Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Saint Paul's Prescription for Peace in Politics

            It is no secret to anyone who knows me how strong my political positions are.  I am not sure if it is being half Irish, or some other inherited trait. Of course, my French father could get quite animated in political discussions.  I remember in kindergarten having a strong opinion about why Richard Nixon should have been elected, since McGovern wanted us to go to school all year around, and we couldn’t have that.  It’s funny because, well, I was only 5; had only been in school for two months when that 1972 election took place (must have been a rough two months if I hated it enough not to want to go all year around); and I had an opinion one way or another on a campaign issue.  Oddly, my older brother is the one who told me about all of this, and he is now quite on the liberal side of the aisle.

This is all to say that passions are as deep within me as with anyone about the state of the nation, and what direction society at large should go.  And, yes, at times I let my passions get heated, and often allow negative feelings to disturb my peace. Many times, it is because there are disturbing things in society and the government; downright troubling things that have real adverse effects on people’s lives, especially innocent people. 

So it is with this introduction that I describe a moment of peace granted me by the Lord just this morning, and I have Saint Paul to thank, as well, since it was his words to Saint Timothy that were the immediate cause of this peace.   As is my custom, after waking up and thanking God for the night that passed, and the day beginning, and invoking the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, with my guardian angel and Saint Therese for their assistance, I get out my Bible app and read a short passage that is to be a theme for the day.  I’ve been going through the letters of Saint Paul lately, and this passage was next in line: 

1 Timothy 2:1-2   "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."

                Okay, I’ve read that before; and shortly after this is the oft-quoted line from Saint Paul about Jesus being the One Mediator between God and man.  But I decided to stay with these first two lines from the 2nd chapter.  “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, and for kings and all who are in high positions. . .”  The Apostle urges his protégé and son in the Lord to get this work of prayer going.  He obviously sees it as a duty, on the one hand, and much more than that: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”  There is a genuine self-interest involved here. 

                Christian theology is very clear on human freedom, that individuals can and do disobey God’s will, and that they can change by grace and begin to cooperate with God’s will. In the mix of all of this is the effectiveness of genuine prayer before the Lord, that He does indeed hear and listen, and act. He can change the hearts of others because of our prayer and supplication. 

                But whence the sense of peace that descended upon me, or rather, welled up within me?  Let’s face it: I am not fan of career politicians. It’s frustrating to see the extent to which the nation has fallen short of its Constitutional moorings and that there is even a potential Constitutional crisis in the works over the next couple of days should the president violate the 14th amendment. The degree to which frustration grows is proportionate to the lack of ability to make any changes on one’s own.

                But that’s not my role. 

Years ago, I went through a particularly dark period during which the Church seemed set on a wrong course, with scandals and buffoonery, lack of discipline and widespread inanity that was left unchecked by those in authority. At a critical moment, someone told me about yet another stupid thing going on somewhere in the Church. I had had enough, and, moved by a bonk-on-the-head grace, I almost yelled in exasperation, “That’s on the pope’s conscience; not mine!”  The immediate effect of saying these words, and hearing myself say them, was delightfully overwhelming, much like the morning sun that greeted me yesterday after 4 days of rain and clouds. I was free, for I had my job to do, and the pope had his; why try to do his without his permission? Mine was tough enough.

                Likewise, most of us who watch the national side-show of Washington two-stepping can do very little about it from a power or authority side.  Sure, make calls, send emails, write letters and tweet stuff, but much of what will happen over the next few days, months and years is not really in our power to change.  Perhaps the prescription of Saint Paul is what is necessary, and actually quite powerful.  Lighting and re-lighting internal fires only raises blood pressure and serves to self-defeat a person.  But making “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings” for those in authority, that’s something I, and anyone, can do.  It may not bring about sudden, transformational change for the good, but it might. And let’s not forget that after the Pope called for a day of prayer and fasting to stop an imminent bombing of Syria, no bombs were dropped. 

                The long and short of it is that we should be earnestly praying for the president, congress and others “in high positions”, for their conversion where necessary, and “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A reflection on the current discussion in congress

How I would like to see the debate go in Washington. . .

                Republicans: We were elected as a majority of the House of Representatives.  As the “people’s house”, we are closer to the people, since we are answerable to them more often than the President or the Senate.  It is the responsibility of the House to initiate tax and spending bills, as well as authorize new debt.  With our nearness to the people, as a majority, we have decided that the affordable care act should not be funded.  It is the prerogative of the House to act in this way, as it has numerous times throughout history. We have seen the polls showing a majority of people do not want this law to go into effect and so we are trying the only thing that we have under the Constitution to accomplish this.  While we would prefer, in addition to this, to cut spending by reining in a deficit laden continuing resolution, we will go along with current spending levels as a compromise to the wishes of the Senate majority and the President.  Since the affordable care act has already been changed by the president on numerous occasions, especially in granting waivers by extra-legislative  executive action, we believe that since the Senate will not accept a defunding, the law should be, by statute (not  executive authority), delayed for a year on behalf of the small businesses of America and the many people who do not have health insurance at their place of employment, that is, the rest of America outside of big business and federal employees, including Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive branch.  While this disagreement continues, we will pass smaller funding bills that will enable the federal government to return to normal operations.

                Democrats: We are committed to the affordable care act. It is the law of the land, and our commitment to it is the basis of our stance.  While we recognize the authority of the House to initiate and pass funding bills, we believe that there should be no changes to this law.  We disagree with the GOP on their view of the affordable care act, and intend to do what we think is necessary to continue its implementation as it now stands.  We will not allow any changes, and therefore, we wait for the House to compromise further so that we can continue to fund and run the government as we have been doing.  It is our opinion that the President has the authority to make changes to the law at his discretion.  Presidential prerogative is higher than the past practice of budgeting and debt laws originating in the House; therefore, he can change laws that he finds to be deficient or in need of alteration.  He has no responsibility to seek congressional authorization for these actions. In addition, since the debt limit will be reached in ten days, we want the House to raise the debt ceiling, so that the president can continue to fund the programs that he feels are necessary for the good of the nation. Though the debt is now near 17 trillion dollars, we do not consider this to be an issue, since more spending will eventually lead to economic growth.

 How the conversation goes:

                Republicans:  See above

                Democrats:  The GOP and their extremists are terrorists, anarchists, and unpatriotic malcontents who only want to harm the nation. They do not deserve our attention, and must submit and do as we say or we will continue to let them shut down the government.  Meanwhile, we will make it as painful as possible, so that the GOP gets blamed for the mess that we are now in.  We follow the lead of the President, who has said on numerous occasions, “I will not negotiate.”