A Change in the Catechism

Yesterday news broke that there is going be a change in the catechism regarding the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. You can read the article in the National Catholic Register here.

I have written previously about why I think repealing death penalty laws and overturning Roe vs. Wade are both necessary actions for restoring a culture of life. You can read that in my session review here.

Formerly, the catechism read, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

That language, “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives” is the key to understanding the change. Where a community did not have recourse to secure prison facilities, they could not effectively protect themselves from the most dangerous prisoners. The death penalty may have been the only way a community could protect itself. An argument could be made that this “exception” has not been applicable to those of us living in the U.S. for a very long time.

The new paragraph reads, “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Two immediate thoughts come to mind after reading the new paragraph.

First, I was reminded of testimony given by a friend of mine as he argued against the death penalty repeal bill last year. He has been a staunch ally when it comes to defending the lives of the unborn. However, in his argument against the death penalty repeal bill he said that capital punishment should be “legal, but rare.” I was stunned because his testimony sounded so eerily similar to those who are arguing that abortion is a right. They say that abortion should be, “safe, legal and rare.”

My second thought came from the language in the paragraph that states, “effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

We can’t appeal to “the possibility of redemption” in a secular setting because the secular world is not concerned about that. However, I have already read several articles from Catholics who are upset about the change in the catechism. One of them even calls Pope Francis a heretic.

I’ve read less accusatorial articles posted by friends who appeal  to scripture and tradition in an attempt to justify their dissent from the change. But as a people of faith we see the Church is God’s instrument. God seeks repentance and the redemption of souls. How does justifying the premature death of an individual square with our belief that God desires that person’s redemption? From our lived experience, we know that God can work on hearts over time. If we become the reason for why that time is cut short, then we become an obstacle to God for that person. Jesus has some rather harsh words for those who become obstacles, (stumbling blocks or skandalon) to God for others.

Life is either sacred or it’s not. Period.

A letter to the graduates of 2018: God loves you! And what you do matters.

Dear Graduates of 2018,

Congratulations! Before you go off to college or enter the workforce, I would like to share some thoughts with you.

You are going to make mistakes. Probably lots of them! That’s ok because the God who created the heavens and the earth loves you immensely. No mistake you ever make will cause him to love you less. Remember that.

Understand that you were made for love; both to receive it and to give it. No doubt, you already know that receiving love is wonderful, while not being loved is incredibly painful. In order for anyone to receive love, the world needs people who are capable of giving love. More on this later.

There are two kinds of voices in this world, those who will tell you what you need to hear, and those who will tell you what you want to hear. It’s helpful to know the difference because we tend to listen more to those who tell us what we want to hear.

By now, you’ve heard it said that the path to happiness consists of following your desires wherever they lead you.

This is an attractive thought! It is very affirming. The question you should ask is, “Is this what I need to hear or what I want to hear?”

When pursuing our own desires, it’s exhilarating to think that our actions have no real consequences. It helps silence the voice inside that questions whether or not that particular desire is good.

But keep in mind that our own actions change us. Even if we imagine that our actions don’t affect anyone else, they do affects us, and we are a part of this world. So, everything we do affects the cosmos, for better or worse.

If we accept the idea that satisfying our desires is the key to happiness, we will become frustrated when we’re not able to realize them. If someone else’s desires conflict with ours, we will see that person as an obstacle and it will become extremely difficult to treat them with dignity and respect.

Not all desires are bad, of course. But being human requires more than simply fulfilling our desires. After all, dogs can eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. What separates us from the beasts is precisely our ability to deny our own desires when love requires us to do so. We were made for love; to receive it, AND to give it. If anyone is ever to receive love, we must be free to give it. So, we must resist becoming slaves to our own desires.

This is no easy task. It helps to remember that the satisfaction we get from our immediate desires doesn’t last very long.

A much deeper desire humans share is the desire to find meaning in our lives. We Christians believe that the satisfaction of this desire lasts forever.

The good news is that the same God who loved you into being has also given you many gifts and talents. You probably know what some of them are by now, but chances are, you still have more to discover. One way to find tremendous meaning in your life is to see how your gifts can be applied to meet the needs of your family, neighborhood and community. It will feel good doing what you are good (gifted) at doing.

Unlike the satisfaction that comes from fulfilling lesser desires or desires that are not good for us, the joy that comes from applying our gifts to meet the needs of those around us endures. And it causes us to become more like the persons we are destined to become.

God has big plans for you! May he bless you with long, free and meaningful lives!


Saying Goodbye to Friends

(Note: The photo above is the social media and editorial team for the Wyoming Catholic Register.)

I’ve been dreading this. While I understand the importance of saying goodbye the actual practice is one I dislike very much.

Last month, Deacon Vernon Dobelmann informed the chancery staff that he would be leaving to take a position at St. Francis by the Sea Parish in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Since I came to work at the chancery in September of 2015, there have been a significant amount of changes. Every time a friend or co-worker leaves, there is some amount of grieving that takes place. I confess, I am having a harder time in this instance.

I remember being very impressed with Deacon Vernon’s homilies when he first came to St. Mary’s Cathedral. His preparation indicated an earnest respect for the people in the pews. From the outset, you could tell that here was a very conscientious member of the clergy, with great attention to detail.

After I was ordained, Bishop Etienne assigned me to Holy Trinity Parish. One day, I got an email that looked to have been forwarded around like a hot potato. The local newspaper’s “Religious Section” editor was looking for a Catholic who might be willing to submit occasional pieces from a Catholic perspective. That was the content of the original email. The responding replies seemed to indicate a similar thought, everyone thought it was an important thing, but everyone was too busy with current responsibilities to take this on. The final response, the one which brought the conversation to me, was from Deacon Vernon. It read: I seem to remember one of the new guys has a degree in English. Maybe we should ask him?

Very cautiously, I responded to the email. I would be willing to consider it. But, I was reluctant to speak on behalf of the Church in a secular forum, especially since the newspaper seemed to relish controversy. Shortly after that, I was asked to assist at a Mass during the clergy institute. Bishop Etienne walked into the sacristy and greeted me. Then he said, “I hear you’ve agreed to write articles in the paper. Thanks for doing that….”

Such was the discernment process.

Long story short, that forwarded email set things in motion. Because of that, Bishop Etienne would eventually ask me to consider applying for the Legislative Liaison position. On difficult days, I make sure to stop by Vernon’s office and let him know, “It’s all your fault,” which never fails to elicit a good laugh from us both.

He understands, better than most people, the challenges of speaking on behalf of the Church. Our social media and editorial team for the Wyoming Catholic Register will definitely miss his wisdom. He has been a tremendous mentor and I will personally miss his thoughtful input which he has always been willing to provide. Most of all, I will miss my friend.

Vernon, you and Margaret leave the diocese with our prayers. We will be forever grateful for the time, talent and treasure that both of you have sacrificed on behalf of the People of God in Wyoming. We are stronger because of it. May God reward you and your family with countless blessings!