Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pope Benedict XXVI: Ash Wednesday Homily

I had to run to the store for some olive oil this morning before the Ash Wednesday service and, on the way back, Sebastian's radio (Sebastian is my 2002 Golf TDI) was tuned to our local EWTN Radio station, which was airing the Ash Wednesday Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. As I said to the congregation, not only is this Pope a fine theologian, he can preach.
...I would like to reflect on the liturgical sign of the ashes, a material sign, a natural element that, in the Liturgy, becomes a sacred symbol, so important on this day that marks the start of our Lenten journey. In ancient times, in the Jewish culture, it was common to sprinkle one’s head with ashes as a sign of penance, and to dress in sack-cloth and rags. For us Christians, there is this one moment which has important symbolic and spiritual relevance.

Ashes are the material sign that brings the cosmos into the Liturgy. The most important signs are those of the Sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine, which become true sacramental elements through which we communicate the Grace of Christ who comes among us. The ashes are not a sacramental sign, but they are linked with prayer and the sanctification of the Christian people. Before the ashes are placed on our heads, they are blessed according to two possible formulae: in the first they are called “austere symbols”, in the second, we invoke a blessing directly upon them, referring to the text in the Book of Genesis which can also accompany the imposition of the ashes: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”.

Let us reflect for a moment on this passage of Genesis.

It concludes with a judgement made by God after original sin. God curses the serpent who caused man and woman to commit sin. Then He punishes the woman saying she will suffer the pains of giving birth. Then He punishes the man, saying he will suffer the fatigue of labour and He curses the soil saying “accursed be the soil because of you, because of your sin.” The man and woman are not cursed directly as the serpent is, but because of Adam’s sin. Let us reread the account of how God created man from the Earth. “God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then He breathed into his nostrils, a breath of life. Thus man became a live being. Then God planted a garden in Eden, which is in the East, and there He put the man He had fashioned.” Thus the sign of the ashes recalls the great story of creation which tells us that being human means unifying matter with Divine breath, using the image of dust formed by God and given life by His breath, breathed into the nostrils of the new creature.

In the Genesis account, the symbol of dust takes on a negative connotation because of sin. Before the fall the soil is totally good: through God’s work it is capable of producing “every kind of tree enticing to look at and good to eat.” After the fall and following the divine curse it produces only thorns and brambles and only in exchange for the sweat of man’s brow will it surrender its fruits....
That's what I got to hear (in translation from Italian) about an hour before placing ashes on some 30 foreheads and preaching Ash Wednesday myself. You can (like me) read the rest of it here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lutheran Church President Testifies Before Congress

Yesterday LCMS President Matthew Harrison testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the Obama Administration's mandate. Listen to (or read) his powerful, (dare I call it) prophetic message.

Mr. Chairman, it’s a pleasure to be here. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a body of some 6,200 congregations and 2.3 million members across the U.S. We don’t distribute voters’ lists. We don’t have a Washington office. We are studiously non‐partisan, so much so that we’re often criticized for being quietistic.

I’d rather not be here, frankly. Our task is to proclaim, in the words of the blessed apostle St. John, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sin. And we care for the needy. We haven’t the slightest intent to Christianize the government. Martin Luther famously quipped one time, "I’d rather have a smart Turk than a stupid Christian governing me."

We confess that there are two realms, the church and the state. They shouldn’t be mixed – the church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution. We have 1,000 grade schools and high schools, 1,300 early childhood centers, 10 colleges and universities. We are a machine which produces good citizens for this country, and at tremendous personal cost.

We have the nation’s only historic black Lutheran college in Concordia, Selma. Many of our people [who are alive today] walked with Dr. King 50 years ago on the march from Selma to Montgomery. We put up the first million dollars and have continued to provide finance for the Nehemiah Project in New York as it has continued over the years, to provide home ownership for thousands of families, many of them headed by single women. Our agency in New Orleans, Camp Restore, rebuilt over 4,000 homes after Katrina, through the blood, sweat and tears of our volunteers. Our Lutheran Malaria Initiative, barely begun, has touched the lives of 1.6 million people in East Africa, especially those affected by disease, women and children. And this is just the tip, the very tip, of the charitable iceberg.

I’m here to express our deepest distress over the HHS provisions. We are religiously opposed to supporting abortion‐causing drugs. That is, in part, why we maintain our own health plan. While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard as this administration moves us all into a single‐payer ... system. Our direct experience in the Hosanna‐Tabor case with one of our congregations gives us no comfort that this administration will be concerned to guard our free‐exercise rights.

We self‐insure 50,000 people. We do it well. Our workers make an average of $43,000 a year, 17,000 teachers make much less, on average. Our health plan was preparing to take significant cost‐saving measures, to be passed on to our workers, just as this health‐care legislation was passed. We elected not to make those changes, incur great cost, lest we fall out of the narrow provisions required under the grandfather clause. While we are opposed in principle, not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion‐causing drugs, we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non‐Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. The conscience is a sacred thing. Our church exists because overzealous governments in northern Europe made decisions which trampled the religious convictions of our forebearers. I have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. I have ancestors who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I have ancestors who served in the War of 1812, who fought for the North in the Civil War – my 88‐year‐old father‐in‐law has recounted to me, in tears many times, the horrors of the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, Bud Day, the most highly decorated veteran alive, is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

We fought for a free conscience in this country, and we won’t give it up without a fight. To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government. The bed is too narrow, the blanket is too short. We must obey God rather than men, and we will. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences. Thank you.
Pastor Harrison and others also answered questions asked by members of the committee:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Lutheran Perspective on the Obama Mandate

I first met Pastor Matthew Harrison in the spring of 2007, at the Conference on Mercy sponsored by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod World Relief/Human Care for which he was Executive Director. I was quite impressed by him not only as a driving force in the LCMS' relief efforts, but as a theologian who both understood and taught why the Church is involved in such things. In the summer of 2010, Pastor Harrison was elected President of the LCMS.

Here President Harrison addresses the current controversy over the Obama Administration's chilling mandate that all forms of "birth control" be fully covered by medical plans, including those of churches and church agencies that have always taught that it is grave sin to take the life of a child in the womb:

Hi. I’m Pastor Matthew Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a denomination of some 6,200 congregations across the United States. We also have many institutions, which care for the needy and also 10 universities.

In response to President Obama’s announcement Friday concerning an ‘accommodation’ to a previous mandate that health plans must cover all forms of birth control (even those that can kill the unborn), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod remains deeply concerned. We strongly object to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Drugs such as Plan B® and Ella®, which are still included in the mandate, can work post-conception to cause the death of the developing child, so don’t be fooled by statements to the contrary.

We see President Obama’s action Friday as significant, in that it appears to have been prompted by the many voices united in concern over an infringement of our religious liberties. But the ‘accommodation’ did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way. It simply described a temporary enforcement delay and a possible future change—a change that, unfortunately, would not adequately protect religious freedom or unborn lives.

We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life. We are committed to working to ensure that we remain free to practice the teachings of our faith, that our religious rights are not violated and that our rights of conscience are retained. Freedom of religion extends beyond the practice of our faith in houses of worship. We must be free to put our faith into action in the public square, and, in response to Christ’s call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people according to the clear mandate of Holy Scripture.

The government has overstepped its bounds. This controversy is not merely about birth control and the Catholic Church’s views about it. It’s about mandating that we provide medications which kill life in the womb. And moreover, and perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens. We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces. As we have vividly experienced in discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption, we and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will) are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat. The next assault will come upon church-related retirement facilities. How much longer will it be legal in this country to believe and act according to the dictates of biblical and creedal Christianity?

We in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pray for our president and his administration every day. In fact, I personally pray for the president every single day. We have had members of our church body serve in very significant positions, including attorney general, also chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and many other significant positions. We have and have had senators and House of Representatives members. We’ve contributed to the well being of this country in countless ways. In fact, the most highly decorated living veteran is a member of the LCMS.

Jesus bids us, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Mark 12:17). We will pray for and support our government where we can, but our consciences and our lives belong to God.

Thank you.
And thank you, Pastor Harrison.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Catchers and pitchers report in...

Nuts! This is no fun. Depending on the team this year's Spring Training voluntary report date for pitchers and catchers is between Feb 19-23, with the Mariners on Feb 12! But for most teams it's the 19th (9 of them) or 20th (10). And MLB says it's the 19th -- except for Oakland and Seattle, who report on the 12th. And the Angels report on the 19th, so...

Catchers and pitchers report in 9 days!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Curing Breast Cancer or Keeping Abortion?

Yesterday I "shared" a cartoon on my Facebook page got lots of "likes" and positive comments. It showed a funeral chapel with lots of empty chairs and a woman whispering to the man next to her, "He had over 2,000 Facebook friends. I was expecting a bigger turnout." I can't recall that last time I got this much response.

Today I "liked" "Komen Get It", today's "Best of the Web" by James Taranto over at the Wall Street Journal's [tip o' the hat to my Facebook friend, Pr. Rich Heinz]. I expect this one will not get so positive a response, but it's worth reading anyway. Taranto begins:
Susan G. Komen for the Cure actually is what Planned Parenthood advertises itself as being: a charity whose main concern is women's health. Komen was founded in 1982 by Nancy Brinker and is named for her sister, who died of breast cancer two years earlier. Until this week, it was probably best known for its fund-raising runs and walks known as Race for the Cure.

Now Komen has provoked the fury of Planned Parenthood, whose self-description as a women's health organization is at best tendentious. In truth, Planned Parenthood is America's leading provider of, and one of its most zealous advocates for, elective abortion. It is also a recipient of government largess; federal funds it receives are not supposed to pay for abortions, but they make it a political lightning rod all the same. And it is one of the most powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party. In last spring's budget deal, funding for Planned Parenthood was the one subject on which President Obama refused to compromise.
Taranto has more to say, then concludes,
Planned Parenthood's bitter campaign against Komen--aided by left-liberal activists and media--is analogous to a protection racket: Nice charity you've got there. It'd be a shame if anything happened to it. The message to other Planned Parenthood donors is that if they don't play nice and keep coughing up the cash, they'll get the Komen treatment.

There's one crucial difference, however. In a real-life protection racket, the victim never pays voluntarily. The threat is present from the get-go. By contrast, Komen presumably was not under any duress when it made its grants--and it could have avoided all this nasty publicity by never dealing with Planned Parenthood in the first place.

Thus smart prospective donors--especially ones that are apolitical, like Komen--are getting the message that supporting Planned Parenthood is a trap. Give once, and you will give again--or else you will pay.
Following the Komen-PP controversy of the last couple of days -- the mass media are either actually or playing ignorant of just how controversial that relationship has been for years -- I keep thinking of this past Sunday's Gospel (St. Mark 1:21-28), which begins:
21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God."
That's the thing about the Devil. He'll say anything to entrap you in his lies and deception; he'll even say the truth or do good works, when he can say it in a way to lead you away from the truth and good. And that's been my experience with Planned Parenthood, both nationally and locally here in Peoria; they will say and do anything -- even very good things -- as long as it profits and protects the abortion business. Threaten that, and watch out.

Thomas Peters, who blogs as the American Papist over at CatholicVote offered this comment just a little while ago to reports this morning that "Komen caved" in to the PP blitz. "No, they didn’t," he begins.
I’ve received a crash-course education in the foundation over the past couple days and I can say without doubt that one thing motivates their President Nancy Brinker: ending breast cancer. That’s why she decided to cease funding Planned Parenthood, because they are about the lousiest group to help if you are serious about ending breast cancer. Second, that’s why their President is worried about the damage to the Komen brand being done by Planned Parenthood and it’s pro-abortion allies. President Brinker knows if Komen is weakened it will be less able to pursue it’s objective of ending breast cancer. She’s not throwing pro-lifers under the bus, she’s trying to save an organization she built to honor the memory of her sister (who died from breast cancer) and prevent it happening to others.

That’s why we need to make common cause with Komen and support their pro-woman goals. That’s why we need to expose Planned Parenthood’s scurrilous move to destroy Komen.

I mean, just pause for a moment: if Planned Parenthood is so serious about protecting women’s health how does it justify leading a crusade to destroy the world’s leading breast cancer research foundation over these past days?? It’s simply incredible, and we need to make sure it’s never forgotten!

One last thing: we need to remember the big picture. Over the past 48 hours, not only did Planned Parenthood reveal itself as willing to seriously damage and attempt to destroy the pro-woman Komen foundation, but also, thousands and millions of people potentially learned for the first time that Komen doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood is an ideal provider of health care for women. So even if Planned Parenthood wins this battle (an outcome very much in doubt), I would argue they have seriously weakened themselves for the wars ahead. This will be a long fight, so take the long view.

Here’s what you can do to continue to support Komen in the short term:

1) email and say “Thank You for Defunding Planned Parenthood” and promise to buy products bearing the pink ribbon. Encourage them directly in other ways.

2) sign the petition at (this is not an effort to harvest emails, you only have to supply your name and location) and invite your family and friends to do the same.

3) blog/facebook/tweet/email/write op-eds about this. Get the word out any way you know how.
In a few moments, this blog post will make it to my Facebook page. My (currently) 859 Facebook friends really are all over the place on faith, morals, politics, and philosophy, as are those who regularly read Pastor Zip's Blog. We'll see what kind of reaction this gets.

[See comments for update. Zip+]