Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An open letter to you, those who glare at me and my wife when my kids are a bit noisy during Mass...

Dear parishioner,

I understand and am fully aware that the Mass is a very important aspect of Catholic life and it is during the Mass we are the most intimiate with our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am the father of two young children and yes: they can be a bit noisy at times. My son likes to play games during Mass and figure out different ways to get me to look at him and make me laugh. My son has inherited his father's sense of humour. My daughter, being a bit younger, is finding it a bit hard to sit still for an extended period of time and this is largely due to her age. She gets a bit cranky towards the middle and the end of Mass and sometimes this can be dealt with by taking her outside for a few minutes to calm her.

What I would ask you for, my fellow parishioner, is not your evil looks or glares or a "tsk, tsk", but your prayers and understanding, because I do notice that you often have children with you at Mass yourself. Your children too were young and probably as noisy and cranky during Mass. Did I give you evil looks or glares or a "tsk, tsk"? No, I empathised. I did not have children of my own back then but I imagined how difficult it must have been to keep your children quiet and attentive during Mass. I ask for the same understanding from you.

My inability to keep my children calm and quiet 100 per cent of the time is not indicative of my parenting ability. I am a good parent and my wife and I do try very hard to keep our children calm and quiet during the Mass while at the same time modelling good behaviour for them so they can see how to behave during the Mass. My hope is that my example is witnessed by them so that they, when they are older, can participate in the Mass fully and appreciate the wonderful gift we have been given in the sacrifice of the Mass.

I am trying to harness a love for the Church, for the Mass, and for Jesus Christ in my children, but your glares and judgements do not help. Please keep in mind the words of our Lord in Luke's gospel:

"But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'" - Luke 18:16

If in the future my children bother you then please do me the service of approaching me after Mass and I will take measures to ensure that that behaviour is not repeated or - at the very least - can be reined in.

Yours lovingly in Christ,

Stephen C. Spiteri

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lying: When is it permissable if at all?

I put out the call for blog entry ideas late last week, and a friend of mine posed this question to me: "Is it okay to lie if it spares someone's feelings, or if there is a positive outcome from lying?"

Let's take a look at what the Church teaches on lying, namely in breaking the eighth commandment:

"The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant." - par. 2464, Catechism of the Catholic Church

(Blogger's note: more on the Church's teaching on the Eighth Commandment may be found here)

So there it is clear as day: the eighth commandment "forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others". But let's apply that to one or two hypothetical situations (ranging from low moral threat to high moral threat, but in no particular order) to emphasise the extent to which this applies.

"Does my bum look big in this?"  
Your wife - yes, husbands, this one's for you - has bought a new pair of jeans and she's looking in the mirror with a puzzled look. She turns to you and asks, "Does my bum look big in this?" Now most people would recommend the "abort, abort, danger, Will Robinson!" approach with this scenario and as a husband myself I've often wondered what good could ever come out of lying to your spouse even with queries like these. If the bum does look big in said jeans, then the answer should be 'yes'. If the bum does not look big in said jeans then, of course, the answer should be 'no'. It's all a matter of perspective too; what may be "big" to an individual may be "not big" to another. Answering 'yes' to this question is not the same as saying, "You're fat" or "you need to lose some weight" (there's a way of saying even that in a manner that is not hurtful and in a way that empowers the other).

How would I answer that question? If 'yes', then "Yes, honey, your bum does look big in that, but you know that how you look doesn't reflect who you are or how much God loves you. You are beautiful no matter what you wear; you look stunning, regardless." If 'no', then "No". If 'maybe', then "I don't know, babe, maybe try something else on so I can get a better idea". 

(Blogger's note: husbands, exerise tact; you've been warned!)

"What you're doing is hurting you/your friends are't good for you..."
I had a friend during my high school years who, for a time, I could say was my "best friend". Over time, however, he did get lost to another "crowd" that was experimenting with illegal drugs (e.g. marijuana). I was concerned to say the least; I was trying to be a good friend. In hindsight maybe I was much more mature than my friend and his new friends were and that it wasn't cool to care for a friend that much, but basically what happened is that I told him his new friends were bad news and that they'd only get him into trouble. The response I got was an accusation of me trying to hold him back and that perhaps I was jealous of his new-found friendships. Needless to say the drugs got the better of him and since then he has hit harder drugs.

I spoke in truth and lost a friend, and to this I wonder how things might have been if I had approached the situation slightly differently. How do you tell a friend or a loved one that what they're doing is hurting them or that they're friends aren't good for them? Here's the key: It may be morally negligent to say nothing or to pretend that you're happy with your friend or loved one getting involved in something which to them may seem harmless or get involved with someone or a group of people that in the long-term will only hurt them. We must speak in truth but we also must speak out of love:

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" - Ephesians 4:15

To allow a friend or a loved to continue in sin is a sin itself. We, at the very least, must point out the error out of love. The rest is up to the individual; they must respond to the beckons of grace to do good and to avoid evil. In the mean time we must pray for them.

"My husband is abusing me, but I'm afraid to tell anyone about it."
If you are in an abusive relationship, then you need to tell someone about to help put an end to the abuse. I know women that have been abused by their husband or significant other, and it made me sick the amount of times I heard these women say, "... but I love him and I know he'll change." It's one thing to hope for change, that's noble, but if he's hitting you, then he's got a warped way of showing that "love". Don't stand for it; you are a daughter of God and you should be treated like one.

(Blogger's note: if you are in a violent/abusive relationship, then please seek help: Australia ; North America)

Like failing to help a friend recognise their sin, it may be morally negligent for the victim of the abuse to either lie about or fail to alert anyone with regards to how they are being treated. This falls under the "spare someone's feelings" banner. Obviously the victim, who loves their violent partner, might feel apprehensive or worried about making this information public (to an extent) because of the associated embarrassment or shame that may come after these revelations, but this is short term pain for long term happiness. Nothing is made to be hidden, and that which is hidden must come out into the light. Only after the problem has been pointed out can it ever be rectified. Do not fear; place your trust in the Lord (Psalms 27:1).

"They gave me too much change... should I tell them?"
This is a double-whammy scenario, and you may have been in this situation before. You're shopping, you get to the checkout and pay for your items only to realise after leaving that the clerk has given you too much change. This has happened to me a number of times and the amount of extra change given has ranged from 10 or twenty cents to a couple of dollars. What I used to think is that these were small blessings in disguise and that in some way it was God's will that this money come to/stay with me, but the more I thought about it the more I realised the moral ramifications of this seemingly innocent mistake.

Here's the problem: by walking away with money - as little as that amount may be - you're stealing, and that's a sin concerning grave matter. By failing to return the money and making mention of the mistake, as well as stealing, you're misrepresenting the truth and the constitutes as a lie. This also concerns grave matter and to do nothing about this mistake would be morally negligent.

Do the right thing; you'll feel better for it and you'll be thanks for your honest. The next time you're given too much change, return the [correct] amount with pleasantry and a smile.

Lying to save someone's life
Now this may be the scenario where it would be morally justifiable to lie. I imagine this scenario taking place during the Holocaust during World War II when many Jews were being harboured by non-Jews (a lot of them were Catholic, incidentally) to protect them. To lie to save the life of an innocent would not be morally negligent and would be an acceptable time to misrepresent the truth.

What needs to be considered in telling a lie, even though telling a lie would concern grave matter, is if the means justifies the ends, i.e. which is the lesser of the two evils? Lying or telling the truth which would ultimately lead to an innocent person's demise?

For each and every scenario the individual is required to call on the truth they must seek the echo of God's voice in their conscience. Ask yourself:

What is the ends I am trying to achieve and does the means (lying) justify it?

"Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly." - Proverbs 12:22-23


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Quick Answers: "Fasting is unbiblical" says the Fundamentalist...

I was at the gym last week and I struck up a conversation with another member who at first was inquiring about my tattoo. He surmised that I was a Christian, basing this on the fact my tattoo has a Christian theme. He was a Christian too and then the topic of Lent came up. To cut a long story short he said that he respects Catholics for making genuine acts of self-denial during this time but stopped short of agreeing with self-denial (i.e. fasting) because he believed it was un-biblical and that the "suffering" was in vain since Christ has undergone the suffering for us. While the latter is correct to an extent the statement was not congruent with what Catholics believe and what the Church teaches on fasting, but I had to first address the assertion that fasting was "un-biblical".

Where to begin? Well let's start with Christ fasting himself. To prepare himself for his ministry, we know that - as it says in scripture - that Christ went out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights without food, fighting temptation and the devil (bolded for emphasis):
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone.'" And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,' and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" And Jesus answered him, "It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. - Luke 4:1-13
 So let's put this in perspective: Jesus, the son of God, himself fasted. When Pope John Paul II was alive I remember reading an article that said the Holy Father attended Confession once a week. I remember thinking to myself after reading that, "If the pope goes to Confession once a week then I should be going hourly!" As Christians we should apply the same principle to fasting: if Christ himself fasted, then we too should fast, which brings me to this little doozie here (bolded for emphasis):

"'And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'" - Matthew 6:16-18

Note the use of the conjunction "when" in these passages. There is no "if". The conjunction is definitive, "when" implies that Christ is in fact exhorting his followers to fast but - as the passage suggests - to do so without hypocrisy, but rather to do so joyfully and without "promoting" the fact that you're fasting.

So is fasting un-biblical? It certainly doesn't look that way. My hunch is that some fundamentalists reject fasting because it appears to be a very "Catholic thing", and in their books anything Catholic is bad. In short: if Christ himself fasted and if he's exhorting the practice, then we should as followers of Christ be heeding those words and listening to his instruction, for we fast to overcome our passions, inclinations and desires so that they may not lead us into sin.

Further reading: