Things Heidegger Taught Me About Death

• Death is a universal, in that it’s an experience everyone will have at some point. But this knowledge need not depress us; rather, it can energize and liberate us to live whatever time we have left to the fullest.

• Death is, at the same time, something radically individualizing. It’s an experience all of us must undergo alone, which no one can undergo for us.

• That is to say, nobody can die your death for you. Christians, this means you too.

• When we recognize the radical singularity or uniqueness of individuals, we cannot also see them as replaceable. This, if anything, is the ultimate meaning of the term “you and no other.”

• Only the living can thinking, speak, or write about death. This means that, when it comes to understanding death, experience is a mustn’t.

• Death is the only thing that can effectively circumscribe a life. Until the moment of death, there’s always something left to or for a life.

• While nothing belongs to us more than our death, it’s not something we own or possess. Capitalists, take heed.

• Death reveals the radical intrusion of the “not” into the “is.”

• Death is what constitutes us as finite beings. Yet all of us tend to think we’ll live forever. Meditating on death allows us to transcend our everyday selves and unlock, in the here and now, the possibilities we might have otherwise saved for the very end.

Heath Care Reform Notes

By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that all the GOP cares about is scuttling health care reform of any sort, simply to injure the President politically.

What is astounding, however — especially given the Democratic victory in November and how close they are to 60 votes in the Senate — is that party operatives at the highest levels continue to browbeat the base into accepting the “inevitability” of dropping the public option.

It’s like me trying to convince my daughters, over and over again, to stop trying so hard at math because it’s “inevitable” that boys are going to be better at it naturally, and to just devote their energies to other things.

What I’m not telling them is that through my actions, I’m working to help create and sustain the very conditions I claim to deplore.

It’s similarly irresponsible of those who claim to work for the Democratic Party to push the GOP’s agenda for them.

They’re good people, these legislators, officials, and operatives, I’m sure. But for the life of me I can’t tell if they’re just much too afraid of failing to pass any kind of bill whatsoever, or whether they’re really principled supporters of not only protecting the insurance companies, but expanding their market as widely as government can.

You see, if you push for universal health care coverage without a public option, you’re basically giving the HMOs and insurance companies — people who make money off of limiting or denying care altogether — a ton of new customers. With a few wrist-slapping regulations for selling purposes, that any organized monopoly can get around, of course.

Those private, for-profit companies who broker our health care for us just have no incentive whatsoever to cut costs or compete to provide better service to their subscribers.

Unless…

…unless and until there’s a player in the health care delivery marketplace that’s not guided by the profit motive but by a mandate to provide the very best care to as many people — perhaps even everyone — for the lowest cost possible. That, in a nutshell, is the public option, or Medicare for the rest of us (I’m under 65).

Now of course the insurers are afraid of a public option. And it’s understandable that they’d demonize it as “socialist,” “Obamacare,” “death panels,” or a “gubmint takeover” of any sort. That’s the way they talk.

But why on God’s green earth have these becoming the talking points of Democrats at the highest levels? Why are some of the most powerful Democrats in the White House and Congress arm wrestling members of their own party to reject the public option and accept not what’s in the best interests of the American people, but of the insurers?

Why aren’t prominent Democrats, on and off the Hill, making it clear to the American people that neither libraries nor the public education system respectively “sank” bookstores or private schools? These are public options, as is Medicare.

Are those who oppose “socialism” or “gubmint” in general willing to kill Medicare, public libraries, or public schools? Probably!

But that’s the very point, dear reader. These are not the people who should be deciding the future of health care for all of us, any more than a fan who runs onto the field should be allowed to stop the ballgame.

Ever watch a sporting match when a stripper or other loon jumps onto the field? What does the camera do – follow their every move for the titillation and amusement of the viewing public? It would certainly boost ratings!

No, grownups at the networks long ago realized the best thing to do is ignore them and focus on the game. This is not in the least to discourage further bozos in the future.

So too our media would do well to give the town maulers as little air time as they deserve. Because these “patriots” are scaring some of the President’s closest advisors into doing things that go against the principles of their own party.

But maybe that’s the point.

So why are prominent Democrats twisting arms and portraying the supporters of a public option as children and radicals? The answer can only be, for me, because they’re in bed with the insurers. Politically, of course.

And the voters are smart enough to figure out for themselves that the change they voted for was sold out to the insurance companies for — what? Votes? So that something could be done instead of “nothing?”

Let me say a little bit about that “nothing” that’s been said by people like Howard Dean and James Carville. But I’ll say it in a language more familiar to me and, I suspect, many others.

Ever play poker? You can’t play poker or politics well when your overriding goal is to minimize risk. Can’t.

In order to win (I believe), you have to have some stomach for the possibility you might lose, and then have a plan for when you do.

Put another way, if you play simply to avoid losing, instead of to win, you’ve already lost.

Democrats need to realize three things, and quickly. Besides the fact that they’re in a very high-stakes poker game with a very nasty and united Republican foe.

1. Parties have their most power when they rally around their base rather than fighting it.
This is a base which already sees — correctly — the public option as a compromise from single-payer solutions. Unlike in single-payer, a public option, not only allows the insurers to exist, but forces them to compete for your dollar.

I don’t know who’s selling the idea that it’s politically useful for “centrist” or “moderate” Democrats to “stand up” to their base. Listening to some of the things currently being said about our President by the other side, it’s like watching a family member get physically assaulted, then throwing in a punch at them myself, just to prove to the attackers what a cool guy I am.

And last time I checked, competition in the marketplace was a good capitalist value. I’ve also never heard of a sports league that got together to ban a prospective new team simply because they were afraid of how well it might do.

And I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that when companies get together to do this sort of thing (with or without the help of the US government), it’s called violating anti-trust laws. Just a hunch.

2. Getting a robust public option to the American people is a battle Democrats not only can win without GOP support, but have to.
Look, there are damn few GOP Congresspeople left who love their country more than their party right now, perhaps understandably so because of the results of the last election. And you’re not going to win votes from across the aisle by punching out members of your own party.

The GOP has gone all in, you see. All no. I wish them luck trying to sell the beauties of the current system to the voters in 2012.

Right now, the only people who can sink a public option are fellow Democrats. So if one doesn’t go through, guess who’s (rightly) going to take the blame? You guessed it.

This anticipates my last and perhaps most important point, which concerns the health care reform endgame.

3. Democrats and the American people have almost as much to gain from the defeat of a public option at the hands of Republicans than its successful passage.
Now of course this doesn’t mean we work to ensure a bill will fail. No, we’re not the Republicans, and no, this is not single-payer we’re pushing. We’ve all done our homework and know that a vast majority of the American people support a public option.

Just not the insurance lobby.

Suppose all Democrats get behind the public option and lose. Is it the poor American people who’ve lost their one and only chance ever to get any kind of relief from the behavior of the insurers, no matter how cosmetic?

No.

If Democrats put just a little more political capital on the table, (all in would be single-payer, remember) and they win, then Obama becomes the next FDR. That’s what Republicans fear most.

But if they lose to the reactionary, naysaying opponents of health care reform, they and the American people win. Why?

Well, because it would unmask the GOP for everyone to see as the party of no to reform, no to relief from the insurance (and pharmaceutical) companies’ monopoly on health care delivery, and no to anything the President does.

The initial political moves have already been made brilliantly — the President tried, in good faith, to negotiate with Republicans. They returned the favor by turning around and spitting in his face, calling him a socialist and spreading lies about his birthplace, death panels, and the like. This is what needs to go on each and every national TV ad.

Mr. President, now’s not the time to play it cool. Now’s the time to play it tough, and fight back — cleanly, fairly, firmly, and decisively — against your opponents. Don’t lose this historic opportunity to show the world how the politics of fear and hate can be fought successfully with the power of hope.

My suggestion is you use the power of the reconciliation process to push a public option through. It can be done; it just needs someone with as much determination as the former president when he used this process to push through tax cuts for the wealthy.

If the New Deal and Medicare are any indication, history and the American people will be firmly on your side, and you’ll enjoy unprecedented power to move mountains domestically as well as internationally.

Believe me, the people who voted for you have more than got your back if you stand up for a public option, and nothing attracts votes from independents like a strong party with strong leadership.

Do it, Mr. President. Get your field marshals off your fellow Democrats and send them out to fight who they should have been fighting all along: the GOP.

More Catholic Reflections

I had the good fortune of reading this today. Here are some initial reactions, before the kids wake up and I have to make breakfast.

First and foremost, I can’t thank Bishop Robert C. Morlino enough for saying what he did. There’s a growing tide of ugliness in Catholicism and other religion, one that saps any of the love, warmth, charity, generosity, forgiveness, or open-heartedness at its core, or which characterizes mature believers of any faith.

It’s a tide which turns personal and political differences into moral and religious ones. In the process, it ends up injecting a lethal dose of self-assuredness and self-righteousness into just about any discussion. There’s no quicker way to kill a conversation than to have a party to it think they have all the answers or keep reaching for the last word.

This is a tide which has people denouncing the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy even now, days after his death, for his admittedly egregious personal failings. It has them continuing to spit on him and his memory, even as they go to church and claim allegiance to a movement which proclaims universal love.

The good Bishop fights that tide admirably, particularly with words as well-chosen as these:

I’m afraid…that for not a few Catholics, the funeral rites for Senator Kennedy were a source of scandal — that is, quite literally, led them into sin. From not a few corners has come the question, “how on earth could Teddy Kennedy be buried from the Church?” There have also been expressions from some, that “whatever happens in Church, Senator Kennedy will now face justice, which will lead him inside the gates of Hell.”

From the earliest days of the Church it was defined as sinful to enjoy the thought that someone might be in Hell. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit worked powerfully through history so that Hell could be avoided by the proper exercise of human freedom, and to take delight in the perceived foiling of God’s plan is wrong.” [emphasis mine]

That, dear reader is how a pastor speaks. It is not the speech of a member of the Taliban (ours or anyone else’s).

Unfortunately, for many good Catholic clergy and laity, the kind of love spoken by the Bishop is reserved for those who agree with them on issues like the ordination of women, sexuality, and abortion. The latter has especially become a cause célèbre among Catholics (and others) who would reduce membership in the communion to a willingness to agree to the criminalization of abortion.

You see, I think it is precisely this kind of narrowing with regard to the Church that is at the head of that powerful tide I’m speaking of. This tide, moreover, is not just confined to Catholicism. It infects the political discourse of our nation, turning political differences into moral ones, and fanning the worst flames of bigotry in the process.

Those flames can very easily burn our society down, literally as well as figuratively, if we let them. I also think comments like the good Bishop’s point the way towards mitigating the problem.

The tide I’m speaking of is mean-spirited and exclusivist in nature. That is to say, it’s a way of giving voice to our natural human tendencies towards states of distaste, displeasure, anger, hostility, and judgmentalism. In so doing, it focuses much more – at times recklessly – on the differences between people rather than what they have in common.

This tide specifically valorizes discussions over who gets to be called Catholic or American at the expense of those about what it might mean to be a Catholic or an American.

Now I think when it comes to politics, questions like these are fine. With regard to religion, however, there’s a real spiritual risk. When you engage in these kinds of authenticity games with your religion, you risk reducing it to a political movement.

Put another way, when questions of membership take precedence over the message of the religion in question, it ceases to be a religion. It instead becomes a political party, and one of the worst kind: one that claims the exclusive support of God.

It’s gotten so bad that, for many Catholics I speak to, not only are those who disagree with them on criminalizing abortion not good Catholics, they’re not good people. And if you love this country, it’s hard to see someone as both a good person and a good American. Thus an almost impregnable moral wall gets erected between them and those who disagree with them on things like abortion.

This, incidentally, is the very wall that allows some clergy to shamelessly deny the Host to those with whom they disagree on abortion. I cannot begin to describe my own personal revulsion over this practice; it astonishes me that someone like me (see below) can have more reverence for what Catholics consider to be the body and blood of their Lord than some priests and bishops.

But its not just a matter of mere carelessness with the Body of Christ, however. What’s happening right now to the Catholic Church and many Christian denominations is nothing short of their deliberate hijacking into the service of the Republican Party.

Someone, somewhere, some time ago got the brilliant idea to channel the profound anxiety in the US over social change in general — immigration and Civil Rights for blacks, women, and gays in particular — into outrage over the practice of abortion, and use that carefully cultivated indignation to catapult individuals of their choosing into public office.

It’s a sweet deal for all concerned. Conservative Catholic clergy get people in positions of power and prominence to make public policy decisions in line with their interpretation of the Gospel, and the GOP gets a reliable bloc of voters to turn out on election day. Time will tell if Obama’s election represents a temporary setback, defeat, or even public repudiation of that strategy.

For a lot of people, especially clergy, the biggest scandal or “lost opportunity” of Teddy Kennedy’s life was his failure to hew to the official Catholic position on abortion. For me, it was one of his shining virtues to be able to stand up to those very high-placed Church officials who deliberately place the issue of abortion not just at the center, but as the whole of the Catholic experience.

Whether or not those officials know what they’re doing is not my call to make (I think some of them do). However, the results of what they’re doing is staggering: the purging of countless Catholics from the Church by alienating them from the Mass and other sacraments, simply to make a political point.

Teddy Kennedy stood for a much more open-minded and inclusive Catholicism, one that took the Gospel of Matthew aa seriously as others take Leviticus, and never questioned God’s love for those who have fallen short of our own laws or God’s. This is a Catholicism guided by concerns for a social justice that never excluded abortion but never made a position on it the condition for membership in the Communion, either.

The lesson of Teddy’s life, for me, is that there is a way to be a Catholic of conscience even when you disagree on the strongest of possible terms with the political direction your Church is taking. It speaks to going against the very tide I’m talking about, especially when you’re fighting so many of your fellow Catholics and Church officials in the process of remaining Catholic.

For me, whether or not to criminalize abortion is a political, specifically a public policy matter, not a religious or spiritual one. Those of the Catholic faith risk reducing the Gospel – the Word of God for Catholics – into a set of marching orders when we say, in word or deed, that one cannot be Catholic if one opposes abortion in any way other than to work to make those who perform, obtain, or support them into criminals.

This is a message which, had I heard it ten years ago, might have kept me from leaving the Church into which I was born and which, I have to say, I miss dearly.

Why I Tweet the Red Sox in Latin

As promised. From the top (or bottom) as it were, in Q and A format:

Why Tweet?
Why not? I started tweeting as a way to keep track of mental notes for essays and other projects. Very quickly, it turned into a way of communicating with others who share my interests in politics, religion, spirituality, meditation, guitar, cooking, wine, and raising young children (not necessarily in that order).

Why the Red Sox?
Are you serious? They’re my hometown team! Sure I spent my first eighteen years cheering for the Yankees, because of where I was raised. But now I’m a proud metropolitan Bostonian, and a natural part of that is hating the Yankees and loving the Red Sox.

Besides, both my girls cheer for the Sox, and what kind of example would I be setting for them if I did otherwise?

Incidentally, the 2004 Red Sox taught me more about Christianity than anything or anyone else. Cheering for them that year provided an object lesson in hope (warranted and otherwise), faith, death (the ALCS), and resurrection (the World Series).

So yes, the Red Sox are my religion. I live and die with that team, long for opening day, and notice how much more beautiful the world is the morning after a Red Sox victory.

And no, I can’t think of a more noble chariot to chain my self-esteem to. Besides, I’m a Buddhist, so none of this matters in the end anyway.

Heck, I could just as easily have remained a Yankee fan had it not been for the divine winds that blew me north. So I lost out on easy access to good Indian food. What I gained in terms of soul continues to be priceless.

Besides, I cook. Pretty good in the kitchen too [rimshot].

Where do you get your Latin?
Five years of high school Latin (see below), dictionaries, the Internet, and books like this one by Henry Beard. This little gem I read to my daughters right before their bedtime.

Some baseball words I just make up, cross my fingers, and hope that the grammar’s correct.

Why Latin?
To know this, you’ve got to know a little bit about where I come from. Where I grew up, it was tremendously uncool to be smart, nerdy, or interested in school. The cool kids were the ones who excelled at sports and got good enough grades in school without having them too much higher than everyone else.

Learning for its own sake was definitely frowned upon. Everyone — from peers to parents to teachers — just knew that the only reason you went to school was to do well on the test, so you could go to a good college, marry someone attractive, get into a prestigious occupation that would pay well, and get ahead of your neighbor. Period, end of story.

Come on, was it really all that bad?
I remember reading, as a teenager, about time travel and the fourth dimension, and got to thinking how Jesus could be understood as an extradimensional being who popped into our space for a while before popping back out.

Full of excitement, I rushed over to our parish priest and tried it out on him. He just scowled, and told me to be “mindful” of “the simplicity of our faith,” and to stop trying to “make it all fit into my ideas.”

Like a glutton for punishment, I then tried it out on my geometry teacher. Figured she might help me figure out some of the details, or at least point me in the right direction. She just sighed, telling me to make sure not to spend so much time on this that my homework would suffer.

Going to school because you actually liked what happened in the classroom? The collective answer on the part of my environment was, “what, are you nuts?”

Reading for pleasure? An idle task at best, unless it was about how to beat the SAT, make more money, or get into a better college.

It could also be dangerous, especially if it took time away from your blessed homework. I wish I had a nickel for every teacher who told me to cool it with the reading and focus on my studies. Interesting thing is, I maintained an A- average throughout high school.

And just about everything I read was nonfiction. That is to say, very few novels, short stories, or poetry (fixing that now). Books on politics and American history were a particular favorite of mine.

One day, I discovered my high school offered Latin, and I decided to sign up.

How did you justify your decision?
I told my parents it would look really good on college applications, and that it would unlock other languages for me. They groaned.

Like Spanish, I said. “You already speak Spanish,” they said. “Like French,” I said. “Well, then I guess that’s OK.”

Most of all, though, I remember the questions from almost every adult in my life: “Latin? Isn’t that a dead language? Who speaks Latin these days anyway? Why don’t you spend your time studying something useful like French or Spanish?”

So why’dja do it?
Well, for the typical adolescent reasons: I wanted to stick a finger in the eye of the culture I was growing up in. It was like, “oh, so the nerds are the rejects? Then fine — in addition to playing Dungeons and Dragons, I’m also going to take Latin.”

My poor parents are still recovering, bless their hearts.

Deciding to take Latin also connected me with the lady who was to become my intellectual mentor for the rest of my life: my high school Latin teacher. By the eighth grade, I thought I’d already had a pretty bad addiction to learning (just about anything) for its own sake. In her class, I learned just how much worse such an addiction can get.

Over the course of five years, I learned more than just Latin. I discovered things like philosophy, religion, literature, the parts of history (US and ancient) that nobody talks about, and the inside of language itself.

I learned about Catullus. Whoa. Then I found the poems I wasn’t supposed to read. Double whoa!

Odi et amo would get me through many a dark night in high school and college, as I struggled to figure out the female heart and my own simultaneously.

And over the course of a lifetime, I got to learn all about Burma Shave, the Depression, the War, Adlai Stevenson, the Civil Rights movement, and how you learned to just keep your mouth shut during McCarthy.

And it was all so very, very cool. Not to anyone else but her and me, but that was just fine by all concerned.

Sounds like quite a lady.
She was. She’s gone now, but there isn’t a book I pick up that doesn’t have her name, face, and voice written all over it. She rescued me, she did.

So why didn’t you stop after high school? Surely there were skilled clinicians and/or solid treatment programs in your area.
Well, then there was college, you see: the first and last place in my life where what and how well you thought mattered so more than what you earned, drove, or wore. The “net net” of it was that soon I would be doing everything I could for the rest of my life to support a compulsive book-buying habit.

Don’t get me wrong, I have champagne tastes and, very luckily, the means to sustain them. But part of that means helping others out too, and helping myself to the occasional bottle of wine, cigar, suit and tie (yes, bow tie; deal with it!), plus a weekly book from Amazon about the new idea I can’t let go of.

Last week it was mind viruses. The week before it was the paintings of Mary Cassatt, and this week it’s the role of creeds in religion.

So why Latin?
Well, because it reminds me of a delightful old lady, and represents the first thing I ever came to love that no one else did (or perhaps could): learning for its own sake. The older I get, the more it seems this is a value that gets more and more lost in a world of materials, self-esteem, and rat racing.

However, Latin also represents something deeper for me: a middle finger extended gently in the direction of those — especially but not exclusively politicians — who try to discourage you from thinking for yourself. Here I have in mind all the religious types in the world who’d much rather you swallowed their answers for the questions of your life than turned over a few rocks (like theirs) for yourself.

I’m also thinking of those politicians and their followers who not only don’t know something, but try to make a virtue of not knowing. Sarah Palin and George W. Bush come to mind. They remind me so much of the jocks, misfits, frat boys and sorority girls of my childhood who always saw school as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

These anti-intellectuals would have us believe eggheads are awful people simply because they like to think, learn, and accumulate knowledge. Worst of all is the philosopher who aspires to – dare I say it? – wisdom.

Didn’t you get the memo? Knowledge is for informing and entertaining consumers, not forming citizens. Philosophy? That’s just plain uppity.

For some, you’d think there’s no worse sin than reminding them of what they don’t know. Me, when I’m reminded (every moment) of what I don’t know, I go look it up or find out. Always have.

They, the goons, just get mad at you for showing off and call it a day. Then they go about not bothering to find out what it is they didn’t know. For them, knowledge is and may never be anything more a cudgel other people use to lower their self-esteem.

So the Sarah Palins of the world come by their anti-intellectualism honestly. I was lucky enough to be good at something I was forced to do the first 18 years of my life. Imagine if I’d had trouble decoding symbols, reading to myself or out loud, or learned visually instead of linguistically. I’d be pretty mad too, if I didn’t get the help I needed.

Lucky for me the only help I needed was fitting in, and I’m more than making up for lost time now.

But look, egghead doesn’t have to mean evil person. It’s not up to those who know something and want to share it to shut up or get in the closet; it’s up to each and every one of us who wants to grow to hop on the Internet, go to a bookstore, hop into a library, or open a book and learn something.

Sure there are pedants. Anyone who purposefully tries to make you feel bad for not knowing something is doing more damage to the cause of learning than they realize. I had several teachers like that in college, actually.

Tweeting in Latin is my way of fighting the power that says learning is bad unless it’s done for a “good” purpose, like controlling nature (or other people), or earning a living.

Aren’t you afraid of pissing people off? Read my nom de plume. What do you think?

Isn’t that, like, really rude, impolite, and ungracious of you?
Only to my detractors.

Look, when I tweet in Latin, I know I’m pissing some people off. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, it’s still a free country, and they can regard me and/or my behavior as snobby, elitist, or whatever.

They can also look the other way, like on TV or radio. Or block me, I don’t care.

I know I irritate people whenever I converse with a clerk or salesperson in Spanish. That’s why I quickly learned to provide a fast English translation to anyone who I think might have overheard.

Look, nobody likes to be on the outside of what seems like an inside joke. But when you find yourself on the outs, especially when you’re not used to it (or feel like you ought to be on the “ins”), it seems to me you have a choice to make. Ask or find out what the joke was about, or just let it go.

Just don’t seethe, holding ferners and the eeleetes fully and exclusively responsible for your displeasure. It’s just not good for you, your cardiac health, or the health of the nation to blame all of your misery on someone else’s (“mis-“) behavior. That’s how fascisms start.

Speaking of which, it should go without saying that if you think Sarah Palin is worth electing to high office, you are more than welcome to disregard anything I have to say whatsoever.

So what are you trying to prove here, really?
When I find out, I’ll be sure to keep it to myself, thank you!

Consciously, though, my main hope here is to catch the eye of those kids taking Latin for the first time, or those who can remember getting excited learning about declensions and conjugations.

I’m also aiming for those who think it’s kinda neat to (want to) learn about something that has little to no “practical” value, that carries so many of the messages of our culture, and that opens doors onto learning everywhere.

In short, I’m looking for Latin geeks like me, brashfully unapologetic about who they are and how they got to be that way, and who enjoy the Red Sox and the occasional bawdy joke as much as I love food, wine, and good music.

So there. Satis est. Enjoy.

Reflections on Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s Letter

One of the more interesting side stories to the recent death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy funeral has been the furor occasioned by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s decision to preside over the Senator’s funeral.

A number of Catholics have had strong responses to the Cardinal’s decision to preside, attend, or even allow the Senator a Catholic funeral. Some take more or less gentle issue with the Cardinal and/or his decisions, while others decry or denounce either or both.

In response to his critics, the Cardinal posted an elaborate, thoughtful, and touching response that struck a chord in me, and moved me to comment on it.

First and foremost, I think the Cardinal did the gracious, Christian, and (most importantly for me) pastoral thing in “allowing” Kennedy to have a Catholic funeral. The Cardinal also expressed these virtues in abundance through his decision to attend as well as preside.

However, I have to take issue with the Cardinal when he says that:

“The thousands of people who lined the roads as the late Senator’s motorcade travelled from Cape Cod to Boston and the throngs that crowded the Kennedy Library for two days during the lying in repose, I believe, were there to pay tribute to these many accomplishments rather than as an endorsement of the Senator’s voting record on abortion.”

Here I have to say that the Cardinal doesn’t speak for me, one of the throngs. I came to honor Kennedy for his many accomplishments on behalf of our nation, but especially his courage to stand up to Catholics who make membership in the Communion contingent upon agreement with the criminalization of abortion.

While the Cardinal does not come out and say “you can’t be a Catholic unless and until you work to make abortion a crime,” he veers quite closely with statements like these:

“Needless to say, the Senator’s wake and Catholic funeral were controversial because of the fact that he did not publically [sic] support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn. Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefitted from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn. To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centerpiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.”

For me, the “lost opportunity” was not in Kennedy’s failure to show enough support for a cause that likes to call itself “pro-life.” The lost opportunity was for others — especially but not exclusively Catholics — to see, through the example of the Senator’s life, how one could be an outstanding Catholic without being of one mind with regard to the criminalization of abortion.

And if when the Cardinal says “issue of life” he means “agreement that abortion should be made into a crime,” I have to disagree once again. I think it does inestimable harm to the Communion to reduce the Catholic or Christian message to a political one, be it for or against a procedure (although I don’t know anyone who is “pro-abortion”), a set of laws, a particular candidate, or party.

This, you see, is what happens when Catholic prelates equate a stance on abortion with membership in the Communion, thereby reducing the Good News to membership in a political party.

Now I couldn’t agree more with this part of the Cardinal’s response:

At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure.

I just wish this message could take root among the more judgmental of the faithful.

Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end.

Again, I wish more Christians showed some of this love towards the people they disagreed with theologically or politically.

This, I think, is especially important:

Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

All I would add to this is that the ability to “increase love” is important not just for the Church, but for the wider society as well. You can, but don’t have to be evangelical to see that modeling love, acceptance, and compassion does more to promote the general welfare than shouting, yelling, or denouncing.

In sum, I think the Cardinal’s remarks understandably privileged the outlawing of abortion at the expense of his more pastoral – and morally compelling – comments on love and demonstration of graciousness. It is up to contemporary Catholics who oppose the criminalization of abortion to stand up for their faith as Teddy did.