddhist friends, we pray that your celebration of Vesakh will be a source of spiritual enrichment and an occasion to take up anew the quest of truth and goodness, to show compassion to all who suffer, and to strive to live together in harmony.

A letter like this in recognition of their feast seems like a wonderful way of saying, "We know that you desire these good things. We desire them, too. Let's walk hand-in-hand to the extent that we can."

One of the missions of the Church is to call out the highest good. Part of calling out the good, however, is separating it from what is less good and what is not good. Catholic morality is a roadmap to the perfect, the best. To the rest of the world, this can often look harsh, but it's not too surprising, really. Our Mother Church may sometimes have a streak of the "tiger mother" in her. She wants the best for her children.

So, what about those of us who have chosen to obey our mother, even when she seems to be a "tiger mother"? Our society tells us that, of course, we are free to do this, as long as we aren't judging or imposing our morality on anyone else. Unfortunately, that's not a reasonable way to live. It turns out that we all have to judge. We see others, we see the way they act, we tend to pick up those attitudes and behaviors. So what to do if the people around us believe things or act in ways that we, following the instructions of the Church, have decided not to believe or act? We do the same thing that anyone who is trying not to be governed by social influence must do: we asses the situation and decide whether we are going to do the same thing as the people around us. In other words, we judge. The OED has many definitions of the verb "judge." Among them,

1. To try, or pronounce sentence upon (a person) in a court of justice; to sit in judgement upon
3. To give sentence concerning (a matter); to try (a cause); to determine, decide (a question)
9. To form an opinion about; to exercise the mind upon (something) so as to arrive at a correct or sound notion of it; to estimate; to appraise.
10. To pronounce an opinion upon, to criticize; esp. to pronounce an adverse opinion upon, to condemn, censure.
11. To form the opinion, or hold as an opinion, to come to a conclusion, infer; to apprehend, think, consider, suppose.

This is a terribly vague word. Some of these definitions refer to negative conclusions about people - a sort of judgement that no one wants to be on the receiving end of. Some of these are actions that we all must undertake many times a day - thinking, forming opinions, and reaching conclusions.

So which one are we doing? Judge the following situation:
Certain pharmacists have made a decision that they cannot in good conscience dispense Plan B birth control. They haven't made this decision for other people. Other people are free to dispense it. They have made this decision for themselves, their own consciences. A judge in Illinois has ruled that pharmacists don't have to dispense Plan B. As in, a pharmacist can form an opinion on the most moral way to act and then can act in that way.

Certain groups are very unhappy with this decision. Conscience protection for medical professionals is not at all guaranteed in our society. The difficulty that so many people have with conscience protection points to a problem. When people judge for themselves, they automatically are seen as judging others. For those of us who choose to obey our Mother Church, we may not have much say in whether others judge us as being judgmental - after all, we often don't see ourselves as the ones that ultimately decide questions of morality. We are, however, the face of the Church to the people around us. We must follow her example and call out what is good, as well as what is bad... and when we must point out the bad, it is gentleness and God's continuing care for us, above all, that will show us for who we are - not insistence, not eloquence, not being right, but gentleness and God's love. This is not too different from what John says - Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

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