Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

 

The “Book” on Gambling

Monday, June 7th, 2010

So what’s the big deal about gambling? After all, the Church says it’s not a sin. Why get worked up about church bingo?

The two key virtues when examining gambling are temperance and justice. The Catechism defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (no. 1809). Temperance, also called “moderation” or “sobriety,” is frequently praised in Scripture, although not always by name. For example, St. Paul instructs Titus that we should “live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Tit. 2:12).
 
Thus, when it comes to gambling, one must act moderately and not fall prey to the passion and excitement of the moment, which might lead him to wager an amount that is excessive for someone in his circumstances.
 
The virtue of justice applies to both the game itself and to the participants. The game must be fair and free from all fraud or deception. The participants should only risk “disposable” income. In other words, the money gambled should be viewed as a recreational expense that is not needed to meet one’s obligations to God, himself, his family, or his creditors.
 
Temperance and justice call for an examination of how one uses his time and resources. Even a wealthy, debt-free person needs to use moderation. Gambling ought not be an occasion to excessively separate a parent from his or her family, even if the amount gambled is modest. And everyone should recognize that money used on frivolous or excessive gambling can be put to better use, such as to help out those who are less fortunate. After all, as St. John Chrysostom said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life” (Catechism, no. 2446). [more]
 
You Shall Not Steal

The Catechism treats the subject of gambling in the section dealing with the Seventh Commandment (“You Shall Not Steal”):
 
“Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant” (no. 2413).
 
While the Church does not consider gambling to be necessarily sinful, she does, however, recognize the serious dangers in habitual or excessive gambling. For many people, especially those with a particular weakness in this area, games of chance are an occasion of sin. Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine once said, “The Devil invented gambling.”

Parish Bingo

Gathering for a night of low-stakes bingo in the parish hall to socialize, enjoy a little excitement, and provide support for the parish is morally legitimate, both from the standpoint of the participant and from the standpoint of the parish that hosts the event.
 
However, since gambling can easily become a vicious habit, a parish or other church organization would be well advised to consider the following precautions when it comes to sponsoring bingo:
 
(a) Promote virtue. There are many ways this can be done. For example, limit the amount that one can wager. Don’t serve alcoholic beverages. Create a friendly, Christian atmosphere. In short, do whatever can be done to promote the positive aspects of bingo (e.g., recreation, fellowship, etc.) while preventing, to the extent possible, its negative side effects.
 
(b) Avoid scandal. Many people are scandalized by the fact that many Catholic churches use bingo as a means of generating revenue. This sense of scandal not only affects many Catholics but also other Christians who tend to see gambling as evil. This problem could be considerably lessened if bingo is clearly presented to parishioners and to the public as being used to raise revenue for effective Christian ministries. The scandal is greater when bingo is perceived as a “Catholic institution” in itself, and where the parish does not seem to do much to spread the Gospel.
 
(c) Evangelize.
All Catholics need to hear convincing, biblically sound teaching on tithing and generosity. Bingo may supplement this imperative, but not replace it. As for the non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics who are drawn to parish bingo looking for some “action,” reasonable efforts should be made not only to welcome the individual’s bingo money, but also the individual himself or herself.
 
(d) Avoid enslavement. Parishes, and not just gambling addicts, can become enslaved by bingo, such that the parish may consider itself forced to keep bingo in order to keep its school or religious education program in operation. I encourage pastors and parishes to prayerfully consider the possibility of liberation from the slavery of bingo. This freedom could be a scary thing. It would present a new set of challenges and call for creative ideas to compensate for the loss of bingo revenue while providing new opportunities for Christian fellowship. In this regard, some lay Catholics have successfully gone to their pastor and have offered to increase their weekly offering if the parish would eliminate its dependence on bingo. Such a gesture shows the pastor that despite our personal opposition to church bingo, we are fully committed to our support for the parish.
 
(e) Welcome other means of support. Even though parish bingo is not necessarily a sinful activity, some people are turned off by bingo and will not participate. Others simply may not have the time or interest. Still others may feel it is an occasion of sin for them and feel obliged to stay away. The parish should listen to the needs and concerns of these individuals and provide them alternative means of supporting the parish.

Conversely, all Catholics are bound to assist with the needs of the Church (Code of Canon Law, canon 222), and should not use their distaste for parish bingo as a basis for not supporting the Church in other ways. Indeed, generosity is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a wellspring of renewal for the Church.
 
Giving with All Our Mite
 
Generosity is the virtue directly opposed to selfishness, which is the refusal to give of ourselves. The choice to be generous–to give of ourselves to God and neighbor–is nothing less than charity lived out in concrete circumstances. Christ Himself, in word and deed, taught that such self-giving is at the heart of the abundant, Trinitarian life He has come to give us.
 
In this life, generosity involves sacrifice and even death. This is the test of faith–to give in the midst of suffering. Our society doesn’t understand “sacrifice,” and consequently we are prone to selfishness in all phases of our lives, including our relationship with the Church. We’re a far cry from the Church of previous generations that was willing to build parishes, schools, and facilities with its own blood, sweat, and tears. If generosity literally means “full of giving life,” then it’s not a stretch to see that selfishness plays a significant role in what has been called a “culture of death.”
 
Let’s look at ways that we can grow in generosity.
 
First, are we generous with God Himself? Is prayer a regular, vital part of our daily lives, or is it merely a weekly obligation or something we do only in times of need?
 
This sometimes apparent “waste” of time does not “change” God, but it does change us and is a source of profound blessing.
 
Second, are we generous in our support of the apostolate, putting our time, talents, and checkbook at the service of the Gospel? Do we tithe? Do we give our “first fruits” or our spare change? Do we give only out of our excess, or do we give whatever we can, like the widow in the Gospel (cf. Lk. 21:1-4)?
 
Third, are we generous to others? Are we generous with our family, especially with our spouse and children? Are we generous as married couples, opening our home to another child or perhaps a family member or even a stranger in need? Are we sensitive to the needs we see all around us, looking for the “hidden Jesus” in the poor or forgotten in our midst?
 
This generosity will go a long way toward reinvigorating our own lives of faith and will help build up the Church in our midst. Our Blessed Lord will not be outdone in generosity:
 
“Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you and overflowing blessing” (Mal. 3:10).
 
Let’s put Him to the test.

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Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

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Dissent Matters

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Not long ago I was asked, “Is there anywhere a list of the definitive moral teachings of the Church? Would it be correct to call anyone a dissenter who dissents from a teaching in the Catechism even if it not on a list of definitive teachings?”

Probably the closest thing to a comprehensive list of definitive moral teachings, in the context of offenses against human life and dignity, would be [more]this passage from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 27:

“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

The problem is that “dissent” or “dissenter” is not really a technical term as much as it’s a popular term used to describe someone who doesn’t accept one or more significant Church teachings.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas gives a good definition of dissent in the Catholic dictionary he wrote several years ago for OSV. Therein he writes: “In theological language, dissent refers to the rejection of authentic Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Such dissent cannot be justified according to Catholic teaching, whether the position in question has been proposed by the extraordinary Magisterium (a solemn definition by a Pope or ecumenical council) or by the ordinary Magisterium (i.e., the constant teaching of Popes and bishops). Persistent and radical theological dissent places one outside the bonds of communion with the Catholic Church.”

Looking to the Catechism to ascertain what Catholics believe in the moral realm is a legitimate approach. In his apostolic constitution approving its publication, Pope John Paul II called the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” So placing ourselves outside of what the Church teaches in the Catechism on matters of faith and morals would mean that we would be lacking in one of the visible bonds of unity in the Church (see CCC 815).

And while we don’t like to use the h-word (heresy) today, there is some overlap. Often we use the word “dissent” as a relatively palatable alternative for heresy, just as it’s more acceptable to refer to someone as a dissident or dissenter than as a heretic. Yet the meanings are similar. The Code of Canon Law does define heresy as “the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith” (canon 751).

Since dissent is essentially a synonym for heresy when used in the context of the Catholic faith, of course we have to be duly “pastoral” in our use of the word, especially when assigning it to others. And surely, like heresy, “dissent” can be material or formal, and we can’t judge the state of a dissenter’s soul. Even beyond that, if we don”t speak the truth with complete charity, then our use of words like “dissenter” is not an act of mercy, but rather a harsh label or insult. 

Yet the point remains that a Catholic who rejects the Church’s teaching in matters such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the like is a “dissenter” who needs to be patiently brought to the fullness of the truth.

For more on this subject, see my 2002 article “The Grammar of Dissent,” published by This Rock magazine.

Living Vicariously

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

We’re all accustomed to referring to the Pope as the “Vicar of Christ.” After all, it was Peter who received the keys, and as Catholics we recognize the special role of the popes–St. Peter”s successors–as Christ’s chosen representative to rule and guide the Universal Church until the end of time.

But one teaching that sometimes gets overlooked today is that the other bishops are not simply vicars of the Pope, but vicars of Christ Himself in the particular Church (i.e., diocese) assigned to them. They legitimately exercise their role only in communion with the Pope, but nonetheless they personally exercise their office in the name of Christ as a successor of the apostles. He is neither a mere representative of the Pope nor does he legitimately exercise authority apart from the Pope (See Catechism, nos. 880-96, especially 894-95).

Some may be surprised to know that a number of Popes have even referred to Christian parents as vicars of Christ in the home. [more]For example, Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encylical Divini Illius Magistri, wrote: “Parents . . . should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are.” Of course this truth connects well with Vatican II’s emphasis on the family as the “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature.”

Now the Pope, the bishops, and Christian parents are all vicars or representatives of Christ in different senses and in different realms, but these roles again need to be understood and exercised in a complementary, not competitive sense. A good example of this is found in a canon from the First Vatican Council (1869-70), which affirms the authority of bishops in the context of upholding papal primacy:

“This power of the Supreme Pontiff is so far from interfering with that power of ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction by which the bishops, who, ”placed by the Holy Spirit” [cf. Acts 20:28], have succeeded to the places of the apostles, as true shepherds individually feed and rule the individual flocks assigned to them, that the same (power) is asserted, confirmed, and vindicated by the supreme and universal shepherd, according to the statement of Pope Gregory the Great: ”My honor is the universal honor of the Church. My honor is the solid vigor of my brothers. Then am I truly honored, when the honor due to each and everyone is not denied.””

One fairly recent example we have of the authority of the individual bishop can be found in the 1998 document of Pope John Paul II entitled Apostolos Suos. This document gave some specific theological and legal principles regarding episcopal conferences, the establishment of which is something that Vatican II heartily encouraged. This document points out (reiterating and clarifying Vatican II’s teachings) that there are two ways that episcopal conferences exercise magisterial authority: Either documents must be “unanimously approved by the bishops who are members, or receive the formal recognition (recognitio) of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the bishops belonging to the conference and having a deliberate vote.”

In the first case, because every bishop approves the document, it takes effect immediately because of the authority held by each individual bishop. In other words, what is operative here is the authentic teaching authority of each bishop, not the authority of the conference itself. The conference merely becomes the vehicle by which each bishop promulgates a teaching within his diocese, thus showing the authority of the individual bishop as vicar of Christ. In the second case, it is the authority and approval of the Roman Pontiff, not that of the conference, that makes the document binding.

Since the Pope is the vicar, or representative, of Christ for the universal Church, and the bishop is the vicar of Christ for the diocese entrusted to him, one can readily see potential conflict, especially if the local bishop doesn’t seem quite seem to be on the same page as the Holy Father. Yet the Popes have emphasized that union with the Pope and union with one’s bishop has to be a both/and proposition. For example, in an address given on November 20, 1999, Pope John Paul II drives home this point, quoting extensively from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium:

“I likewise point out the attitude that the laity should have toward their bishops and priests: ‘To their pastors they should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ. . . . If the occasion arises, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage, and prudence and with reverence and charity toward those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ.’

“Unity with the bishop is the essential and indispensable attitude of the faithful Catholic, for one cannot claim to be on the Pope’s side without also standing by the bishops in communion with him. Nor can one claim to be with the bishop without standing by the head of the college.”

For more on the role of bishops in the Church, I recommend Servants of the Gospel, a collection of essays by prominent U.S. bishops. This title is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Virtue on the Mount

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

In contemplating Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), one section that especially interests me is the part known as the “Six Antitheses”–the series of six statements by Our Lord that begin “You have heard it said . . .” followed by “I say to you . . .” These statements are found in Matthew 5:21-48.

There are many ways of looking at this passage. What has struck me of late is that Jesus, in coming to fulfill the law and not abolish it (Mt. 5:17), is having us move from mere adherence to negative moral precepts to the cultivation of the opposite virtues. Jesus’ words are not in opposition to what people have heard, but rather gives the motive and–through the gift of the Holy Spirit–the power to strive for a holiness and righteousness that exceeds mere observance of the law (cf. Mt. 5:20).

So, let me summarize the “Six Antitheses” [more]from the viewpoint of virtue development: 

(1)  You have heard it said that you shall not kill. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of meekness.

(2) You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. Our Lord tells us to foster sexual purity and the virtue of chastity.

(3) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t divorce and remarry. Our Lord tells us to foster marital fidelity.

(4) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t take a false oath. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of honesty.

(5) You have heard it said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of forgiveness and generosity.

(6) You have heard it said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of charity and solidarity with all, especially with those who are most difficult for us to love.

In other words, we are called to be perfect, as Our Heavenly Father is perfect. We’re not there yet, and we’ll never get there on our own, but with God all things are possible. He not only shows us the way to happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, but also gives us His very life in the sacraments so we can get there.