Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Graham, Catania, and the Bit of Pork

The first readings each day for Mass for week come from the Books of Maccabees. Today's readings (2 Mc 6:18-31; Ps 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Lk 19:1-10) document the passion of Eleazar, an old and respected leader of Israel, a scribe. Judea had been under a Greek dynasty for a hundred and fifty or so years, since Alexander the Great conquered it, together with the rest of the Eastern world. For the most part, the Greeks had not been too demanding: pay your taxes and don't cause a fuss. But King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had a different agenda. Let's put it this way. Epiphanes means manifest in Greek, and what he meant by calling himself (that's right, he picked his own surname against common convention) was that he manifested God. Uh-huh.  No joke.  He commanded that his whole empire - roughly what we would now call Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and western Iran - should be hellenized, made Greek, made to follow Greek customs.  This measure would secure their obedience to him.  Now, since they were the bigshots in town, the Greeks were exactly the sort of people that most folks kinda tried to imitate anyway.  No problem.

Except for the Jews.

They had this thing, called the Torah (they still do) which means something like Law or Instruction.  Its purpose was both to govern the people and to teach them goodness, to teach them God's will, God's mind, God's heart.  Less than four hundred years earlier, they had been in bondage in Babylon for disregarding it.  By the time of Antiochus, about one hundred and sixty or seventy years before Christ, the Jews had pretty well learned the lesson: stick to God, and things will go OK; abandon His way at your own risk.  But Antiochus the self-styled "manifestation of God" was not one to brook dissension.  He became furious at Jewish dissent and eager sought out Jews who would help him 'enlighten' (yes, that's the term he would have used, or maybe 'get up with the times') their countrymen.  That's where today's reading picks up.

Eleazar, the man of God, is commanded to break the Law of God by eating pork. He refuses on the grounds that to do so is immoral.   His oppressors, agents of King Antiochus, have known him for years.  They've been friends.  They ask him privately to pretend to eat the pork so that he can save his life.  He refuses on the grounds that to do so would set a bad example for the youth.  The king's men become furious and force feed him.  He spits out the pork and insists:

Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws, (2 Mc 6:26-28).
Eleazar will not abandon God in order to please men, nor even to save his own life.  This attitude baffled the rulers of Eleazar's day, his "friends," and they flew into a rage and beat him to death at the age of ninety, entirely forgetting his service, their friendship, even his gray hairs.  They not only put him to death, but many others as well.  Why should he be so obstinate over such a small thing, a little piece of meat that everybody else is eating?

We must pray for our Church and its leaders.  The local church of Washington, D.C., right now needs the prayers of our brethren immensely.  Local officials in the city government have decided to get on the gay marriage bandwagon.  It is probably going to decide to attach to any funding or contracts it awards the stipulation that the recipient must not "discriminate" against gays, including failing to recognize their "marriages."  Those who do so will be ineligible to receive either assistance from, or contracts to work for, the city.

Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., has long been the most effective provider of social services in the city, and the largest private one to boot.  It provides services to over 10% of the city's residents.  Many of those services are contracted to it by the City, a tacit recognition of the fact that the Church is able to do what the City cannot: mobilize volunteers and trained, certified workers to provide services efficiently and in a caring way for the city's neediest residents.

The problem is that the Church won't eat the pork.

Everyone else is doing it.  Nobody is making the Church change its teachings, after all.  It's free "to go right on hating gay people" (opines a local columnist).  It just has to pay spousal benefits to their sodomite cohabitants, that's all.  Oh, and, it goes without saying - not use those words, either.  Oh, and it can't refuse to help them adopt children, either.  If the Church won't acquiesce, then the City cuts it out of the help-the-poor loop.  Well, the Church will continue helping the poor, using as much of its own resources as it can, just as it always has.  The problem is that all those poor people that got helped by City money administered by the Church won't have anyone to serve them now.  Except maybe the City... which we know does splendidly with all the other services it provides: schools, roads, emergency rescue - all top notch in D.C., right?  Right.

Well, to keep the Church from bailing, the City and its propaganda wing, the Washington Post (it should be called the Washington Pravda), have decided to lampoon the Church and bash it as hard as it can.  In the Pravda, er, Post's online column's, Susan Jacoby has decided that the Church is "blackmailing" the poor, helpless government.  The goal is to pressure the Church into a compromise.  Headlines read such as, "Church threatens to cancel social services over gay marriage."  The truth is obfuscated: it is said that other dioceses have not stopped services in the face of similar legislation.  What is left unsaid is that the "similar legislation" in other states has included religious/conscience exemptions of the sort excluded by the DC City Council's bill.  Except in the case of Massachusetts, other states have allowed those with a doctrinal reason to continue operations.  In Massachusetts, the relevant dioceses have ceased the provide the relevant services, though almost everyone thought the church would open wide and eat the pork that Antiochus demanded to prove obedience.  The purpose here, as there, is to push the Church just a little bit further out of public life, to be able to say, "See how useless those hypocrites are!"  If you have any doubt about it, you have only to ask the leaders of these legislative movements.

The effort in DC is spearheaded by Jim Graham and David Catania.  Back in July 2000, the two openly gay members of the City Council were sponsoring a bill, without religious/conscience exemptions, that would have required all employers who provided health care to include coverage for contraception.  Graham commented, "My problem is surrendering decisions on public health to the church…I've spent years fighting church dogma."  That bill failed because the broader political climate prevented it from coming to fruition.  The climate has changed now, and the two seem to have the votes they need to continue their fight against "church dogma."

The complaint is sometimes made that our leaders in the Church are not strong enough, or outspoken enough.  They hobnob to easily with public sinners, it is said.  (Lol. I am glad they do not shun my company!)  But our leaders have a history of fighting as well - they will not be pushed or shoved.  When the Maryland legislature was poised to remove the legal protection for the confidentiality of the confessional back in 2003, (lovable, old) Theodore Cardinal McCarrick said, "If this bill were to pass, I shall instruct all priests in the Archdiocese of Washington who serve in Maryland to ignore it... On this issue, I will gladly plead civil disobedience and willingly -- if not gladly -- go to jail."  Archbishop Wuerl, now governing our archdiocese, has been as adamant.  The archdiocese will not put itself at the service of the City's welfare system if doing so is conditioned upon betraying its broader mission.  The Post has graciously given the Archbishop a chance to defend the diocese from its headlines in this op-ed piece, published today.  It is well worth a read.

Our role models in the Church, it seems, will not eat the King Antiochus' pork.

Brethren in Free America, please pray for us here who are being put to the screws by Epiphanes.

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