St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge is So Cool

(Yes, the pun was intended.) 

By now you have to have seen one if not hundreds of people participating in the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge. In case you haven't, the challenge has people dumping buckets of ice water on themselves while on video, then posting it on social media and encouraging others to do the same. The purpose is to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and to raise money for the ALS Association.  And according to them, it's working- as of August 12 contributions to the ALSA have increase by $2.8 million compared to this same time last year.

Regardless of the money, I have to say that I think the challenge was an awesome idea and has a great Christian aspect to it.  So what does dumping freezing cold water on yourself like a fool have to do with faith?  Well, the answer has to do with prayer, fasting, and self-denial.

When put together, prayer and fasting are the biggest forms of self-denial.  It's no joke that this powerful duo can change your life and the people around you.  Prayer and fasting enable us to turn away from the worldly things that we don't really need, and re-focus our attention on Who our lives actually depend on.  By raising our prayer to the next level, fasting allows us to want what God wants for us, instead of trying to manipulate Him into doing what we want.  When we focus on God and not ourselves, then change for the better happens.

Dumping a bucket of ice water may not be prayer and fasting, but it is an act of self-denial (even if only for a moment).  By giving yourself a few seconds of discomfort (after putting forth all the effort to find a bucket, fill it with ice and water, recite the spiel, and manage to embarrass yourself in front of a camera), you put the needs of someone else (in this case with Lou Gehrig’s Disease) before yourself.  And this is what God calls us to do regularly!  

There's a popular notion that prayer, fasting, or self-denial has to involve suffering, but that's not always the case.  It's OK to enjoy it a little; and just because you might have some fun doesn't make it any less self-giving.  In fact, too much gloom defeats the purpose (see Matthew 6:16-18).  If your self-denial only leads to misery and doesn't ultimately lead you to joy, then you're probably doing something wrong.

For your own enjoyment, here's my Ice Bucket Challenge.  You can here my kids in the background:

Since this is a Catholic oriented blog, it is important for me to note the following:
While the ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research, it does fund at least one study using embryonic stem cells.  This is NOT ethical or appropriate.  In all fairness, the ALS Association does permit donors to stipulate that their contributions not be invested in this study, and I recommend doing so when making a donation.  Another option is to donate the money to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute and designate your contribution towards ALS research.  Regardless of where you donate, please pray for a cure for this awful disease.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Helping the Christians of Iraq

In case you haven't been following or you think religious persecution and martyrdom are things of the distance past, there's a lot of it going on with the Christians in Iraq. 

In July, the members of the extremist Sunni Muslim faction told the Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay an extra tax for being Christian called jizya, or flee for their lives.  Since then, there has been burning and looting of churches, businesses, and homes.  Thousands have fled, most with nothing except stories of cruel suffering, torture, even beheadings.

For those who are trying to remain, the character "ن " (which is the letter "N" in Arabic) is drawn on doorways of houses and buildings to tell those of the Islamic State (known as ISIS) where the Nazarenes or Christians are.  This is incredibly similar to Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Holocaust with the Jews forced to wear the Star of David.

In response, many of come together especially on social media.  You may have seen people using the "N" as their profile pictures on Facebook or Twitter.  There's also a new hashtag #WeAreN where so many have expressed their solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq.

So I've been trying to think of what my response should be these last few weeks, and now it's finally come to me.  I designed a wristband to show solidarity, increase awareness, raise money, and remind all of us to pray for the persecuted Christians in Iraq. I don't have a picture yet- they won't arrive for another week, but the silicone wristbands are black with yellow print.  They show the hashtag #WeAreN, say "Pray for Iraq," and feature the Arabic "N."

I will be selling them for $5 each: $1 to cover the cost of manufacturing, shipping, and fees, leaving the remaining $4 going to a Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian agency of the United States Catholic Conference that is providing aid to Iraq and the many Christians who have fled from it.  My initial order is 200 wristbands.  If this works, then at least $800 goes to CRS. (If it doesn't then I'll have to explain to my wife that we're out almost $200!)

Until I can get a more appropriate website up and running, I've setup an e-mail address and Paypal account to receive orders:  You'll notice the new pay button to the right of this article.  Please consider buying a wristband!  I will begin mailing them towards end of the month.  You can order as many wristbands as you like; I have no idea what I'm going to do with 200 of them!  Wouldn't it be great if the demand were so high for the wristbands that I had to get more?

Please consider sharing this post.  The senseless suffering in Iraq might seem like it has nothing to do with you, but if it can happen in a place where Christianity has been for over 2,000 years, then it can happen anywhere and it's going on right now. 

Whether you buy a wristband or not, please do not be silent on this issue.  Speak out in defense of our brothers and sisters.  Pray for our the Christians of Iraq.  Pray for the conversion of ISIS.

Update:   The wristbands have arrived and I've started shipping them out.  Here are some amateur pictures I can share!


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Marriage Really Is Not

On May 20, a US district judge ruled that Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.  The way the media reported it, you would have thought that there wasn't anyone who would have thought otherwise.  By the record numbers of same-sex couples that applied for marriage licenses that same day, I wondered if there were any heterosexual couples still getting married.

I'm not going to argue the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage.  In my opinion, you either accept it or not.  If you don't accept it, my only hope is that you at least have tried to understand it and prayed about it.  Marriage is a big deal, and requires much more discernment than a lot of people give it.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a number of friends who happen to be homosexual- I have no interest in making them any less happy with what I'm writing here.  (If you're ultra-conservative and that last line bothers you, try to keep reading.  I probably won't be scoring any additional points with people who are gay/lesbian.)

I do want call attention to some of the myths or distortions of some of the arguments for same-sex marriage that just don't hold any water for me from a Christian perspective.

Marriage equals happiness.  Actually it doesn't, at least not the way temptation makes it out to be.  If it did, then the divorce rate wouldn't be so high. If marriage is your vocation then it's your path to holiness.  There are plenty of happy times which are previews of the eternal happiness to come, but it's far from a fairytale.  Marriage is a road with some parts of it pretty rough.  Some might disagree, but I think it's harder being married than it is being a celibate priest or vowed religious.

Marriage equals equality.  I'm not seeing this either.  Talk to someone who has experienced racism or bigotry.  People in other minority groups have been allowed to marry; it hasn't made them seem any more equal.  People who are already married aren't any more equal than people who aren't.  What makes us equal is the fact that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, and that each person is unique and unrepeatable.

People should be able to get married if they want to.  That's actually not true.  You can't get married if you're currently married to someone else.  You can't get married if the person you want to marry doesn't want to marry you.  You can't get married if you are below the legal age to do so.  You can't get married to someone in your immediate family.  There are many other situations, but these go to show that just because you want to get married doesn't necessarily mean you actually should.

People should be free to do what they want.  Let's be clear about freedom.  Being able to do what you want and when you want is licensure, not freedom.  Real freedom is being able to be who God calls you to be, without the interference of sin or temptation.  Jesus Christ conquered death not for us to have licensure and do whatever we want, but so that we have an opportunity to have real freedom (a.k.a. eternal life with Him).

A genuine marriage is a lot less about doing what you want, and more about self-sacrifice and giving of oneself for your spouse and the family.  If that isn't going to be the case within same-sex marriage, then we'll be seeing a lot of same-sex divorce, too. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Since When Is Birth Control a Medication?

Those who have read this blog know that I'm very opposed to the HHS Mandate. I've talked about here: Why I Hate the HHS Mandate and here: Our Sacred Duty and the HHS Mandate. With the latest news about the Supreme Court granting a temporary injunction for religious organizations that conscientiously object to the contraceptive coverage, I wanted to renew my detest for the mandate with a thought I had on the way home from work today.

Regardless of whether you agree or not with the Catholic Church about birth control, I'm still baffled with why so many people think birth control should be covered by health insurance. If you look at what health insurance really is, and then you look at what birth control really is, it makes no sense (at least in my head) as to why it should be covered.

Insurance is all about the transfer of risk. In other words, if something bad happens to you, then your insurance helps cover the risk financially. If you're in a car accident, then your auto insurance covers you. If something happens to your house, then your homeowner's insurance applies. If something happens to your health (illness, injury, disease, etc) then your health insurance should help you out. 

Health insurance helps cover your health care costs- things such as physician services, testing, procedures, medications, etc. So does birth control fall under this? A lot of people think yes. I say NO.

Birth control by prescription (pills, patches, and whatever other methods there are) has everyone fooled that it's a medication. Medication helps treat illness, injury, and disease; but pregnancy isn't any of those things. It isn't like a head injury,
diabetes, or cancer; all of which should be prevented whenever possible. Pregnancy is a part of being human and what's supposed to happen when a man and woman have sex. It's a medical condition that requires care, but not an illness that's supposed to be treated or prevented like the flu or kidney stones. Just because birth control requires a prescription doesn't make it a medication. (There are plenty of medications that don't require a prescription.) It's not the prescription that makes something a medication, but its therapeutic or prophylactic use for illness, injury, and disease.

Of course, I have no problem with a woman taking birth control for genuine health reasons. Medical issues like endometriosis, hormone problems, or even acne are reasons to take medication. I see no problem with Yaz being covered by health insurance for a 38 year old celibate nun who takes it for premenstrual symptom relief. Birth control taken for reasons other than birth control isn't actually birth control.

If birth control should be covered by health insurance, then I've got a ridiculous list of things should be covered, too. How about food and water- shouldn't these be covered since they're medically necessary to live? Then there's diapers and formula for my 6th month old, she can't live without either. Oh and someone could argue that toilet paper should be covered- we all know how bad it could be when the TP runs out! Toilet paper may not be strictly medical, but it's absolutely preventative. I can go on and on, but I won't.

Instead I'll end with a serious example. I know a patient who has to pay over $500 for 28 days of Lovenox (she needs it for a provoked DVT, and this is with her prescription coverage). If she doesn't get the medication, the chances of her getting another blood clot (and so many other life-threatening problems) are really high. Perhaps the Affordable Care Act should have focused more on people like her instead of forcing the Catholic Church to violate its morals. But hey, at least this patient has coverage for birth control if she wanted it.

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