If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

If Chick-fil-A were Catholic . . .

I love eating at Chick-fil-A. If you don’t live near one of the 2,000 Chick-fil-A locations, I am really sorry. There’s nothing quite like the CFA sandwich, or their waffle fries, or their amazing cookies. I live in the South, where most CFA’s are, and I still don’t think I live close enough to one. It’s like ten whole minutes away.

But Chick-fil-A has one major fault: it’s closed on Sundays. This is a really, really dirty trick to play. It’s such a dirty trick that the Internet (a/k/a Tim Hawkins) made a remarkably funny satirical song about it. Why is it a dirty trick? Because 75% of the time that I crave Chick-fil-A is on a Sunday, when I can’t have it. When nobody can have it. Your wife asks “what can we get for dinner?” and you think “Chick-fil-A!” and then immediately say “but it’s Sunday . . . ” It’s really upsetting.

Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday because the restaurant recognizes that the day is special, belonging  to God, and so that their employees can spend time with their families. Other chains do this too, like Hobby Lobby and Dirt Cheap. But I don’t care about those. My wife wants her crafts at Hobby Lobby and her deals at Dirt Cheap, but I just want my hand-breaded deep-fried all-white-meat chicken sandwich.

But if Chick-fil-A were run by Catholics, it might be open on Sundays. That would be amazing. Paragraph 2187 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort . . . Traditional activities (sport, restaurant, etc.) and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.”

Restaurants stay open and athletes compete in order to enhance the enjoyment of the Lord’s Day, a day of rest, by others. And Chick-fil-A staying open on Sunday would seriously enhance my enjoyment of Sunday. I would never think “I want Chick-fil-A” on Sunday and then be without any hope of eating that wonderful fried goodness. And that’s a really good thing, because Sunday is not a day for being deprived. It’s a day for celebration.

Am I (bbbb <–that’s my 1-year-old’s contribution) kidding just a little bit? Am I twisting the Catechism out of context just this much to make my point? Is it really optional whether an establishment wants to be open Sunday and other Holy Days? Yes, Yes, and Yes.

If I’m being totally serious, I guess I’m glad that there’s a national chain willing to cut into their profits in order to point out to the wider culture that Sunday is special, Sunday is important, Sunday is for better things. But guys! Is it too much to ask for fried chicken? Doesn’t a feast of fried chicken signify that today is a Holy Day, a day set apart, the Eighth Day of Creation? Open on Sunday and feed my need, Chick-fil-A!

Say No To Satellites!

Say No To Satellites!

Recently, a friend of mine shared a satirical article about Steven Furtick, a pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina, signing a six-year $110 million contract to preach at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas. Of course, Furtick didn’t sign any such contract and isn’t going to Texas, but when my friend posted it, it caused a stir among his relatives who didn’t know that it was satire.

The story also caused me to remember my long-time ire of megachurches. Furtick founded “Elevation Church” in North Carolina, which hosts 20,000 people each weekend in 15 locations. The Church of the Highlands in my state of Alabama hosts 40,000 people in 16 locations.

I’ll admit off the bat that not everything about megachurches and their pastors is bad. Many, like Furtick’s church, are known for doing a ton of service work (but not Joel Osteen’s). Some of them have pastors with actual theological training (but not Joel Osteen). Some of them have pastors that live like normal people instead living in mega-mansions (but not Joel Osteen).

But megachurches also have a lot of big issues seriously affecting Christianity in America. Joel Osteen’s “prosperity gospel” is an unadulterated heresy that has taught millions of people that material wealth is a reward for spiritual greatness. The unbelievable personal wealth amassed by megachurch pastors is seriously disconcerting, and an abrogation of Christ’s “poor in spirit” message. But the big thing—the thing that always bewilders me—is the tendency of many megachurches to have a dozen or more satellite campuses.

The satellite campuses are strange for a specific reason. It’s not an attempt to make a new ecclesial community fifty miles away. The pastor uses video technology to livestream his sermon to the new campus, in an attempt to merely extend the existing church community. Thousands of people walk into an auditorium on Sunday morning to watch a preacher on big screen from a different city.

I feel like there’s a monumental hubris involved to feel that you have to be live-streamed to another auditorium and another group of people. Most people respond best a person in the room, but these churches and these pastors have decided that nobody else can preach as well as them. Nobody else can take the Gospel to the next town or the next neighborhood. They have to go themselves, despite the fact they can only go by video.

They send an assistant minister to tend to the needs of the flock, but don’t let that person preach, because the preaching comes from the TV. They are essentially saying that this assistant being sent is good enough to do the heavy lifting of helping you through difficulty in a marriage, or helping to form your children in the faith, but the pastor doesn’t trust them to preach. The pastor has to get the notoriety of preaching to huge crowds and won’t share it.

I spent a long time wondering why anybody would put up with a satellite church experience. The focus is apparently on a big television screen. This can’t possibly be nourishing anyone in the same way as a person-to-person experience.

Then I realized why these churches do this, instead of sending a real-life minister: that famous preacher is the glue holding that community together. Some will argue that it’s Holy Scripture that’s the lifeblood of the community, but that’s a bit of an overstatement. All of the Christianity shares the New Testament, along with Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists, and we are all far from being one people. These megachurches also lack ingrained traditions—concrete actions divorced from particular individuals—by which to affirm their unity. They do not gather around an altar for the sacrificial offering of the Eucharist, as do Catholics and Orthodox. The substance of these ecclesial communities is the preacher and his preaching.

I don’t think poorly of anyone who is making a concerted effort to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Church founded by the Christ is real, and it’s more than a persona projected on a screen. The Church is the The Person of Jesus Christ, not a person on a stage. Demand more! Demand God at the center of your Sabbath experience, not a celebrity! At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is obvious who is most important. His Body and Blood are on the Altar. The Church needs Christ, and bringing Christ means coming in person. No satellites!

*I have real hang-ups about Joel Osteen on just about every level. He’s a poor representative of Christianity and probably will merit a post all his own in the future.

Incapable of Justice

Incapable of Justice

I’m an attorney. I have a law degree and I’m admitting to practice law in the State of Alabama. As an officer of the Court, the law imparts responsibilities on me. When representing my clients, I have to abide by the Court’s orders, enforce the Court’s orders, cooperate in the administration of justice as described by the law. My education, my bar admission, my entire career is precipitated on the assumption that the law actually is just.

The fact is that the law is not always just. The law is limited and often allows people to act with imminent injustice. Our very best friends have been going through something really difficult, really painful right now. We can’t help them. They can’t help themselves. It’s an awful situation. And it’s one that the law allows. The law in their situation—and in many situations—can never be perfect. But for them and their situation, the law as it is allows them to be hurt by a stranger. I’m undecided on the morality of the stranger’s choice, but it has nonetheless been harmful to these very dear friends of mine.

The law is orderly and meaningful and necessary. I’m a defense attorney. When I’m researching case precedent or statutes and find the perfect point of law, I feel like I’m putting up a shield in front of my clients, or drawing a line in the sand. I get to use the law to say “this far and no further.”

I spend a lot of time defending and promoting the law to the people around me. I tell a person “the law can protect you from that” and “the law doesn’t allow that” or “a lawyer can help you” or “You really need a lawyer for that.” But sometimes the law can’t protect a person, and then I feel truly limited. Because the law is indeed limited. It has only general rules and only general priorities. It cannot account for the intricacies and fallenness of the world we live in. It is so often not capable of justice.

This is why a man (or a woman) cannot live by the law alone. Every person, to be moral, must act justly. But the law is not always just. If you live only by the law, you never give to charity, or forgive transgressions, or protect the youngest of the young. To live morally, or justly, one must enforce on oneself a great number of prohibitions and responsibilities that the law does not.

Legality is not morality. Of course, this is not a new idea. Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized many centuries ago that “an unjust law is not a law,” arguing that any purported law which requires unjust actions has no imperative force. The Twentieth Century saw plenty of homicidal regimes who wrote their own laws and never broke them while they killed en masse. The world knew that these were immoral acts, regardless of the laws involved.

But our society, our culture does not seem recognize the same immorality involving only a single person. When the law has ever considered an act and not outlawed it (or removed a prohibition against it), society finds it acceptable. This is true of abortion; contraception; drinking yourself into oblivion in your own home regardless of the effect on your family. The law allows all kinds of terrible actions, and so often our culture does not grasp that morality goes beyond the scant prohibitions of the law.

In any case, I’m hurting for my friends right now, and they’re hurting a lot more than me. I feel helpless, which is not how I usually feel when the law is involved. This time the law is no help, and that’s unbelievably disappointing to me. I want the law to work for people, and not against them; to protect people, not leave them exposed. This time that wasn’t the case. Nothing about my friends caused them to earn the treatment they’ve received. There’s nothing they could have done differently or better to change the situation. The law just favored someone else, and favored them regardless of how it affected these friends. That’s not fair, or just. But the law is often incapable of justice. It’s incapable of righting all the wrongs in the world because we’re in it and we’re human, and humans make wrongs.

Only God can fix us or our broken world, and he is a perfect lawgiver, a perfect legislator for every perfectly human circumstance. His laws are difficult, but they are knowable and wise. They do not prioritize as the laws of this world do, but only prioritize for our good. Where my friends are concerned, I don’t think those laws were perfectly honored, and deep pain follows. Please say a prayer for them in a difficult time, that God may see them clear to healing.

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

The Final Frontier: Godlessness?

My wife and I celebrated our sixth anniversary on Sunday. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie! I can’t believe it’s been six years since we got married (at age 21!). I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any significant, groundbreaking statement to make on marriage, or our wonderful marriage specifically, so this post is about science fiction.

I am gigantic sci-fi nerd. YUUUGE. Recently, my three-year-old asked me what my favorite movie was, and I had a hard time deciding if it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Apparently John Carter was a gigantic flop; I thought it was fantastic. And I almost always have a space-obsessed novel on my nightstand. Right now it’s a fantasy piece recommended by a friend, but that’s not the norm.

I love speculative fiction, but I’m struck that the future speculated is always so decidedly atheist. Futuristic fiction so often discounts religion as meaningless hocus-pocus or as a harmful set of superstitions. This pattern holds true across a huge spectrum of the genre. The “big three” authors of classical sci-fi all lean toward atheism. I love Robert Heinlein (Go read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress right now; it’s amazing), but he treats religion as essentially silly throughout Job: A Comedy of Justice. Arthur C. Clarke advances a fairly naturalistic viewpoint, and Isaac Asimov is so atheistic that a friend of mine who is also a big sci-fi reader has stopped reading his stories. That compelled me to not start reading them. More recent authors, such as Robert Charles Wilson, also often treat religion with a similar skepticism. The major contemporary exception is Orson Scott Card, a noted theist (who is Mormon and tries really hard, but gets Catholicism totally wrong in Speaker for the Dead).

One of the biggest culprits is also my favorite series: Star Trek is intentionally secular. Both Gene Roddenberry (series creator) and Brannon Braga (who wrote Star Trek for TV for almost 20 years) are on record as intentionally keeping human religion out of the series as much as possible. Alien religions are another issue. Those get a lot of screen time, but humans are “more enlightened.”

My question is why? The main thrust of these sci-fi stories is that technology will be more advanced in the future, and that humans will know more, meet lots of new types of people, and explore many new places. Why should those things cause humans to “lose” religion? Humans have been advancing in technology, and meeting new people, and finding new places, for thousands of years. But this hasn’t been the impetus for humans ditching religion. Admittedly, in many cases, it has been the cause of people taking up a new religion. But humans haven’t ditched spirituality.

So why has science fiction? What is that these authors are speculating about? Ultimately, I think it’s a rejection of the morality that religion stands for. Sci-fi authors seem to think that religion is little and includes only little concerns, such as sexual morality. Star Trek: The Next Generation is often labeled “The Sex Generation,” and with good reason. It has no reference to Christianity, but Commander Riker finds a new alien to bed in every other episode. There’s a certain crass dichotomy to it. The less we talk about religion, the more we’re going to focus on the types of things that a typical viewer’s religion frowns on. For predominately atheist sci-fi authors, a world without religion is one in which they don’t have to encounter the superstitions of believers, or be told that they should exercise restraint in personal decisions.

But if that is really the view of these authors, they are wrong for at least two reasons. One, a world essentially devoid of human religion is perhaps the least plausible facet of the future that these authors speculate to. Questions of a higher power have dominated human thought for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no reason to believe that humans will stop posing these questions in the few hundred years it takes for the Borg to reach earth. The human heart longs to know why there is something rather than nothing, and whether there is life after death. Science doesn’t answer these questions, but religion and philosophy can.

Secondly, this view is wrong because religion—specifically the True Religion of Jesus Christ—is anything but little. It is not concerned with the small things of this world, but with the grandeurs of eternity. Many sci-fi authors dream of a perfect world, and that’s a good thing. But they do not consider the human soul, the human need for the eternal. These authors look to technology to solve our problems, to make our temporal world a paradise. But the great promise that these authors are looking for isn’t speculation. It isn’t a dream. The wonderful future they yearn for is real, is guaranteed, in the Life Everlasting. But it is through religion, which they think will be eliminated from the future, that this perfection comes. These authors dream too small, when reality is already so big.

Nope, Nope, That’s Child Abuse

Nope, Nope, That’s Child Abuse

If you haven’t heard, there’s an absolutely crazy thing happening in British Columbia right now. You can read more here, but the long story short is this: Kori Doty had a baby “outside the medical system,” and named her baby “Searyl Atli Doty,” and she will not tell the government whether her baby is a boy or a girl. She wants to avoid assigning gender to her child, and won’t let anyone else acknowledge here child’s sex either. The Canadian government has so far not issued a birth certificate for this child without ascertaining what the child’s sex is. However, the British Columbia Ministry of Health recently mailed the child a health card with the designation “U” for sex, instead of the “M” or “F” on every other health card.

So far, the news item has been the health card arriving from the Ministry of Health. Of course, there are a number of groups who feel that this health card is some sort of government recognition of not assigning sex at birth. But that part of the story isn’t really newsworthy at all. Because of the parent’s decision, no one knows the sex of this child. But the child still needs healthcare. And a just government doesn’t deny an important healthcare tool to a baby because of a parent’s left-field decision.

The issue here is the mother’s decision and it is a HUGE issue. There A few disclaimers though:

  • I use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. Because whether you are a man or a woman does not change depending on your opinion of that fact. We’ll talk about why down below.
  • Kori Doty identifies as “non-binary trans” and has a stated preference for the pronoun “they.” But she’s only one person, so “they” is factually incorrect. And of course there’s the fact that she’s a woman.
  • We don’t know the sex of Searyl Atli Doty. That’s the whole point. I’m calling him a him. But if that turns out to be incorrect, don’t read anything into my use of “he.”

Sex is not a construct. It is a metaphysical reality. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 and Matthew 19:4). It is not your body which is male or female. You are male or female. Human beings don’t spring out of the universe by on accident. God creates human beings. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t accidentally make “women” with male bodies. He makes women. He doesn’t make “men” with female bodies. He makes men. And he doesn’t make people who aren’t men or women. He makes that clear. You are male or female.

Sex though isn’t merely a religious belief. It is a scientific fact. It can be ascertained whether a person is a man or a woman, and that fact doesn’t change. There are primary and secondary sex characteristics that tell any competent medical professional whether a mammal is male or female. This is true even of medically “intersex” individuals, for whom one or more primary or secondary sex characteristics are ambiguous. The reality of sexual dimorphism is the consistent finding of medical and biological science and is the consistent teaching of the Church.

What is so striking, and so very sad, about the situation in Canada is that this fact is being hidden about a very little child. Who a child is should be celebrated. The first thing you know about a child is that he’s a human, made in the image and likeness of God. The very next thing you know about your child is whether you have a boy or a girl. The world wants to celebrate who this child is, but no one knows it.

But the arch-sadness here is what effect this decision will have on the child. This parent has essentially decided to ignore that her child has a sex. A child gets to see their mother or their father and realize “I look like him” or “I look like her.” When this child asks himself “who do I look like?” this parent wants to the answer to be “That doesn’t really matter.” But the answer so obviously does matter. This parent expects her child to divine an identity out of thin air, while he is still a child. But she won’t tell her child about the world he inhabits, or the body that’s his.

She expects him to author his own self. But that’s not what humans are. Humans are made. And even if you don’t believe in a Creator, you must acknowledge that humans are a part of the world we live in. The world we live in is factual. The person who doesn’t acknowledge those facts has a hard time living in our world. But this woman refuses to acknowledge the facts for her child, and thereby makes life extremely difficult for him. This is an abuse of one’s power as a parent, to harm a child unnecessarily simply by ignoring the obvious. Send up a prayer for the Doty family. They need all the prayers they can get.

3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

A belated Happy Independence Day to everyone out there! And to all the Canadians up there who haven’t read my blog yet, a belated Happy 150th Canada Day, ya loveable northern weirdos!

I love this country (my country. America. I’ve never been to Canada). I don’t mean that in a perfunctory ‘sure, I was born here’ kind of way. And I don’t mean that the United States can do no wrong (we’re often really good at making mistakes). I mean I love this country. I want the absolute best for my country and everyone in it. And it doesn’t hurt that I like this country. I like our freedoms. I like baseball, and barbeque, and waving the red, white, and blue. I willingly worked for the federal government. Several times I have been a soloist at naturalization ceremonies, singing The Star-Spangled Banner as men and women born elsewhere become Americans. I freaking love this country (almost as much as Hulk Hogan does in that pic up there, but probably not quite as much).

But I also think this country has a problem. One, overwhelming problem. It’s our government, guys. Our government is terrible. I don’t mean that our government is bad right this second and will magically improve when one person or another enters or exits office. I don’t mean one leader is terrible. Our whole government is terrible. Look around and see the awful leadership seeping out at every level and in every sphere. So many of our leaders are corrupt, are influence first of all by money and political donors, are embroiled in one scandal after another. All of our leaders are embroiled in partisan bickering, unable to serve the common good or to compromise in any way if it means their party ‘lost.’

I have a lot of really hard opinions about our countries problem. But I also have the week from Hades at work, so I don’t have time to write the many treatises that I want to. Rather, I’ll just suggest 3 things that our country really, really needs right now:

  • Ideas: We need good ideas to fix our problems. This may seem like “duh, Mark” kind of statement, because of course we do, and because of course there are a lot of great ideas floating around out there. But the issue is that we do not focus on ideas. We focus on candidates, and on scandal, and on whether a “D” or an “R” is behind someone’s name. We are driven by petty competition, or by fears, or by controversial soundbites. But we are not engaging with real ideas for successful policy in this country.
  • Data: When we do spout ideas, they are usually not based in fact. So often, we spout off one fact or another, one ailment or achievement in this country, and we have no clue what we’re talking about. We say there’s more crime, when really there’s less. We say such-and-such is more affordable, when really it’s more expensive. If we’re going to fix anything in this country, we have to have a realistic idea of what our problems are.
  • Prayer: We think we can fix this place alone, and we just can’t. We have to dedicate our country to Jesus Christ through the Patroness of the United States, the Immaculate Conception. If we lift up our country in prayers, and our leaders in prayer, and each other in prayer, we’re going to be better off. If we don’t get serious about cooperating with the Holy Spirit in caring for this country and everybody in it, we’re not going to get anywhere, real fast. So say it with me, guys, and say it often: GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Untangling The Light

Untangling The Light

I’m old enough to remember when the Holy Rosary only had fifteen mysteries. Just fifteen hard-working old-fashioned mysteries about the infancy, suffering, and glory of Jesus Christ. Then this new hip saint named John Paul II came along and decided we should be praying five more mysteries, the “Mysteries of Light.” What?!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the Luminous Mysteries. It seems a mystery in itself that it took until the 20th century for a set of mysteries regarding Jesus’s ministry to develop. It is a natural fit between the Infancy Narratives and Our Lord’s Passion. At the same time, though, there seems to be someone missing from most of the Luminous Mysteries who is present throughout the rest: Mary.

The direct role of Mary is really evident in the development of the Rosary. If you’ve read The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort, you know how many Marian apparitions have been involved in shaping the Rosary as we pray it today. Even since de Montfort died in 1716, the effects of apparitions have been evident. The “O My Jesus” prayer appended to each mystery comes from Our Lady of Fatima’s appearances in 1917.

If even so small a prayer as the O My Jesus was introduced through a Marian apparition, I feel like the promotion of an entire new set of mysteries wasn’t done on a whim. It’s the first new group of five mysteries since they were put into three groups four and half centuries ago, and it’s almost certainly the last new meaningful set of mysteries that the Universal Church will enjoy. Saint John Paul the Great had such an intense devotion to Mary, making his personal motto “Totus tuus, Maria” and including her “M” on his coat of arms. Considering his devotion, and the numerous apparitions which have marked additions to the Rosary, I firmly believe that his promotion of the Luminous Mysteries was preceded by some sort of direct message from Our Lady. I don’t know what kind of message that was; I’m just saying: these mysteries were purposeful.

Saint Louis de Montfort, quoted by Saint John Paul in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae introducing the Luminous Mysteries, says:

“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.”

The Rosary is obviously a devotion to Mary, and the Luminous Mysteries are no less part of that devotion. So lately I find myself looking for Mary in the Luminous Mysteries. She is so obvious in the Infancy Narratives of the Joyful Mysteries, and the Passion of the Sorrowful Mysteries, and in her participation in her Son’s Glory. But the Luminous Mysteries are not so often as clearly Marian.

Within the Luminous Mysteries, Mary is most evident in the Wedding at Cana. She asks Jesus directly for what she almost certainly knows will be a miracle, and then this becomes the occasion of Jesus going forth from her side. From Scripture, Mary doesn’t appear to physically be at the Transfiguration (witnessed by Peter, James, and John) or at the Institution of the Eucharist (a command to the Twelve). Though less clear, there’s no indication that she’s present either for Our Lord’s Baptism or at the Sermon on the Mount.

Of course, the Rosary is an exercise in Christological reflection, so Mary doesn’t necessarily  have to be front-and-center in every mystery, whether physically or mystically. But John Paul uses the message that “among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary” to introduce us to these mysteries. I don’t think that message was meant to refer to Mary’s participation only in the Miracle at Cana.

So where is she in those other four mysteries? I don’t have all the answers to that question. The Eucharist is indeed to her “flesh of my flesh.” The Transfiguration shows us what she already knows about Jesus. But beyond those fragments, I don’t really know. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. So I’m going to put the thinking on you for a bit: Where do you see Mary in the Luminous Mysteries?

Art Credit: The piece at the top is by “Genzoman” and is one of my favorite pieces of digital sacred art. You can find it and more by the artist here.