Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021813.cfm

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. 
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him. 
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.”

In today’s first reading, we have a reiteration of perhaps the most famous and influential moral code in all of human history: The Ten Commandments. And then in the Gospel, we hear the nearly as famous passage from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus puts forward a vision of the Last Judgment in which his followers are judged on how they treated the least of their neighbors. 

Both of these selections make clear that it is insufficient simply to profess faith in a set of beliefs, or to claim membership in a religious body. Rather, authentic faith compels one to live one’s life in a particular manner. True discipleship cannot merely be intellectual assent to a set of abstract propositions, but necessarily permeates one’s day-to-day actions and transforms our entire way-of-being to one radically focused on the service of others. 

And these prescriptions pack as much punch several thousand years later as they would have to their original audiences in a completely foreign culture at a totally different epoch in human development. Whether an unskilled day laborer picking wheat in ancient Mesopotamia, or a modern stock broker on Wall Street, we are called to consider how our faith insists that we take note of those who lack food, clothes, or a home and demands that we eliminate dishonesty, slander, and profanity from our vocabulary. 

But more than these actions, both the text from Leviticus and the words of Jesus call us to a still more difficult standard of extirpating anger, enmity, and jealousy from our hearts. It is, in a sense, fairly easy not to go around murdering anyone. It is even relatively easy to help feed the hungry, be it by volunteering at a soup kitchen or sharing of our hard-earned paycheck with a church or non-profit that provides social services. It is far harder to let go of the grudges and bitterness that remain buried deep in our chest. Jesus was firmly within the tradition of his Jewish forebears when he exhorted, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we not so much as look at our brother with anger, much less strike him. 

What both the authors of the Torah and Jesus himself understood keenly was that nothing was so inimical to human relationship, nothing so intractable an impediment to deeper intimacy with God and one another, as the harboring of a grudge in one’s heart. Grudges are a toxic poison that infects not only the one holding onto the hurt, but all who knowingly or unknowingly encounter this pain, which all too often is transferred outwards unconsciously, spreading to other relationships. 

As we take inventory of our own calls to discipleship, let us be mindful not only of the actions that reflect an authentic faith—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked—but also of the internal states to which we are called. And where we see ourselves struggling, let us not forget that we are invited to call upon the Holy Spirit to receive the grace necessary to let go of such hurts, that we might begin to heal. 

Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm

Have you ever been in the midst of a particularly demanding activity—like running windsprints at practice, rehearsing for a recital, or studying for an exam—and been tempted to quit?

Have you ever signed on for some commitment but struggled to follow through? Maybe you decided to do summer swimming but cringed when the alarm went off and declared, “I’m sooooo tired. I think today I’m just going to sleep in.” Or you signed up to sing in a choir, perform in a play, or participate in some other sort of activity that seemed worthwhile at first but, after weeks of rehearsals, has started to wear you out. 

Maybe you committed to give a long-distance relationship a try. Or to help plan a friend’s wedding. Or to be supportive of someone going through cancer treatment, a rough break-up, or some other major life crisis. 

In each of these circumstances, we may very well find ourselves fatigued from the duress of our commitment. It’s always easier to sign up for something in our minds, than it is to summon the energy to follow through, on a daily basis. Particularly when we are tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. Ready to be done. Ready to focus on our OWN stuff for a while. 

And yet, if we ARE able to summon that resolve to push through, what is it that gives us the energy to do so? Most likely, it is the deep and unshakable belief that the end result—winning a state championship in soccer; successfully performing the school play; seeing our friend walk down the aisle in her wedding gown—will have been worth all of the sacrifice that went into that success. 

Surely, this is what Jesus must have clung to as he was tempted during his 40 days in the desert. The unifying theme of each temptation is to take the easy way out. To give up. To decide, “What this task requires of me is too demanding. Too difficult.” And what’s notable is that the temptation is not some great evil thing—turning stones into bread when you’re hungry, after all, seems to make a lot of sense! 

In much the same way that the temptation to turn off the alarm and sleep in, rather than go to practice, would seem to make a lot of sense! You’re tired! You’re sleep deprived! Your body craves sleep! 

Of course, any great accomplishment, whether it is studying for the LSATs and getting into Law School; successfully training for your first marathon; or building a life together with someone you love in marriage—requires sacrifice. Requires us to drag our exhausted bodies out of bed on mornings we would rather sleep in. Demands that we focus on the end goal and convert that desire to see it accomplished into the energy necessary to sustain us throughout the most grueling moments of the preparation. 

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus undoubtedly was tempted to give up or take the easy way out. When the religious leaders of his day were plotting to kill him; when the crowds of people were seizing upon him; when his disciples were driving him crazy, failing to understand the meaning of his words and arguing over who would sit where at the dinner table that night… Jesus must have been tempted to just take a break. 

And even less extreme than the temptation to give up must have been the temptation to take the easy way out—to use his considerable gifts (he was God, after all) and to carry out his mission by way of “awe factor.” Jesus’ sermons were impressive, but how much easier would it have been to convince people of who he was if he had just gone around performing miracles all the time. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is noteworthy not because Jesus did it, but because Jesus did not go around doing it all the time. Think of how popular he would’ve been if, every town he went to, he turned stones into bread, jumped off the highest buildings, and dazzled the crowds with his tricks.

But to do so would have been to doom his long-term mission, which was to bring his listeners the Good News, a mission that he himself could not complete, but which would require generations of disciples after him. And if the reason people had listened to him was that he could perform magic tricks, rather than the fact that he spoke the truth, there is little reason to think that this thing we 2,000+ years later call Christianity would have survived his departure. For the rest of the disciples, mere humans that they were, would not have been able to replicate his miraculous loaf-multiplication and blindness-curing, and thus the movement would have been very short lived. 

Instead, Jesus was called to do the hard work of getting up every day, despite exhaustion from his ministry, opposition from leading figures of his day, and the many other challenges he faced. It was his temptation in the desert that prepared him for this grueling public ministry… the pre-season conditioning, if you will. 

Sometimes, in our own lives, we may find ourselves in the desert, facing extreme challenges and wondering why God would be allowing such things to happen to us. We may be tempted in those moments to give up, give in, or take the easy way out. But it is precisely in the desert that we are called to summon our strength and reaffirm our trust that this time of testing is precisely what we need to get us ready for what comes next, for what God has in store, for what we were created to do. In those moments, let us recall Jesus in the desert—starving, alone, and exhausted—and ask for his help in getting through this temporary pain, that we might experience permanent success. 

Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021613.cfm

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.


Too often, faith is thought of as assent to a series of intellectual propositions. We reduce faith to belief in creedal statements like, “I believe that there is one God, and I believe that God sent His only Son, Jesus, to come into the world for our salvation.”

And certainly such beliefs undergird all that comes after, but “faith,” authentically understood is not simply a set of theories or propositions. It is, rather, a whole WAY of living. Early followers of Jesus did not refer to themselves as “Christians,” (a derisive term at the time of its original use) but as “followers of The Way.” Jesus spoke of being “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus teaching his disciples “the way” to pray, “the way” to fast, and “the way” to respond when you see a leper lying at your door or a hungry person begging for food. 

In fact, all of the Parables we famously recite—from the Prodigal Son to the Pearl of Great Price—teach us not so much an intellectual truth as a fundamental WAY of living our lives. Everything about Jesus—be it a sprawling sermon or a conversation with a woman at a well—points us to a radical, challenging, and all-consuming way of living our lives. And the first disciples understood this. They did not merely profess belief in Jesus—they reoriented their entire existence around the model Jesus has set. Selling what they owned, sharing property in common, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, and proclaiming the Good News to all the ends of the earth. 

But the notion of faith as an all-permeating way of living is not a novel innovation unique to Jesus—it was, rather, the understanding of the Jews, as well. (Jesus was, after all, a Jew!) The Jews understood that Torah was not simply to be obeyed, much less memorized, but to be lived. It was a WAY of living in right relationship with neighbor, with friend, with family, and with God. Living according to the word of God was to follow a way of life that led to ultimate happiness and flourishing. So we hear the Psalmist imploring the Lord, “Teach me your way!” Help me better understand this way I am meant to follow! Show me the way to live that I might experience this incredible joy! 

The next time you find yourself struggling with a particular teaching or belief of the Church (or whichever community of faith to which you belong), just remember: faith is not simply a set of beliefs to which we are called to lend assent, but a wholesale way of living modeled after the example of Jesus and continued by his disciples. If the Jesus of the Gospels is to be believed, what matters most is not, ultimately, which tenets you cling most tenaciously to… but how you live your life. 

Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021513.cfm

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw…

Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Very little unpacking is required of today’s first reading… it’s a kick to the gut that packs every bit as much vigor today as it did almost 3000 years ago. 

We become so caught up in the external trappings of fasting and observing ritual for the sake of ritual, that we completely overlook the underlying meaning of the act. I think of the old adage that living the Gospel begins in the Church parking lot… how often have you seen people piously professing their devotion to a life of discipleship in the pew, only to be found in the gridlock exiting the church parking lot, impatiently gesticulating at the car who is holding up traffic. 

Today’s passage takes direct aim at such glaring cognitive dissonance between our professed beliefs and our lived faith. 

Fasting is great, both as a personal practice and a social statement. But its transformative power is truly tapped only when we inevitably allow the grace of God to move us from a momentary consideration of our ephemeral experience of hunger to a deeper reflection on the persistent pangs of malnourishment that afflict so many of our sisters and brothers around the world on a daily basis. 

Challenge: May our weekly Lenten observances be inextricably linked with the issues of structural justice raised by the Prophet Isaiah in today’s readings. May we abstain from meat products and ask ourselves questions about whether or not our sisters and brothers have access to adequate protein; to what extent our consumption impacts climate change; and the relationship between our individual dietary patterns and our respect for our physical bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. 

Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021413.cfm

“Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

We modern Americans hear the word, “Commandment,” and tend to think of a, “Thou shalt not…” style prohibition on some immoral activity like lying or killing. In fact, Moses here is referring to the entirety of the Law, which was given as a gift to the people Israel from God for their benefit. We see in this passage how Moses is delineating the way in which submission to the Law is meant to lead to our own greatest flourishing. 

All too often, we think of “the Law,” be it civil law limiting us to 55 mph on the highway or religious law telling us not to have sex outside of marriage, as being oppressive or constraining. But “the Law of the Lord is perfect!” the Psalmist exclaims, “refreshing the soul!” and compares taking in the Law to tasting “honey from the comb.” The Law, when properly understood, is not a burdensome set of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” meant to prevent us from making free choices, but more akin to a recipe or driving directions.

When we plug into Google Maps where we’d like to end up, and it tells us to, “Make a left onto the I-95 ramp,” the instructions are not Google’s attempt to prevent us from having freedom to drive wherever we want, but an effort to help us get where we are going in the fastest, most efficient manner. Similarly, if our desired outcome is to bake chocolate chip cookies, the recipe on the back of a bag of Nestle Tollhouse chips isn’t meant to cramp our culinary style, but to impart upon us the tried-and-true best way to produce delicious cookies. 

All too often, we think of religion’s teachings as being “a set of commandments,” rather than a recipe or driving directions. But really, that’s what they are meant to be. And they’re given to us for our own benefit, which is what Moses is trying to impress upon the people. We’re welcome to ignore the recipe and decide how much butter to throw into the batter, but the cookies probably won’t come out as well as we’d like. Likewise, we can take whatever route we’d like to get from New York to Washington, but there’s a good chance that the directions Google is giving us will get us there most efficiently. Instead of producing cookies or getting us to DC, God’s directions are meant to help us arrive at a more fully human life. 

Today’s challenge: think of a particular “commandment,” or Church teaching you struggle with, and try to be open to what the reasoning behind it might be, in the hopes of better understanding how we are called to a more fully human life. 

Daily Readings - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021313.cfm

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

In my experience, most preachers at Ash Wednesday service focus on the word, “return,” from the first reading. It is, after all, the broad theme of the day and of the season of Lent: conversion, repentance, and return to the Lord. But in our eagerness to emphasize the need for penance, we may race too quickly past another word in that passage: “whole.”

For many of us, conversion is piecemeal. Return to the Lord happens on our terms, at our pace. Not all-at-once, and not in too uncomfortable or inconvenient a manner. We “give up” something that represents a legitimate sacrifice (chocolate, beer, facebook), but that does not require us to fundamentally alter our entire way of life. But authentic conversion—a true return to the Lord is precisely that: life altering. It is, by its nature, all-consuming and irresistibly transformative. It is a frankly difficult and demanding experience. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus calling on people to leave behind whatever it is that will prevent them from following him WHOLE-heartedly. For some people, it’s family. For others, it is their job. For the rich man who diligently obeyed all the commandments, it was his wealth. None of those things, as such, are bad or evil. Quite the opposite—they are all very good things. But for those particular individuals, each thing represented the ONE THING s/he was unwilling to give up in order to follow God wholeheartedly. And it was therefore the one thing s/he needed to leave behind. 

Too often, when we are asked to do something, we attach our own conditions. “I’ll go to the concert with you if you’ll buy me dinner first.” “I’ll marry you if you promise that we’ll stay in this city.” “I’ll go to church with you, if we can get brunch after.” IF, IF, IF. We want things on OUR terms. And we want to be able to repent, to convert, to give ourselves over to God the same way. On our terms. Without demanding TOO MUCH sacrifice or discomfort. 

But the unambiguous response from God is: not on your terms, but mine. “Return to me with your WHOLE heart.” Don’t just share your fears about money with me, share ALL your fears and anxieties. Don’t just offer me some of your talents, offer me all that I made you to be. I do not want some of your suffering, I want all of it. I did not come that you might be mostly healed, but that you might be fully healed. Made whole. And the only way to allow the grace of God to make us whole is first to return, with our whole selves, for that to happen. 


This Lent, I’m going to try and offer a brief daily reflection on the day’s Readings from Scripture. Hopefully I’ll actually follow through and post something every single day! 

#Lent 

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post one of these, but here we go…

America Magazine asks, “Should we forgive Lance Armstrong?" [America]

DCist continues its coverage of what local hotels are doing to welcome guests for this coming weekend’s Inauguration and asks, “What the f*ck is a social media butler?" [DCist]

Over the past 10 years, Duke’s Men’s Basketball team has lost 31 road games… and opposing fans have rushed the court for 25 of those 31 losses. The Wall Street Journal affirms: everyone rushes the court after beating Duke. [WSJ]

The CEO of a bond trading company suggests that game theory explains Washington’s seemingly intractable gridlock. [The Atlantic]

The NFL gets the Bad Lip Reading treatment

Astronomers have found a clustering of quasars that is 4 billion light years across, making it the largest observable object in the known universe. [The Week]

Buzzfeed lists some great “selfies,” (photos of oneself posted on the internet). 

Anonymous hacked the Westboro Baptist Church’s Twitter account following the Newtown Tragedy. They later convinced the WBC to cancel its plans to protest the funeral services. [The Atlantic]

The US House of Representatives passed a new $50.7 billion Sandy Relief Bill, with support from 49 Republicans. The measure represents the second time that House Speaker Boehner has violated the so-called “Hastert Rule” this year, advancing legislation that the majority of his party did not support. [Time, WSJ]

A new study suggests that 86% of Division I collegiate athletes live below the poverty line, and that the average out-of-pocket expense for a full scholarship athlete is still over $3,000 a year. [Sporting News]

150 experts from a range of fields were asked: “What should we worry about in 2013?" and here are their answers. [Edge]

Facebook unveiled a massive new search tool today, and Gawker helpfully points out that you can use it to find everyone else on the planet who shares your passion for trail running. [CNET, Gawker]

A widow of one of the victims of the Aurora, CO shootings is suing the gunman’s psychiatrist for not having him locked up. [The Atlantic]

Rod Dreher explores the phenomenon of black-on-black crime in Louisiana. [The American Conservative]

The White House announced that they are raising the threshold for “We the People” petition responses from 25,000 to 100,000 due to the enormous rise in the number of petitions being submitted. [The White House]

The rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House has been selected to deliver the Benediction at Monday’s Inauguration. [USA Today]

Governor Cuomo has signed into law New York’s new gun control measures, making the Empire State the first to do in the wake of the Newtown shootings. [Reuters]

Speaking of gun control, Salon’s chief political reporter eviscerates the Obama-Hitler comparisons that have been surfacing in recent weeks as gun-rights advocates grow anxious over possible new regulations. [Salon]

Meanwhile, the NRA has released a new TV commercial deriding the President as “an elitist hypocrite,” and a House Republican is threatening to initiate impeachment proceedings against him if he pursues an Executive Action on gun control. [TPM, WaPo]

Enough for now. Hope you found something to read! 

Over the past few weeks, numerous friends have asked me for whom I will be voting in the Presidential Election coming up in a few days. Although I am flattered to be approached, I believe the inquiries are more reflective of the deep ambivalence many voters feel towards the two major candidates than of any unique insight I am esteemed to possess. Of course, there are deeply convicted supporters on both flanks—activists enthusiastically staffing phone banks, distributing pamphlets, and registering voters. Partisan surrogates making preposterous proclamations at campaign rallies to the effect that President Obama is attempting to move the United States towards a communist state, or that Governor Romney would like to set back women’s rights fifty years. Both are patently absurd, and to take the time to repudiate such insultingly inane assertions would be to honor them with a dignity they do not deserve. 

But it is my observation that the majority of people are not nearly so vigorous or unqualified in their allegiance to one candidate or the other as social media streams or cable news might indicate. There is a turgid middle of voters who, although not technically “undecided” (they are pretty certain for whom they intend to vote) are nonetheless still less than thoroughly comfortable with their preferred candidate. So in light of this reality, I figured I would elucidate my own analysis, in the hopes it might help some other people think through the issues facing us as a country. 


On Tuesday, November 6, I am voting for President Barack Obama.

Why?
"It’s the economy, stupid."
The President is neither an all-powerful wizard who can unilaterally “fix” the economy, nor an impotent figurehead whose Budget Proposals to Congress offer little more than content for campaign rhetoric. Make no mistake: the person who sits in the Oval Office has immense ability to shape the future of the national economy… but the Constitution of the United States makes very clear that spending is properly the domain of the Legislative Branch, not the Executive. 

President George W. Bush ballooned the national deficit (whether prudently or not) by committing us to two indefinite overseas military occupations—Iraq and Afghanistan—which have cost the country trillions of dollars, by authoring the Bush Tax Cuts, which have cost another trillion plus, and by pushing a series of stimulus packages over the course of his Presidency, including the first auto bailout


This reality is not introduced by way of indicting President Bush, but merely as evidence that the Executive Branch very much affects the US economy, so it is appropriate to have “the economy” listed as chief among one’s considerations when electing the President. 


The previously stated corollary to this is that the President does not possess unlimited power, and the majority of federal spending pertains to untouchable entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, which, along with Defense, accounted for over 60% of Federal Spending in 2011, and which everyone can agree will continue to spiral out of control, until nearly the entire Federal Budget is accounted for by such mandatory payouts. There is no room for argument here: we need entitlement reform. But neither has an easy or obvious solution presented itself, and as long as elections are decided by voters whose benefits are at stake, there will never be a candidate who articulates a serious and sincere plan for cost control. Quite simply: they’d lose. 


That said, I believe that making permanent the Bush Tax Cuts for the top earners, eliminating the capital gains tax, and continuing to provide incentives for corporations to stockpile cash overseas rather than hire workers here, all while continuing to dismantle the banking regulations enacted in the wake of the Great Depression, which led directly to the Great Recession of our current era… is an unacceptable proposal for improving our economy. 


It has been independently assessed that the Obama Stimulus Package worked, and although there is legitimate disagreement as to how best to interpret the raw data (“lies, damned lies, and statistics”) there can be no refuting this chart which illustrates the number of private sector jobs added to to the US economy during President Obama’s tenure. Even The Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the private sector, which lost 646,000 jobs during President Bush’s two terms, has increased under his Democratic successor. 


As stated in the headline, “The U.S. Economic Policy Debate is a Sham" (Bloomberg). In fact, there actually exists "a secret consensus among economists" about the effects of President Obama’s efforts. And to the extent that the White House can “create jobs,” at all, as has been pointed out, Democratic Presidents claim a 2-1 advantage over their Republican counterparts in that department. (One of the most egregious examples of cognitive dissonance on display in America right now is the simultaneous insistence by conservatives that the government does not create jobs, the private sector does; and the indictment that President Obama has not created enough jobs during his term at the head of this same government. That’s like arguing that public schools haven’t done enough to instill values in our children while concurrently maintaining that it’s not public schools’ job to instill values—it’s parents’.) 
 

So there’s the fact that President Obama’s economic policies have been effective at counteracting the Recession… and then there’s the equally important truth that the Romney-Ryan Campaign has offered no viable alternative. Their incessant mantra has been that Obama has failed, but they have put forward no meaningful proposal for what could have been done differently. (Which is why authentically conservative outlets such as The Economist and The Financial Times, which are not mere media wings of the partisan right-wing establishment, have refused to back Romney.) 

The Romney-Ryan Tax Plan, inasmuch as it exists at all (spoiler: it doesn’t), cannot possibly add up, mathematically. I recognize that those are self-refuting statements, since one cannot assert both that (1) that a plan does not exist; and (2) that the non-existent plan fails basic math… but what approximations of specifics the GOP Candidates have articulated mean that the plan is "mathematically impossible." This is not partisan sniping from the Obama Campaign—this is analysis from the left-wing commies at Bloomberg, and others. 


Perhaps most damning to Romney’s candidacy—which is premised entirely upon his purported business experience—is the fact that Ronald Reagan’s Budget Director, David Stockman, absolutely eviscerated this carefully constructed myth with a devastating must-read piece concluding that “Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped a business.”  (Seriously, read the entire piece.) 
 

Healthcare

I do not think that the Affordable Care Act is a perfect law by any stretch. But I do think that a piece of legislation that extends access to basic medical services to millions more Americans, all while reducing the deficit, is a huge step in the right direction. And so do most Americans, when they’re asked about the specific provisions of the Bill. This belief is upheld by my faith, as the Catholic Church has insisted on healthcare as a universal human right, with the Vatican going so far as to issue a statement calling on governments around the world to move towards universal healthcare, and Pope Benedict referring to it as an “inalienable right.” 


I have had friends argue that such is a distortion of Catholic teaching, and that access to basic medical services does not mean that the federal government should be the entity providing such care. I agree that this distinction both exists and matters. And, at least in the United States, there has been no serious proposal to institute a system in which the government itself becomes the provider; rather, it reimburses providers and ensures coverage for all citizens. 
 

The fact of the matter is that we are never returning to a system of healthcare in which the local family doctor drove out to the house and performed a checkup in exchange for a basket of eggs or a new pair of shoes. We are in a system of managed care, and until I hear a better alternative than the ACA, I applaud the effort to get more individuals covered by such networks, imperfect though they be. (And I’m pretty sure everyone can recount horror stories with HMOs.)

Until I am presented with a serious proposal for what to do when a patient arrives at the ER with no insurance, but who requires tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars of life-saving care, I see the ACA as our best step forward. Either we would have to refuse to treat, for instance, a gunshot victim or a young girl, born in the United States but whose parents came here illegally, and who has pneumonia, or we have to find another way to pay for such un-reimbursed care. 


If anything, the Democrats are to be condemned for their abysmal handling of this issue, politically. In the era of global terrorism, international travel, and drug-resistant bugs, it is a matter of public safety that every American have access to basic medical treatment. Nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak has been traced back to minimum wage (or less) workers handling vegetables and other types of food. The people who make your sandwich at Subway, who clean your hotel bathroom, who ride public transit right next to you… you WANT them having access to basic medical services, because they cannot afford to take a day off from work when they get a cough.  (All of which is to say nothing of what happens when someone comes back from South America carrying a virulent case of drug-resistant TB and then proceeds to ride the Metro.)  Quite simply, healthcare is not only a human right… it is a matter of national security and public safety. 

Climate Change and Alternative Energy

While the extent to which humans have contributed to global climate change can and should be debated, there can be no disputing that we need to explore alternatives to fossil fuels for a variety of reasons ranging from how our petroleum dollars fund terrorism to the simple fact that we’re running out. At the moment, I do not see either party championing a particularly robust pursuit of alternative energy (primarily because they rely too heavily on corporate campaign donations to get elected), but President Obama’s policies are at least superior to those of his counterpart. 


War and Foreign Policy

After giving substantial consideration to the economy, I realize that I am moving quickly past other major policy points, this included, but one of the reasons I am not spending more time on them is that I do not believe the candidates differ significantly. I support President Obama’s plan for troop drawdown in Afghanistan (the entire situation there is, to my assessment, an unwinnable quagmire), and I wish that he would make care for veterans and their families a more prominent piece of his agenda, particularly in light of terrifying data about the number of veterans committing suicide and struggling to find employment. This is as clear a moral issue as can be: we need to do a better job caring for the women and men who serve to protect our freedoms, as well as their families. 

Beyond that, I am generally satisfied with President Obama’s foreign policy leadership, particularly his balancing of action and restraint with respect to situations arising from the US response vis-a-vis the Arab Spring, Iran, Israel/Palestine, and China. I am, to be honest, more than a little terrified of Romney’s foreign policy advisors, particularly Dan Senor, and I worry what a Romney Presidency would do to US-Israel relations, as Netanyahu gets more and more aggressive with Israeli posturing. Don’t get me wrong: support for Israel, our strongest ally in the region, and a beacon of democracy amid oppressive regimes, is both necessary and just. But support does not equate to unqualified, uncritical endorsement of all their actions and a blank-check commitment to go to war with whomever Netanyahu wishes
 

Drone strikes are a whole other thing, and a topic which we, as Americans, need to begin examining more rigorously. 


Social Issues

Let’s be very clear: Mitt Romney is not pro-life. We have no idea what he is. His position adapts to the situation. During the primaries, he needed to convince the right (who wanted Santorum and only begrudgingly accepted Romney once his nomination was inevitable) that he would champion their cause. Now that the general election is upon us, he has tacked back towards the center. Social conservatives are scrambling to justify their support, and pro-life activists are standing by him


So let’s presume for the moment that Romney is elected—what would President Romney do? He’s explicitly stated that he will enact no new legislation, so the hopes of the pro-life movement are concentrated in his appointment of Supreme Court Justices. Except that Romney campaign surrogates are assuring people that Romney would not appoint justices that would endanger Roe. But even if President Romney did nominate such an individual, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which the United States Senate would confirm him/her. It simply would not happen. Democrats in the Senate would not allow the swing vote to overturn Roe (presumably replacing Ginsburg) to be confirmed.

But even if they did, let us for the sake of argument, play the tape forward. What then? 

Assuming further that a case made its way to the Supreme Court, and that Roe were overturned (so far, a dizzying number of extremely unlikely hypotheticals), where would that leave us? The answer: back at the States. 


Each State Legislature would enter round-the-clock sessions drafting competing Amendments to the respective State Constitutions. The options would be as follows: (a) Abortion is always legal, under all circumstances; (b) Abortion is never legal, under any circumstances; and (c) Abortion is illegal, except in instances of rape/incest/or for the life of the mother. [We will put aside the question of, in the hypothetical of it being made illegal, what the criminal charges would be, and whom would be prosecuted, because, really, we don’t even need to go there for the sake of this analysis.]


Most Americans skew pro-life, unless they are faced with an all-or-nothing option as outlined above. But when faced with only the three above options—always legal, or always illegal—the public overwhelmingly shifts to keeping it legal. To put it simply: the pro-life movement would lose this fight. State by state, amendments would be added to the constitution to protect the legal right to abortion, and with those amendments, all sorts of parental consent, mandatory waiting period, counseling sessions, and other pro-life victories would be instantaneously abrogated. And then, there would be no further legal recourse. So then what?

President Obama is not pro-life. Not at all. (At least not in the contemporary parlance, i.e. “anti-abortion.”) But we don’t know where Romney’s stance will be if elected, and even assuming the most ardently anti-abortion positions imaginable, the actual impact on the lives of unborn children is almost certain to be non-existent. This is not to suggest that abortion does not matter as a political issue; it does. But not the way the two parties currently use it, i.e. as an instrument to manipulate and exploit the passions of otherwise languid or apathetic portions of the electorate. 


In light of the many pointed statements being put out by members of the US hierarchy, it’s worth offering additional clarification. The terms “objective evil,” “intrinsic evil,” and “grave evil” get tossed around as though they are conversation stoppers. They are not.


For starters, there is a distinction to be made between moral acts and legislative responses. Many acts are “objectively” or “intrinsically” evil, i.e. they are, no matter the circumstances, always wrong. Lying is one such intrinsic evil. Murder is another. So, according to official Church teaching, masturbation. Not only that, but masturbation is a "grave" moral evil. A more comprehensive list of intrinsically evil acts can be found here. 


But the fact that something is an intrinsic evil does not mean that it must be outlawed. Thomas Aquinas rightly argued that not all evil acts could or should be outlawed—indeed, to do so would be to create a scandal of the law by burdening it with unenforceable statues that would lessen the public’s overall respect for the law as such. It was for this reason that the US Bishops dropped their opposition to legalized contraception in the 1960s. 

If Catholics can never in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports intrinsically evil acts, then Catholic voters will need to find a candidate who believes lying, masturbating, committing adultery, and using artificial contraception should all be outlawed. The bottom line is that direct, voluntary abortion is, by Church teaching, objectively evil, but such a designation does not tell us what our response ought to be from a public policy standpoint, much less which candidate for whom we are compelled to vote. All political decisions, not simply economic ones, require the virtue of prudence. Every act of legislation is a prudential act—not simply a moral one—according to Catholic moral theology. And, as I have delineated above, I, a pro-life Catholic who wishes very sincerely to see the number of abortions in the United States of America decreased as effectively as possible, do not believe that, in the year 2012, simply voting for a GOP candidate will have that effect. Those who do not share my belief are welcome to do so, but I have yet to hear a convincing, realistic projection of how that would happen, in light of the considerations listed herein. 


Finally, the HHS Mandate. Simply put: both sides have provided plenty to critique. The Obama Administration has deeply disappointed me with its entire approach to persons of faith, but Catholics in particular. The Campaign employed Catholic surrogates like Doug Kmiec to win the White House, then callously used Blue Dog Reps. like Bart Stupak and Kathy Dahlkemper as well as influential allies like Sr. Carol Keehan to get the Affordable Care Act passed. It is no exaggeration to say that without Sr. Carol and Rep. Stupak, there would be no “Obamacare.” 


So it is immensely frustrating and hurtful to see the way the Administration has so cynically discarded these crucial collaborators during the entirety of the HHS brouhaha, which, by all accounts, was forged by Secretary Sebelius and White House Czar-of-Everything Valerie Jarrett. Rather than admit a mistake and invite Cardinal Dolan, Sister Carol, and Vice President Biden to the Oval Office, the Administration doubled down. Undoubtedly, they looked at polling and assured themselves that this would be an issue they could easily spin as the Catholic Church (read: male hierarchy) being hopelessly out-of-touch with American women who overwhelmingly favor contraception. When the key advocates of the Affordable Care Act withdraw support for the Bill they helped craft, and the one Representative most singly responsible for its passage decries the Mandate as “illegal,” you know there is something wrong.  


The Bishops, for their part, responded equally poorly by issuing statements comparing Obama to Hitler, using the language of battle and war, and seemingly reducing the entire election to the issue of religious liberty


Ultimately, the HHS Mandate does strike me as unconstitutional, and it is my sincere hope that it will be struck down by the courts, even as I hope with equal fervor that other provisions of the ACA that extended coverage to millions more Americans will be upheld. 


Final Thoughts

In 2008, I was wildly enthusiastic about the election of President Obama. Although I have been disappointed and frustrated by several decisions by the Administration, the handling of the HHS Mandate being primary among them, I am overall very satisfied with his performance across the spectrum of issues. Furthermore, my greatest concern with Mitt Romney is that he seems to want to achieve nothing so much as to BE President. This was my primary critique of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries. I don’t think a President Romney would choose what % milk to pour on his cereal in the morning without first consulting the polls and evaluating the anticipated effects on his re-election bid in 2016. And that scares me more than anything. 


Jon Huntsman 2016. 

It’s been a ridiculously busy stretch at work, so I haven’t been able to post links in a while, but this week’s been overflowing with #mustread articles, so here are a few of the best… As always, follow me on Twitter if you’d like to read ‘em in real time. 

Obviously the big news is last night’s Vice Presidential Debate, which the invaluable Annenberg Center at UPenn has dissected for its FactCheck.Org project. [Factcheck]

Just prior to the debate, over 100 theologians from Georgetown, Notre Dame, Boston College, Harvard Div, and just about every other university with a theology department in the country unveiled a new website designed to push the conversation about Catholic teaching beyond abortion and religious liberty into the realm of Catholic Social Teaching. 

The Atlantic has a nice analysis of the language used during the debate, providing some insight into “malarkey,” “my friend,” and other linguistic strategies. [The Atlantic]

Regardless of which VP candidate you believe performed better, there’s no question in most people’s minds who “won” the debate: Moderator Martha Raddatz, who has been almost unanimously extolled by outside observers as having set the bar for this sort of affair. [NYTimes]

Ubiquitous humorist and social commentator, Official Chaplain to the Colbert Nation, Fr. James Martin, SJ, weighs in on last night’s Vice Presidential debate, exhorting readers, “Don’t vote for the better Catholic.” [America Magazine]

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney committed what his campaign staff is calling a gaffe, but what other observers are describing as a calculated strategy to win certain key demographics, when he gave an interview indicating that pro-life legislation would not be on his agenda as President. Pro-Life groups immediately took to his defense, insisting that they were confident he would keep the promises he had made to them previously, despite the dissonance with his more recent campaign statements. [Politico, Bloomberg, Newsweek]

Also, here are the 8 issues that have been conspicuously ABSENT from the campaign trail these past few weeks. [The Atlantic]

With all of the post-debate commentary, it might be easy to overlook the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to… the European Union. Reactions have been ranged from confused to outraged, with many claiming this further undercut’s the Prize’s credibility following its recent awarding to President Barack Obama, who pretty obviously won for "not being George W. Bush." Foreign Policy tries to sort out why the EU might’ve received this recognition. [Foreign Policy]

Also easy to miss would be the major gathering of Bishops from around the world taking place in Rome this week, at the Vatican’s Synod for the New Evangelization. National Catholic Reporter's peerless observer John Allen has been blogging about it, but the highlight might be this latest post, in which a Filipino Archbishop warns his brother bishops against “arrogance, hypocrisy, and bigotry.” [NCR]

Also at the Synod, the head of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference delivered an impassioned plea to his colleagues to consider how Church leadership might do a better job raising up women. [CNS]

In other news, Wyclef Jean’s charity for Haiti turns out to have been pretty sketchy. [The Atlantic]

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today acknowledged that the Pentagon has been developing the capacity to launch a pre-emptive or retaliatory cyber attack if necessary. DOD is currently “assembling” rules of engagement for this new realm of warfare. [The Hill]

The Washington Post reviews a haunting, powerful new book about the realities of war, claiming The People of Forever Are Not Afraid is “a fierce and beautiful portrait of the damage done by war.” [WaPo]