Race to the bottom?

Race is a difficult topic to talk about, it is almost intimidating putting it to paper. Almost. Everyone is walking on eggshells when it comes to this topic. The recent flair up in Charlottesville is just an ugly example of this. The landscape in politics is intense and race has been used as a political football for a long time. Over-generalizations and ignorance stoke the flames and build rhetoric. It’s going to end poorly if we keep going this way. Like the song “Stuck in the middle with you,” I feel like I’ve got clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. White supremacists need to learn empathy and love. Antifa and Black Lives Matters needs to understand violence and suppression is only a means to recreate the monster you’re fighting against. This isn’t a race to the bottom.

I was told this year, for the first time in my life, that I’m racist and my privilege discredits any voice I have. I was slapped a with a label as if my story and heritage can be automatically assumed. As if I come from a background of slave ownership seeking the return to glory days. Here is my story. My heritage. My great grandparents fled the Russian conscription of Poles to escape to America in search of a more secure future in freedom from tyrannical oppression. My grandfathers fought against real fascists and imperialists in World War Two. My grandmother’s brother kept his life but lost his sanity at the infamous battle of Guadalcanal. My grandmothers, like our family’s own ‘Rosie the Riveters’ contributed to the war effort. Relatives who lived in Oświęcim we’re forced out of the ancestral home to make way for the Nazi officers who ran the infamous Auschwitz death camp. My uncle received the Purple Heart in Vietnam and my own brother serves proudly in the U.S.A.F. I come from a heritage of freedom fighters, not oppressors.

What my heritage is carved from is that of immigrants who escaped the hardships of late 19th and early 20th century Europe with nothing. From the ravages of famine in Ireland to the forced oppression of the Poles, my blood consists of the hope that America promised to those who would shed their old life for a new one. A life where hard work matters and makes your future family tree. A life in a place that really is unique in the history of the world. They took a chance but for what?

“That all men are created equal.” 

The history runs deep. The American experience is born from struggle. Nobody is free from a life without it. What’s an important starting point through this is understanding others and where they come from. Media and political parties love playing identity politics and putting people into blocks. We can do better than that and empathy is the antidote here. The founder of The Free Hugs Project, Ken Nwadike Jr., gets it as a bold man stepping in front of hate and breaking the ice by hearing other’s stories.

The American struggle is a shared experience. Our African-American brothers and sisters do not have a separate history from other Americans, it is our history. Our descendants from Europe are not clumped as one. Our history. Our Latin and Asian brethren have walked difficult roads too. Our history. This is the melting pot where culture and ideas collide. This is American history. Our Declaration of Independence doesn’t tolerate the supremacy of one people over another in any direction. Let’s look at each other as individuals instead of buying into the manipulation of group identity politics.

While looking at the stains of our shared heritage can be painful, it doesn’t diminish who we are. The hope for our country, the hope that caused my great-grandparents to settle here, doesn’t lie in our stains but in our freedom to be independent to make of our lives as we wish. That hope is for all citizens. How’s about we share our story with each other and empathize that we’re trying to move our family tree forward in this messy but beautiful land we call home. The framework is there and it’s available for all who pursue happiness. There is no promise of a struggle free existence but when you dig deep, work hard, don’t quit, and treat people with respect; no one is going to stop you from Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Everything else is an excuse. Speaking as the third generation from ground zero, your future family tree will thank you. Let’s stop racing to the bottom. 

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Gal 5:13

In defense of! Why I’m Catholic.

You know what’s awesome about being Catholic? A lot. If you really think about the reasons being Catholic is awesome it dawns on you that you are headed in the right direction. I was thinking about this the other night. Why am I Catholic?

I feel like we get beat up pretty good by others and all too often it’s too easy to shrink back and shrug when approached and challenged. But in defense of our faith, I think we don’t just have a leg to stand on but we actually have solid ground to plant our feet in. Let me explain…

Being a Catholic puts you in the defensible position right in the center of the world stage, joined by over 1.3 billion others. One side of us is other Christians denominations, who are our brothers and sisters, but often represent us poorly because we get clumped as one. Keep in mind the residual West Borough Baptists who preach hate. “Oh all those Christians are all the same,” does not apply. Not everyone is like that but there are still reasons why we aren’t all the same. There are clear differences between us in theology and Tradition.

On the other side of us is the atheists and progressive philosophers who argue against the God ordered universe. Of course they too are our brothers and sisters and we should love without abandon. So how do we stand our ground when challenged from so many directions but love at the same time. Here’s some fuel for you.

Question number one. Is there a God? Absolutely, and you should feel great about that. That’s a good thermometer to figure out where the discussion is headed. You can’t debate scripture with an atheist, they’ll just laugh at you. Thankfully, God ordered the universe in a way that we can debate with reason and science for them too.

St. Aquinas, brilliant Doctor of the Church, gives five proofs for God’s existence. I’ll encourage you to check them all out for some serious meat and potatoes but I’ll give you my favorite. The argument of the Unmoved Mover. Newton’s Law of Motion is stated as “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.” Everything that is in motion today is put into motion by something else yesterday.

There is a seemingly unlimited amount of motion and energy creating movement today but if you were to follow every action and reaction to it’s logical beginning, something couldn’t have just started moving by itself. Rocks don’t jump unless moved to do so, right? Energy doesn’t form without cause. So you follow billions of years of movement to the start, what started that chain? Science tells us movement isn’t prompted by itself and the theory’s of Evolution and Big Bang point to this. The Big Bang Theory, created by astronomer, physics professor, and Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, looks at the ever expanding universe coming from one central point as just further justification of this. Aquinas was way ahead of his time.

There is order in the universe as if by design. More like an artist’s painting with how well concepts like mathematics, gravity, time, are formulated with precision unlike a bowl of marbles being spilt on the ground in seemingly random order. You can spend lifetimes digesting this but when you measure out the debate, it’s clear this isn’t doopty-doo and we’re here.

Lastly, St. Augustine dug deep into the philosophy and nature of man. The human heart yearns for meaning, “We were made for You, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our nature causes us to pursuit the God who built us. This God shaped hole has had people looking for answers across history through many traditions. So if a God does exist, how do we know It isn’t just some far away deity that started everything from some planet and is now sitting cozy and distant watching as we kill ourselves here?

Question number two. So if God is out there, who is right about Him? It’s so tricky in a world where everything is relative to say something is actually true. There are three major Monotheistic religions covering about three billion people. There is a plurality of religions outside of that and a growing segment who think it’s all fooey. To top it off, there are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity. So what the heck Adam?

Here’s how I look at it myself. If the universe points to a creator, then who is it? Jesus of Nazareth is the only leader of any of the major world religions to claim that He is actually God. As C.S. Louis said, either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or He was actually telling the truth.

Think about it, how long would it take for people being eaten by lions to just say “whoa forget this,” if it were a lie? Many early Christians being persecuted by the Roman’s were told to just renounce the faith to live. They didn’t. If he was a lunatic, would the eyewitness accounts corroborate given miracles or would they walk away? What would they have to gain from supporting that crazy guy over there and devoting their life to him?

Or was He actually who he said He was. The Son of the Living God. Here on and with purpose. If that’s true, that should actually blow your mind because that means the world around you is so much more than what you actually see with your eyes. Life takes on a much different meaning. How do you respond to that?

Question number three. Lastly out of the 30,000 denominations, why Catholic? I’ll give you two reasons to start. First, Jesus himself started it. Catholic, meaning “Universal” was his Church. “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” [MT 16:18-19] Jesus literally changed Peter’s name from Simon to “Rock”. Jesus continues, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” If this guy who isn’t crazy or lying, bestows authority to lead onto Peter, I think that’s a clear sign on where He intends to go. And go he does, Peter preaches the first sermon, performs the first apostolic miracle, baptizes the first Gentile, presides over the first council, and pronounces the first apostolic council. [Dr. Marshall, New Saint Thomas Institute] This creates the foundation of Tradition that predates the bible, actually to compile the bible.

Second, the Eucharist. Jesus didn’t just die and we live on in His memory. He gave us Himself as daily bread. If you determine that Jesus isn’t crazy or is lying and says, “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood,” and when pressed for clarification He says, “No really.” [Jn 6:52-58 read it] The Eucharist really is the source and summit, if you doubt this, do your best to explain Eucharistic miracles to me.

At the end, nothing we touch is perfect and that includes the Catholic Church or my defense of it. I can’t defend those who’ve fallen to carnal pleasures and used the Church to destroy. Power corrupts as we’ve seen in any human setting. But for me, it’s not about the man, it’s about the God leading the man. As Bishop Fulton Sheen has said,

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who have what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

Originally written for St. Greg’s Oasis Magazine, 10th edition 8/8/2017.