With the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against Iraq, debate rages about how best to provide for "homeland security."
What is the proper balance between the right of persons to privacy and the need of government to know, for the security of us all?
There is a similar question that arises when we reflect on how to provide for "spiritual security." What is the proper balance between the right of others to lead their own lives, and the need for the church, which means us all, to challenge behaviors that threaten the spiritual health of us all?
Inevitably there will be times when people do or say something, or do not do or say something, that hurts us. We must deal with personal grievances in our own ways.
When to speak out?
Sometimes, however, people do or say something that divides or threatens the well being of the family, the parish, the community, and even the nation. How we should respond is often uncertain.
Parents deal with this all the time. When should they step in for early correction to prevent a likely mistake? When, having provided appropriate teaching, should they allow the children they love to make decisions for themselves, perhaps making mistakes from which they can learn and grow?
It is true of the Church as well. In families and faith life, we should pray to allow the Holy Spirit to help us discern how we should respond.
When we disagree on moral grounds with what someone has done, we often choose to say nothing because we don't want to upset things. Our silence may result in others thinking we condone their actions. The best way to respond may not be in words of criticism, but public actions of faithfulness, being a good example of Christian moral living.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: "The more a person discovers himself the way he really is, the more he feels the need for God, and the more God manifests himself in such a soul."
I have had people come to me and tell me how disappointed they were about both personal and professional decisions I had made. Lost in my own little world, I did not appreciate the implications of what I was doing. It was painful to hear the critical words. My immediate reaction was defensive. But because I was gently confronted, I could discover the way I really am, rediscover my need for God, and for God's forgiveness.
Discover who we really are
That has happened recently to the church and some of her leaders. It has been painful, but necessary. We have discovered the church as it really is. We now better recognize the need of our leaders, and of each of us, to more fully rely on God's guidance each day. This wake-up call will find us stronger and more focused as the church faces the challenges of the future.
When we are honest with each other as Jesus calls us to be, and reach out in reconciliation and support, we will have in place the spiritual security that preserves the moral groundings that lead to eternal life.
First we must know who we really are. Sometimes that requires the help of someone else, who has the courage and love to tell us.
Voter education materials:
The months of September and October in even numbered years are critical for Wisconsin voters as this is the time when most of us set aside summer pastimes to pay closer attention to the political scene.
But Election Day decisions are preceded by other choices.
For the voter must first decide what factors will govern his or her ballot selections. This in turn means making informed judgments as to what issues and public policy concerns are most important to the common good of our Wisconsin family. Only then can voters examine the candidates to see whose views or priorities best mesh with their own.
Over the years, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) has taken the approach that it can be most helpful to Catholics and others by offering such "issue oriented" materials. These materials relate pertinent themes of Catholic social teaching to some of the more important policy debates of the moment and invite citizens to reflect on these as they decide which candidates to support.
For reasons both secular and religious the WCC does not endorse candidates.
The secular reason is that churches, like other tax-exempt organizations, are precluded from supporting or opposing candidates. This is a controversial requirement, for some believe that it unfairly inhibits the free exercise of religion. But, as it is the law of the land, WCC abides by it.
Even were such endorsements legal, however, the vision of the church in the modern world articulated at the Second Vatican Council is a vision that calls lay Catholics to exert leadership in the political arena. Thus even if candidate endorsements were legal, the church as an institution would not make them.
But neutrality toward candidates is not the same as indifference to policies. Thus, the WCC offers a Catholic perspective as to those issues and concerns that Catholics ought to consider as they discern for whom to vote.
This year the WCC has prepared a seven-part series on a range of issues each with implications for the common good and dignity of people. (Starting this week in The Catholic Herald.)
The series is to be taken as a whole. While some issues are clearly more important, voters do themselves a disservice if they study some segments in the series to the exclusion of others. Our call to "faithful citizenship" is such that we must be prepared to make a contribution on many of the issues affecting our state.
However, while the series should be read as a whole, it is not meant to provide all that a voter needs to make an informed choice. Rather, our goal is that those who study it will be moved to study the issues in greater depth as they form their views.
Nor does the WCC have a position on every issue addressed. Sometimes the materials discuss an issue of importance while suggesting questions for voters to consider as they reflect on the matter. This is the approach taken in discussing Wisconsin's budget shortfall, taxation, and issues concerning the environment, for example.
Finally, we must remember that voting, though vitally important, is but one act of faithful citizenship. Each of us is called to advocate and converse with those who are elected to office throughout their terms of office, affirming them where we agree and continuing to press them where we do not.
Faithful Catholics are called to practice the faith we profess from one Sunday to the next. Faithful citizens are called to stand up for their values from one election to the next.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
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Psychologists call it "flashbulb memory," the fact that our recall for emotionally intense experiences is often unusually detailed, burned into our brains forever.
Sept. 11 was one of those days that you can probably remember exactly where you were, maybe even what you were wearing, when you heard the news.
I don't remember what I was wearing, but I do remember the first thought that came to mind as it became clear that the first plane crash was no accident: "What kind of world are we raising our children into?" I suspect that as the great grief cry of humankind went out that day, almost everyone on the planet had a similar question form in the deepest layers of his or her consciousness.
I visited my father in the hospital the day after the attacks. It had seemed enough until then for him to deal with his own dying process, but from the look on his face, I could tell he was dismayed about the kind of world he was leaving to his 32 grandchildren.
When our sense of security is attacked, we think of the most vulnerable among us, those who we know are entirely innocent, those who radiate beauty and hope for the future, those who will be here when we are gone.
Our own three-year old son asked me several weeks after the attacks, "Dad, are there are nightmares in this world?" When I tried to tell him that nightmares are just dreams, he replied, "No, I mean in the real world." What could I say?
I felt the aftershocks of that dark day rumble through my soul again, and I wanted to pinch myself in hopes that it was just a bad dream.
We all sensed instantly that our world had changed forever on Sept. 11, but we tend to assume that means forever for the worse. Must we now go about our daily lives merely blocking out the anxiety that found its way into the innermost core of our souls that day?
I recently asked a friend, a deeply spiritual man, how he's been dealing with all the talk about weapons of mass destruction, the warnings about possible terrorist attacks. He said he just tries not to think about it, which is, I suppose, how most of us are coping. But that won't get the job done.
What job? The kingdom, of course. Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is among us, but most of us still think of it as a place far away from this earth, a place we hope to go to when we die.
People are blowing themselves up, murdering fellow human beings hoping to get to that place. Somehow we still don't get what Jesus was trying to say.
Every parent on the planet wants the same thing, a world in which our children can live in peace. If we let this deepest hope for our children be reduced to rubble by the Sept. 11 attacks, we have allowed those planes to topple far more than buildings. We could choose instead to focus on the idea that the darkest hour of night is the one just before dawn.
What kind of wishful thinking is that, you say? Was Jesus just a dreamer out of touch with reality? Can we not hope as he did?
People often don't change until they "hit bottom." Alcoholics and drug addicts sometimes need everything to fall apart before the reality of their illness penetrates their denial. Could it be the same with the human race? Could we finally realize that we'd better start treating everyone as children of the same God, not as separate people divided by imaginary borders-or face even darker days than the one we now commemorate?
I don't have much faith in the war on terrorism. Violence follows violence like the harvest follows the planting season. I hope our leaders are starting to get that. I pray that there are more people working on a solution to the political and religious tensions in the Middle East than there are on the war in Afghanistan. But all the politicians in the world won't get the job done either. Every person on the planet has a role to play. "Forgive us our trespasses," Jesus prayed, not "Forgive them their trespasses."
Since Dad died, life is different. I still turn away from his picture, so deep is the longing to see him face to face again, but my life is curiously more joyful since his passing.
That has nothing to do with his absence and everything to do with the focusing power of his death. It's as if a basic message got through to my spirit as I tried to absorb his loss: "If this is where life leads, then I will live now with hope and joy and purpose. I will live less for money and 'success' and more for service, less for what others think and more to do my part in ushering in my small corner of the kingdom."
I wonder if the collective spirit of humankind could get a similar message from Sept. 11. Maybe it is circling the globe with the dust particles still suspended in the atmosphere from the events of that terrible day. Perhaps a message of hope could settle down gently upon every living person: "We are all one. We are all one step from the edge of the annihilation. We are all one step from the edge of the annihilation of all hatred."
Located in Monclova, Ohio, Kevin Anderson holds a doctorate in counseling psychology. He founded Center for Life Balance, an organization devoted to fostering health in marriages and families by encouraging greater balance between work, family, leisure, and spirituality.
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