Defending Those Who Defend Marriage

Earlier this year, a Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico made controversial national headlines because he dared to teach his flock about the sacred importance of marriage.  Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan wrote in a pastoral letter:

We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no “third way” possible for a Christian.

The reaction was swift and brutal.  Continue reading

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Let Us Now Praise Father Jack

In all of the commentary about the various political interpretations of ABC’s reimagining of the classic sci-fi allegory V, I’ve yet to read any appreciation for the best of its fully realized and original characters: Father Jack Landry.

We’ve all been accustomed for years to Christians being derided in the media, but Father Jack is a huge step away from all of that: a sincere, humane man of faith whose spiritually sensitive nature is undeniable.  He’s not a hypocrite, he’s not a bigot, and he’s (gasp!) not a pedophile.  Mainstream network television has now given us an honest-to-goodness hero priest. 

Father Jack has a background in the military and is comfortable fighting when he needs to (the last episode had him practicing on a punching bag, showing it who’s boss with experienced skill), but instead of abusing this aspect of the character to make him more palatable to the usual pieties (i.e., “Sure, he’s a priest, but look!  He’s also a kung-fu psycho who wears shades, chain smokes, and curses like a sailor!  He probably got dishonorably discharged after stopping some rednecks from killing peaceful natives”–all these clichés are blessedly avoided), they blend to make him even more non-traditional: now he’s a priest and a soldier–the two things Hollywood hates the most!

Though physically powerful, handsome, and comfortable everywhere, Father Jack is quiet to the point of being reserved.  He reacts with patience, only getting worked up when innocent people are in danger.  This week’s episode saw him in a furious storm of self doubt, unable to bear the idea that his revolutionary tactics (call it grass roots activism, campaigning for social justice, revolting against a corrupt establishment, or what have you) might have killed any bystanders.  His pacifism is no rote show: it comes across as a genuine commitment to the value of human life above all other priorities (another major shift in tone for normal TV!). 

We’ve only seen him with his parishioners a few times, but they’re clearly always on his mind, and when he does meet with people, he actually discusses God and faith, not just bland platitudes.  He’s  a real priest!  (Can you sense my shocked excitement?)  This is a great character.

Checking my email just now, I saw a news story saying that V is one of the shows that may be on the chopping block for the Fall.  I hope not: it’s consistently one of the most suspenseful, clever, and relevant shows on television, and has a surprisingly decent hero to boot in Father Jack, the best clergy character I can remember since Father Mulcahy in the glory days of M*A*S*H.

Let Us Now Praise Pope Benedict XVI

A few summers ago I spent some time on a little project where I wrote letters to some major leaders around the world whom I admired.  I only got a form letter from the office of Queen Elizabeth.  But the pope wrote me back.

140px-BentoXVI-29-10052007After his elevation to the papacy I read Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures.  I was impressed, and still want to read more of his work.  As I learned more about him, I liked everything I read.  In my letter I specifically mentioned his scholarship (he speaks several languages, reads ancient Hebrew and Greek, and has a long history of professional publication–in fact, some highlights from his career come from his role as one of Catholicism’s leaders in doctrine and theology), his passion for classical music (he’s an accomplished pianist and his favorite composer is Mozart), and especially his unwavering commitment to preaching traditional morality in the face of harsh criticism from the mainstream world (from “the great and spacious building,” we Latter-day Saints would say). 

In May 2007, Pope Benedict visited Brazil, where he preached modesty and chastity to a nation that luxuriates in its skimpy clothing, premarital sex, and cohabitation.  I remember hearing on the news at the time that this address was widely scoffed at by Brazilians, which astounded me.  What possible mentality tells them that their culture supersedes the authority of the world leader of their religion?  That visit gave me a lot of respect for Pope Benedict, but didn’t do much for my opinion of some Brazilian Catholics.

More recently, he’s taken flack for refusing to compromise with critics on promoting condoms as the solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa.  Good for him.  Hold the line.  He’s also given multiple addresses that I’ve seen in the news where he’s condemned the Western world’s growing obsession with the “dictatorship of relativism.”  Amen, and amen. 

I also told him that I was glad to see Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney invited to the Vatican for the elevation of Cardinal Sean O’Malley; that it was the kind of friendly invitation that people in our church don’t often get, and that I appreciated the gesture. 

I closed by assuring him of my respect and admiration, and pledging to pray for his health, happiness, and success in his mission of preaching Christ to the world.

A couple of months later, I got a letter with a return address from the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.  The entire text reads:

From the Vatican, 14 September 2006

Dear Mr. Huston,

The Holy Father has received your letter and he has asked me to thank you.  He appreciates the sentiments which prompted you to share your thoughts with him.

His Holiness will remember your intentions in his prayers.  He invokes upon you God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Yours sincerely,

Monsignor Gabriele Caccia, Assessor

I think I can take that literally to mean that the pope read my letter, liked it, and assigned this ambassador to respond on his behalf.  Incidentally, I spent a long time online finding an “address” for the pope, though I now realize I probably could have just addressed it to “Pope, Vatican” and it would have gotten to him just fine.

I’m not Catholic myself, but I recognize the strength of goodness when I see it.  There are some basic values that everybody, and certainly all people of faith, should get behind, and I think those values are greatly represented by Pope Benedict.