U.S. Congressman on my ridiculous tweet

I’ve been disappointed by the strong movement to push for the U.S. government to halt acceptance of Syrian refugees in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. This seems to me to be allowing fear to overtake our humanity, compassion, intelligence, and common sense.

Let’s be clear: It is obvious that no one can guarantee that no single terrorist will slip in along with the tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing terror themselves.

But there are many risks no one can guarantee to protect us from that we reasonably open ourselves every day to by our laws, policies, and practices.

Every time I fly I see hundreds of people skipping security checkpoints to pass through the TSA “pre-check” route. Sure, they’ve been officially vetted in the past, but you can’t guarantee they haven’t been radicalized since then. Of course, common sense tells us the chances are that are so small, it’s worth the “risk” to speed up the process for everyone.

Many schools are installing metal detectors at their doors to protect students. But they’re not putting bars on the windows to prevent the bad guys from coming in that way! This is taking a risk. But there’s only so much one can reasonably do to eliminate risk without sacrificing other important values, right?

One example that seemed to me to be especially worthwhile is this one: We’ve seen a lot of terrible gun violence in the United States. Deranged or evil people have successfully gone after elementary school students, college students, movie-goers, black church-goers, and more. And statistics make clear that this problem, while not exclusively American, is predominantly American, here in this country with our very permissive guns laws. Time and time again, leaders and activists have called for reasonable restrictions on access to guns, only to be dismissed and mocked by many on the right, who criticize their willingness to sacrifice our freedoms in an abundance of caution.

So like I said, I thought that was an especially apt analogy when considering the current move to “pause” the influx of refugees out of an abundance of caution. I chose to make that point this week to several of our lawmakers via Twitter, including those who sponsored the “American SAFE Act,” a bill that passed handily in the House of Representatives to do just that.

One of those I tweeted was U.S. Representative Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina, who co-sponsored the act.

I tweeted: “.@RepRichHudson: Funny, I don’t remember your call for a #pause on permissive gun control regs after Sandy Hook or Umpqua.”

And to my surprise, Rep. Hudson tweeted back! Taking time out of his busy congressional schedule, he (or one of his communications people) wrote to me: “I will blame your iPhone for that ridiculous Tweet. #ThinkAboutIt”

Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit it, and I suppose it’s the result of my wonky, civics-loving nature, not to mention a hearty respect for our government and its leaders, but my first and strongest reaction has been that I’m just delighted that a U.S. congressman chose to tweet to me at all, despite the fact that he did it to say my comment was “ridiculous.”

Of course, being called ridiculous by a congressman is a little disheartening, once you get thinking about it. And it’s hard not to wonder about taking it so personally that I’d not want to vote for members of his party in the future, though I’ve cast plenty of votes during my adult life for Republicans in the past. But I know that would be an over-reaction.

My kids told me I should look on the bright side: all the Democrats who see that will think I’m really cool. There is that.

If they do, maybe some of our lawmakers on that side of the aisle will be willing to hear me out on abortion. I’ll need to take a breath before that conversation, though. One can only be called ridiculous so often.

“Not like in the USA, you know?”

It took Donald Trump just over 48 hours from the Paris terrorist attacks to insist that less restrictive gun control laws in France would have left the people of Paris safer on November 13. From Politico:

“Had there been some guys with a gun, there would have been a shootout and probably the primary people that would have got whacked would have been the killers,” Trump said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “You can’t any tougher than Paris, and you can’t get any tougher than France” on gun control, he continued. “They just said, come here, boom, come here, boom…shot these people at will.”

Trump and his millions of fans ought to take note of another interview that aired at about the same time, this one on National Public Radio. Journalist Robert Siegel offered a view of the evening of the attacks from the experience of an emergency room doctor who treated many of the victims. The doctor — who treated 27 gunshot victims in a Paris hospital emergency room that night — mentioned that it is unusual it is for him to be called upon to treat a gunshot wound.

“Usually,” he says in his stilted English, “in the emergency department in France, you may have a car crash. Sometime, one gun, but not that type of number of patients was of gun.”

Siegel, an American, tries to help him out by clarifying that the doctor is accustomed to treating only around one gunshot wound per weekend.

No, the doctor corrects him, “One per year.” And he adds: “Not like in the USA, you know?”

What a sad statement about the United States. This is how our western neighbors view us, and for good reason.

So if it’s okay to suggest what sort of guns laws might have left Parisians safer on November 13, it’s obviously fair to ask what kinds of laws keep them safer every other day of the year? “You can’t get any tougher than France” on gun control, Trump pointed out.

Alas, Trump is right about France’s gun control laws, and the doctor is right about their results. They are indeed “restrictive” (to use the term of gunpolicy.org). In France, where liberty is the first word of the national motto, there is no “right to bear arms.” No one can even own a gun without a hunting or sporting license, which needs to be repeatedly renewed and requires psychological evaluation.

The result? Around 0.2 gun homicides per 100,000 in population annually. (That is, for every million citizens, 2 per year die by gun homicide.)

Compare that to the United States, whose laws are characterized by gunpolicy.org as “permissive.” We end up with between 3 and 4 deaths per 100,000 in population — or for every million citizens, 30 to 40 gun homicides per year.

In a word, 20 times more.

Sadly, the “boom… boom…” (to use Mr. Trump’s expression) that rang out in Paris on November 13 killed 138 innocents. That same boom, boom, so unfamiliar to Paris, rings out every night in American cities, taking lives in much higher numbers over not too much more time.

Not like in Paris, you know?

“We are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous”

I love this passage from Pope Francis’s Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square yesterday:

Today Jesus also tells us that the measurement is not the quantity but the fullness. There is a difference. It is not a question of the wallet, but of the heart. There are heart diseases that lower the heart to the portfolio. To love God “with all your heart” means to trust Him, to trust in His providence, and to serve him in the poorest brothers and sisters without expecting anything in return. Faced with the needs of others, we are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the necessary time, not only what remains extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or our own group.

Allow me to tell you a story that happened in my previous diocese. It is about a mother with her three children.  The father was at work and the family was at table eating veal cutlets alla Milanese.  Just then someone knocked at the door and one of the children – the young one who was five or six years old – the oldest was seven years old – came and said, “Mom, there’s a beggar at the door who is asking for some food.”  And the mother, a good Christian, said, “What should we do?”

“Give him some food,” they said.

“Ok.” She took the fork and knife and cut each person’s cutlet in half.

“Oh no, Mom! Not like this! Take something from the refrigerator!”

“No, we will make three sandwiches like this!”

And thus the children learned that the meaning of true charity means that you give not from what is left over but from what we need. I am certain that that afternoon they were a bit hungry, but this is the way to do it.

New in OSV: My article on the Pope’s gifts to Fidel

Before Pope Francis’s triumphant visit to the USA last month came a historic visit to Cuba. That leg of the trip included a private meeting between the Pope and retired leader Fidel Castro. Francis and Fidel exchanged books as gifts at that meeting, and the books that the Pope offered were noteworthy. Indeed, at least one of them surely evoked a strong response in Castro’s heart — exactly what kind of response, we’ll never know.

Here’s my new article from Our Sunday Visitor about the books Francis gave Fidel.

“Intellectual fervor and huge stakes”

The current issue of America magazine includes a review article called “Vatican II: The Next 50 Years,” by Patrick Howell, SJ. Father Howell reviews three new books that he says “convincingly underscore the unfinished business of Vatican II and delve into the arguments and events that characterized the intense, dynamic debates that marked the council up to and during its four sessions.”

It’s a delight to see my own Struggle, Condemnation, VIndication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II included as one of the three, and humbling to be in the company of two fine books by two extraordinary theologians.

About my book, Howell writes:

Barry Hudock expertly narrates the intriguing and tortured history of the arguments of John Courtney Murray, S.J., for religious liberty that led directly to the council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” As Hudock’s title, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication, suggests, Murray valiantly threaded his way through the multiple obstacles posed by his theological adversaries, primarily the American theologians Francis Connell and Joseph Fenton, and the formidable Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office.

Murray’s thesis ingeniously asserted that the religious liberty provided by the U.S. Bill of Rights has its roots in the Catholic natural law tradition. The American cardinals eventually brought Murray to the council as an expert (peritus), and the document on religious liberty became the singular American contribution to the universal church. By all accounts Murray was brilliant. Even one of his critics acknowledged Murray’s “impressive erudition, remarkable dexterity, and uncommon command of language.”

Hudock captures the intellectual fervor and the huge stakes in the battle. He lifts the curtain to reveal some of the machinations during the council to derail the effort. The document on religious liberty was, after all, the clearest reversal of the teaching of Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX, who had condemned freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the separation of church and state. Murray lived to see his vindication, though he died shortly after the council in 1967. At his funeral Walter Burghardt, S.J., affirmed, “Untold Catholics will never sense that they live so gracefully in this dear land because John Murray showed so persuasively that the American proposition is quite congenial to the Catholic reality.”

My thanks to Fr. Howell and America magazine for the nod!

Do the “faithful” need more attention from the Synod fathers?

I must admit, I’m not especially keen on the occasional pleas that we have heard for the Synod to be more attentive to “faithful” families, the thinking being that they need the Church’s pastoral care, too.

This came most prominently in a recent blog post from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whom I respect a great deal and whose pastoral intuition is very often precisely on target (as I’ve noted on this blog here, here, and here). In a post he titled “Inclusion of the New Minority,” he opened noting that the theme of “inclusion” is a “very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod” and that the church “welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded.” He continued:

Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?  I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony–  approach the Church for the sacrament;  Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!  I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.

Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV?   From magazines or newspapers?  From movies?  From Broadway?  From their peers?  Forget it!

They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion.  We cannot let them down!

I saw it again more recently in a post by the popular and often very thoughtful Elizabeth Scalia. She went on at length about all of the “faithful families” who are “being under-served, and wandering about in serious pain and confusion because the pastors are distracted and delayed.”

These are the “faithful intact families” who follow church teachings, and the “faithful intact families” who suffer very real difficulties of all kinds, and the “faithful families” who have divorced and received or need annulments (not those who have divorced and remarried without annulments), and the “faithful families” who are “trying to figure out how to remain true to the Church and true to the love for their family members who are same-sex attracted”… A whole list of “faithful” people who need the Church’s attention. And the problem is, she says, that all of the attention the Synod is giving in its discussions of how to care for what we can only presume to be the “unfaithful” people is a “waste valuable time not discussing an awful lot of wounded sheep.” Someone, she says, needs to stand up and bang a few heads together and get these synod fathers back on track.

These cries for more pastoral attention to the faithful leave me feeling uncomfortable.

First of all, there’s no question that all Catholics, even the most faithful, need pastoral care. I won’t argue with that.

Second, the distinction between the “faithful” ones and the “unfaithful” ones baffles me a little. It seems to suggest there are certain sins and situations that define who gets to be called “faithful.” Do any of those intact-family parents cheat on their taxes, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? Any of those intact-family dads who dabble in online pornography, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? How about those parents of “same-sex attracted” children (really, it’s okay to say “gay”) who have failed once or twice in making their children feel loved and welcome? Are they still faithful?

But here’s the thing that nags at me about the posts above. Hasn’t most of the Church’s time in recent decades — indeed, recent centuries — been devoted to the care of these very faithful people? And is it really so troubling if the shepherds take some time to really give serious thought and discussion to how to offer pastoral care to the most difficult situations or those farthest from the Church? Do we think that such pastoral attention leaves the “faithful” ones without care, as though those very shepherds can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? And what does such a stance say about our response to the call to a new evangelization of the world?

I’m a member of one of those families I think (hope) Elizabeth would put in the category of “faithful.” There were a few years, early on, when my wife and I were living in an “irregular” situation (we may have been “unfaithful” then). But we did what we needed to do, went through the processes we needed to attend to, and abstained from receiving Communion throughout that that time (so maybe we were faithful after all). For a long time now we’ve been “in good standing” with the Church and working hard to raise what I truly hope is a faithful Catholic family.

And as one of those faithful, I say to the Synod fathers: I am happy to cede some of the time you spend caring for me and thinking about me to the faraway sheep, those who are more hurting or more angry than I have ever imagined being, those for whom talk of God’s love and mercy (which I know deeply and rejoice in regularly) is nothing but a foreign language. Talk about them. Pray about them. Argue about them. Listen to them. Learn from them. In doing so, you are at the very same time teaching me and my own family how to be better Christians and a more faithful family as well.