Friday, May 27, 2005

The Stem-Cell Bill Hall of Shame

As you all know, on Tuesday the House of Representatives passed a bill that would expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Embryonic stem-cells are harvested from human embryos in the first stages of cell division, and destroys them in the process.

The justification for these vampiric efforts to extend and improve our lives at the expense of innocent human beings is the promise of cures for every manner of disease and defect, from Alzheimer's to Diabetes. Of course, none of these supposed benefits is even close to materializing. And, of course, these justifications ignore the fact that embryonic stem-cell research is simply unneccesary. As I have written before, adult stem-cell research is rapidly reaching the status of proven technology that is producing results, without sacrificing unborn human lives.

All of the arguments for permitting ESCR boil down to "let us do evil so that good may come of it." And the temptation to do so is powerful. The good of eliminating all these diseases is so desirable, and the beings whom these experiments would obliterate are literally invisible. But the moral law is quite clear: The end cannot justify the means. It is bad enough that our national conscience has become so vitiated that a majority of our Representatives could fall for the temptation, but it is especially painful that a large number of Catholic congressmen would do so. They ought to know better. In fact, they have no excuse for not knowing better, as our bishops and the Holy See have repeatedly condemned ESCR. Those who voted for this bill have the blood of innocents on their hands.

The complete roll call of the House vote may be found here. But we should take particular note of the Catholic representatives who voted in favor of the measure. These are the Catholic House Democrats who voted for the bill:

Joe Baca (CA)
Xavier Becerra (CA)
Timothy Bishop (NY)
Robert Brady (PA)
Mike Capuano (MA)
Dennis Cardoza (CA)
William Clay (MO)
Jim Costa (CA)
Joe Crowley (NY)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
Peter DeFazio (OR)
Bill Delahunt (MA)
Rosa DeLauro (CT)
John Dingell (MI)
Mike Doyle (PA)
Anna Eshoo (CA)
Lane Evans (IL)
Charlie Gonzalez (TX)
Raul Grijalva (AZ)
Luis Gutierrez (IL)
Brian Higgins (NY)
Maurice Hinchey (NY)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX)
Paul Kanjorski (PA)
Patrick Kennedy (RI)
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
James Langevin (RI)
John Larson (CT)
Steven Lynch (MA)
Ed Markey (MA)

Carolyn McCarthy (NY)
Betty McCollum (MN)
James McGovern (MA)
Cynthia McKinney (GA)
Mike McNulty (NY)
Robert Menendez (NJ)
Michael Michaud (ME)
George Miller (CA)
James Moran (VA)
John Murtha (PA)
Grace Napolitano (CA)
Richard Neal (MA)
David Obey (WI)
Frank Pallone (NJ)
Bill Pascrell (NJ)
Ed Pastor (AZ)
Nancy Pelosi (CA)
Charlie Rangel (NY)
Silvestre Reyes (TX)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA)
Tim Ryan (OH)
John Salazar (CO)
Linda Sanchez (CA)
Loretta Sanchez (CA)
Jose Serrano (NY)
Hilda Solis (CA)
Ellen Tauscher (CA)
Mike Thompson (CA)
Nydia Velazquez (NY)
Peter Visclosky (IN)
Diane Watson (CA)

And here are the Catholic House Republicans (remember, they belong to the "pro-life" party) who voted for the bill:

Sherry Boehlert (NY)
Ginny Brown-Waite (FL)
Mike Castle (DE)
Vito Fossella (NY)
Connie Mack (FL)
Jon Porter (NV)
Clay Shaw (FL)

Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware should fall under particularly heavy opprobrium, as he was one of the chief sponsors and cheerleaders of this legislation.

You may want to call or write to some of these representatives, especially if they're from your state. At the very least you should take note of them for future reference. The mid-term elections are just over a year away...

The Dumbest Argument For Expanding
Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

With all of the arguments going back and forth among the pundits and politicians regarding the expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the dumbest justification I've heard yet is this:

"If we don't increase funding for stem-cell research, we'll fall behind other countries!"

Of course, this begs the question of whether or not embryonic stem-cell research is good or bad. If something is intrinsically evil, do we really want to be "leaders" in it? If destroying human embryos in order to extract their stem-cells is killing innocent human beings, do we really want to be in the forefront of such wanton slaughter?

Let's try a little thought experiment. Imagine it's say, 1939. Dr. Mengele and his colleagues are just gearing up some interesting medical research in Germany. Of course, one distasteful aspect of this research is that it involves live human beings, but hey, progress comes at a price. Those in the forefront of science can't afford to be squeamish. Imagine doctors and scientists in the U.S. start demanding to be allowed similar experiments on our own "undesirables". Their rallying cry: "We have to have our own live-experimentation program, or else we'll fall behind the Germans in science! We want Americans to make the first breakthroughs in live experiments!"

Such an argument would have been condemned practically before it was uttered then. But it is actually given a serious hearing today. Thus far have we have fallen, not just morally, but intellectually as well.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Our Relationship with The Trinity

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: we call to mind and celebrate the mystery of God, who is One God, yet three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sometimes I've heard priests say that this is their least favorite Sunday to preach, because preaching on the Trinity is so difficult. I know what they mean: certainly the Trinity is not easy to understand or explain. But we must make the effort to understand it, because it is at the heart of who God is. Being a mystery, it is something we cannot completely comprehend. But that does not mean we can't understand it at all - God would not have revealed it to us if it were utterly beyond our understanding.

Now, in the New Testament you will not find the word "Trinity", nor will you find anything like a detailed explanation of the Trinity. but nonetheless, the Trinity is found implicitly throughout the New Testament. Notice, in our second reading, from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians: St. Paul refers to each person of the Trinity in a different way: the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It's clear that St. Paul understands that somehow, God is One, yet Three.

There is a sense in which it would be accurate to say that God didn’t have to reveal the truth of the Trinity to us. The central tenet of our faith is that Christ, the Son of God, became one of us and was given up as an offering for us, suffering in expiation for our sins, and that he died and rose again so that we too might rise to new life in Him. One doesn’t need to know about the Trinity to understand this. But yet the Trinity is held as one of the most profound and important teachings of our faith. Why is this? Why did God reveal the Trinity to us?

The answer is this: God revealed the Trinity because he loves us. In the Gospel we are told that "God so loved the world that He sent his only Son"... Now one of the surest signs of love is the desire to be known. We want to be known by those we love: that is “built-in” to the very nature of love. Think for a moment of your own relationships with your loved ones: Did you ever try to tell your husband or wife something really important, and they didn’t get it? Have you ever felt, or even said to someone you love "You don't understand me"? You know how frustrating and hurtful that can be. That's because we desire to be known by those we love. Well, we are like that because God is like that: God was not content that we know merely what He did: He wants us to know who He is, and the Trinity is at the heart of who God is.

Now, when we think about the Trinity, we tend to get stuck on how God can be one, and yet be three. And we all know that one is not three: If I have three bananas in one hand (I was going to use apples but I like bananas much better than apples) and one banana in the other, no one is going to think they're the same. The key to understanding the Trinity is that it is not a math problem. (And that's a good thing, at least for me, because math was never my strongest subject.) The key is that we're not saying we have three bananas in one banana. Or that we have One God in three Gods. That's just nonsense, and God doesn't want us to think nonsense about the most important mystery of His existence.

No, we say, and the Church has held from the very earliest time, that God is three Persons having One Nature. And if we can get to the bottom of what these words mean, then we'll be well on our way to understanding the Trinity.

Now the nature of something is what it is — it's "whatness". For example, we can see that this [holding up the book of the Gospels] is a book. And we can see that the sacramentary [pointing to a server holding up the sacramentary] is also a book. These two things are different; they are distinct. But nonetheless we recognize each as being a book. They share a common book-nature, the same book-ness. Or look at one another. Each of us is different. In fact, we're each unique. But because we are unique, that doesn't mean that we are all isolated and incapable of relating to each other. No, in fact we do all relate to one another. That's because while each of us is distinct and even unique, we all share the same human nature. We recognize that human-ness in one another. We are all distinct persons, but we share the same human nature.

We can see then that things can be distinct, but yet share the same nature. Well, it's similar with the Godhead. God is three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Each Person is distinct. But each Person partakes of the same Divine nature. Each Person of the Trinity is equally God: they are equal in Majesty, equal in Glory, equal in Power, and equal in Authority. And through the Son, Jesus, we are in relationship with each of the Persons of the Trinity. We are in relationship with God the Father, who created us and is the source and origin of all things. We are in relationship with the Son, who is God's very thought and Word - God's Word, which is so infinite and profound that is has being as a Person. And we are in relationship to God the Spirit, who is God's own life and love: the life and love of God, which is also so infinite and profound that it has being as a Person.

Now that we know what a nature is, the question is "how do we know a person?" Well, if I were to introduce you to John Smith, I might say, "this is John Smith. He's 36, he's a convert to the faith, he's an accountant, and he's married with 3 kids." After that, you'd feel that you know a few facts about John Smith, but you wouldn't say that you knew him. No, you know someone by spending time with him, by talking to him. We get to know someone by sharing our lives with one another.

It's the same way with God. We are in relationship with the whole God: We are in relationship to the Father, we are in relationship to the Son, and we are in relationship to the Spirit. And we will come to know these three Persons of the Trinity by living our relationship with them. We do that by spending time with God, by inviting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our lives and hearts. We do that by talking to God: by prayer. But I would encourage you, I would urge you, from now on to make a point from time to time of praying to each of the Persons of the Trinity: to pray to the Father, to pray to the Son, and to pray to the Holy Spirit. It is by giving our life to the Trinity that we will be taken up into the life of the Trinity. And within that life, we will not just know about the Trinity, but we will know the Trinity itself, living in their communion of love.

Protecting Judges From Criticism!!?

Last week, Federal Judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother were brutally murdered in their home earlier this year, testified in congress for better protection of Federal judges (LRR). Among other things, she asked for the government to pay for installing security systems in judges' homes.

Now, I am all in favor of providing better security for judges. I would have no problem with the government providing judges with home security systems, or even personal bodyguards for that matter. Furthermore, I think that anyone convicted of attacking a judge, or attempting or even plotting an attack, should receive a mandatory life sentence, period. I think that actually killing a judge might be one of the rare instances which might justify the death penalty. Why? Because an attack on a judge is, in essence, an attack on society and civilization itself.

But Judge Lefkow, in her remarks to Congress last week, went beyond denouncing outright attacks on judges, saying:
In this age of mass communication, harsh rhetoric is truly dangerous," she said. "It seems to me that even though we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges in general and violent acts of vengeance by a particular litigant, the fostering of disrespect for judges can only encourage those who are on the edge or on the fringe to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them.

She then characterized remarks critical of activist judges, by christian conservatives such as Pat Robertson, as "lesser attacks" which are also dangerous.

I thought this aspect of Judge Lefkow's remarks problematic, but I was prepared to let them go. After all, I can't fault her for being sensitive to attacks on judges. But in today's Chicago Tribune, another pundit weighs in, demanding greater protection for judges, and compares those critical of judicial activism to racist extremists and the crazed killer of Judge Lefkow's family:
Recently our judges have been endangered not only by litigants and racist ideologues like Matthew Hale, who was convicted of soliciting Lefkow's murder. They have come under attack by people who ought to know better.

Prominent members of Congress have launched intemperate and personal attacks against individual judges and against the judiciary in general, holding them responsible for rulings with which they disagree--rulings about abortion, the right to die and same-sex marriage, for example. Most recently Christian Coalition founder and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, on a national talk show, compared judges to terrorists.

So now, criticizing a judge's decisions, or the tendency of some judges to engage in activism from the bench, is the same as plotting a judge's murder. And notice the issues the author lists: abortion, "right-to-die", and same-sex marriage. If you're one of the benighted rubes who think that suctioning a baby out of its mother's womb is wrong, or that starving and dehydrating an innocent woman is inhuman, and that marriage is by its nature something between a man and a woman, then you are a problem. Any minute now, you're going to descend on courthouses in bible-thumping mobs, demanding judges' heads.

As I said before, I'm all in favor of protecting judges, and of severe punishments on those who actually attack them. But this op-ed is a not-very-thinly veiled attempt to use Judge Lefkow's tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. And to protect judges we don't need to turn them into a special mandarin class who are beyond all criticism.