A CATHOLIC DISCOURSE ON THE CHALLENGING TOPIC OF IMMIGRATION

JOIN US FOR A PARISH LECTURE NIGHT

A balanced perspective between:
Our Church teaching on welcoming the stranger
AND
The Church’s recognition of a nation’s need
for secure borders

PRESENTOR: RICK HINSHAW, FORMER EDITOR OF
THE LONG ISLAND CATHOLIC

We are honored to have Rick at Our Lady of Mercy Parish. He has additionally served in these capacities: Former spokesman for Nassau County DA, Denis Dillon; Former Director of Family Ministry/Respect Life, DRVC; Former Communications Director for the Catholic League; Former Communications Director NY State Catholic Conference; Co-hosted The Catholic Forum on Telecare; Member of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and much more!

Rick currently authors a blog site “Reading the Signs” focusing on public policy issues from a Catholic perspective. He is married to Eileen for 35 years. They have 3 adult children.


MONDAY NOVEMBER 21st 2022 7:30-9PM LOWER CHURCH, OUR LADY OF MERCY PARISH, 500 SOUTH OYSTER BAY ROAD, HICKSVILLE, NY
LET US KNOW IF YOU PLAN TO ATTEND. DROP INS WELCOME!
Peggy imcon630@aol.com/516-317-1740 Chuck crupp0007@gmail.com

Pro-Life Not to Blame for GOP Defeats

So the Republicans have had a disappointing performance in the mid-term elections, and much of their political class—strategists, pundits, party leaders, donors—have their ready-made scapegoat: the pro-life cause that has always made many of them uncomfortable, even while they treat pro-life votes as their (sometimes unearned) entitlement.   

Of course, Democrats and mainstream media, having seized on last June’s overturning of Roe v. Wade as a call to arms for their voters, are happy to attribute their better-than-expected showing to a pro-abortion surge.

And some Republicans are rushing to affirm that assertion to deflect attention from their many shortcomings and campaign failures—not least of which were their over-hyped expectations and constant internecine warfare, with the Trump base and the GOP establishment sometimes more focused on attacking each other than challenging their Democratic opponents.   

Moreover, to the extent the abortion issue did hurt Republican candidates, it was due more to their inept handling of the issue—another perpetual GOP shortcoming—than to the pro-life position itself.

I wrote back in May that overturning Roe would not turn the tide of the midterms against Republicans unless they ran scared on the issue—and that’s exactly what many of them did.

Where they didn’t, they were not hurt by it. In Florida, stalwart pro-life Sen. Marco Rubio forcefully turned the charge of abortion extremism back on his Democratic opponent. Rubio was re-elected in a landslide.

And, in what it termed “an overlooked win for anti-abortion groups,” Politico reported that “In Ohio, three anti-abortion, Republican Supreme Court candidates sailed to victory, likely dooming efforts to challenge state abortion restrictions”; while “In North Carolina, two Republican wins give the court a conservative majority that could complicate Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts to preserve access” to unrestricted abortion.  

But too many Republican candidates refused to address the issue at all; leaving voters to erroneously conclude that they were the extremists their opponents claimed, and that they lacked the courage of their convictions—a turn-off even to voters not primarily concerned about abortion.

Abortion is being cited as a key factor in the defeat of Rep. Lee Zeldin in New York’s gubernatorial election, where Gov. Kathy Hochul pounded Zeldin’s pro-life Congressional record. But several facts belie the assertion.

Suburban women are said to be the centerpiece of the Democrats’ “pro-choice” base. Yet in four Democrat-held suburban Congressional districts, two on Long Island, two north of New York City, where the Democratic candidates echoed Hochul in campaigning on “abortion, abortion, abortion,” voters flipped all four districts to pro-life Republicans.

Zeldin ran much closer, losing by five per cent, than any statewide Republican candidate in New York over the last 20 years. That, combined with the failure of abortion to save any of those four suburban Democratic Congressional seats, suggests that something else was at work in Zeldin falling short.

Most probably, it was simply his inability to make significant inroads in New York City, the epicenter of the Democratic Party’s overwhelming registration advantage in the Empire State.  

The abortion attack didn’t work,” one “prominent New York Republican” emphasized to the New York Post. Instead, the unnamed “GOP bigwig” attributed Zeldin’s defeat to the Trump factor, which is also cited, with some plausibility, for GOP losses around the country.

Yet even that may be an oversimplification. Let’s not forget that by far the GOP’s biggest loser, among its Senate and gubernatorial candidates in competitive states, was Colorado’s Joe O’Dea, the Republican establishment’s hand-picked nominee who was outspokenly anti-Trump, and supported upholding Roe v. Wade.

Instead of blaming the pro-life cause for their lackluster performance, the Republican Party should be thanking pro-life voters, who in the face of the Democrats’ pro-abortion onslaught, stuck with often lukewarm pro-life Republican candidates who held them at arms-length. One cannot imagine, for example, the gun lobby remaining so loyal if the GOP treated them the way it treated pro-lifers this year.

Pro-lifers understand, after 50 years of Roe, that the road back to full legal protection for the unborn will still be long and arduous, advanced by incremental steps and varying from state to state. They will be patient, recognizing the political realities.

But they will not be manipulated, their votes demanded while their cause is downplayed, and even blamed for Republican political defeats rooted in the party’s own failures.

And one more consideration, articulated post-election by a Fox News panelist whose name unfortunately escapes me.

He pointed out that while the abortion issue may have benefited some Democrats in this year’s elections, long-term they may pay a price in alienating Latino voters—many of whom, as faithful Catholics or evangelical Christians, are pro-life.

That’s something for Republicans to keep in mind as well. They are excited about the significant shift of Hispanic voters to the GOP this year, in Florida and elsewhere. If they hope to build on that, they may want to reconsider scapegoating the pro-life cause that can help attract those voters.

Secure the Border, but Don’t Hate on Migrants

I have never been an immigration hardliner. In fact, for years I was pretty close to an open borders advocate—not because I believed in lawlessness, but because I viewed those coming across our southern border to find work and support their families as an asset to our country—even when they came illegally.

Economically, they were filling essential jobs—particularly in the all-important agricultural sector—that most Americans didn’t want or couldn’t do. And living here, they necessarily became consumers as well as producers, whose need for goods and services would create more demand, and thus more jobs for others.

And I adamantly rejected the notion that they were undermining America’s moral and cultural values. Most Hispanic immigrants brought with them a strong religious faith, solid family values, and an admirable work ethic. They were not the ones driving attacks on faith, family, moral values, the sanctity of life; that was and is being done by America’s homegrown cultural elite.

I’ve had to adjust—but not abandon—my pro-immigration outlook over the years, as new realities added to the complexity of the issue. First, of course, was 9-11, and the ever-present threat of foreign terrorists easily entering our country to perpetrate destruction and mass murder.

Then there is the violent criminal element. I was working in the Nassau County District Attorney’s office in the early 2000s, when MS-13 and other gangs from Central America were just beginning to terrorize Long Island communities. It has grown far worse, and more dangerous, in the years since. Drug smuggling, always part of that criminal influx, has also grown worse and more dangerous, with illegal border crossers now serving as the conduit through which Mexican drug cartels facilitate China’s murderous fentanyl assault on American youth.

And of course, there are the sheer numbers now overwhelming our border communities and states, their finances, public services, and institutions. This is creating untold dangers and suffering, for Americans living in those communities, for border patrol agents, and for the migrants themselves, many of whom—including children—are being trafficked, to be exploited in the sex trade, or as drug smugglers, or otherwise sold into modern enslavement.

That’s if they survive the journey, without drowning trying to cross the Rio Grande or suffocating in locked metal trucks.

Add to this that the gangs and criminal element prey primarily on their own immigrant communities, where they can best camouflage themselves, and where the population—particularly those here illegally—is reluctant to go to the authorities. For this reason alone—protection of the migrant families and communities they are working to help—pro-immigration activists should be at the forefront in supporting strong border security.

I now firmly support strong border controls, as the just and compassionate first step toward developing an orderly immigration process that is mutually beneficial to our nation and to aspiring immigrants.

What of those border state governors who have been sending relatively small numbers of migrants to self-proclaimed “sanctuary” cities and communities far removed from points of entry?

I know this is in part politically motivated. BOTH parties have been politically exploiting the immigration issue for years.

But are these governors really at fault for insisting that the burdens of a national open borders policy be equally shared by the entire nation—not thrust solely onto the shoulders of border state inhabitants?

Shouldn’t those who have been virtue signaling from afar be invited to deliver on the “sanctuary” they have been promising? And called on their hypocrisy when they object—or, as with Martha’s Vineyard, when they quickly ship out the 50-100 immigrants who arrived in their wealthy enclave? Or, as with NYC Mayor Eric Adams, when he rails against Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott dispatching busloads of migrants to the Big Apple, while quietly accepting thousands sent by the mayor of El Paso, Texas—who just happens, like Adams, to be a Democrat?

Yet even as I support stronger border controls and a more equitable distribution of responsibility for arriving migrants, I cannot abide the vitriol being constantly hurled against those who come here simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Yes, there is justified anger and hostility toward that violent criminal element that is wreaking terrible havoc across our country. But that no more characterizes every immigrant than does anti-Hispanic bigotry characterize every proponent of border security.

When my children were young I used to ask myself, if we lived in a poor country and my family were going hungry, and the only way I could find to feed them was to sneak across a border to another country to find work, would I do it?

And if not, what kind of a father would that make me?

Again, that does not mean we must accept an uncontrolled border, and all the danger, suffering and injustice it is causing, for Americans and for the migrants themselves.

But it should mean—even if we must limit their entry—that we respond with compassion and understanding, not hatred and vitriol, to those struggling, suffering peoples trying to do whatever they can to give their families a better life; today’s “tired, poor, huddled masses” immortalized in Emma Lazarus’ poem that graces the Statue of Liberty.

We may not be able to welcome them, certainly not all of them.

But we don’t have to hate them.

Abortion and the Election

Let me be clear: If I were a Republican strategist, I would be fully on board with focusing this year’s campaigns on all the failed policies of their Democratic opponents.

I would share their determination not to let Democrats use a singular focus on “abortion rights” to distract from the violent crime epidemic, spiraling inflation, the massive human tragedy on the border, the unchecked and dangerous aggressions of our foreign adversaries.

I would not, however, agree with how Republicans are going about that strategy—figuratively, if not literally, recoiling in apparent fright whenever abortion is mentioned, and responding, in effect, “We don’t want to talk about that!”

This does two things, neither of which is helpful to their campaigns.

First, it cedes the field on this issue totally to the pro-abortion absolutists who now run the Democratic Party.

This allows them to misrepresent the recent Supreme Court decision as a national ban on abortion, rather than what it is, a return of the issue to the democratic process.

It allows them to mischaracterize even tepidly pro-life Republicans as “extremists” on the issue, when in fact it has been pro-abortion Democrats advancing the most extreme measures: abortion up to the moment of birth; denial of care for babies born alive if they are disabled or were born following a failed abortion; forcing us all to be complicit in abortions through our tax dollars; and enacting policies designed to drive pro-life pregnancy resource centers out of existence, so women in crisis have no choice other than abortion.

While most Americans do not support these extremes, many are unaware of them, as Democrats and the media disguise their extremism, while Republicans refuse to engage the issue at all.

This GOP strategy of silence also enables Democrats to cast the Supreme Court ruling in human terms, as an attack on “women’s rights.” Republicans, when they talk about it at all, do so solely in the context of “states’ rights”—a legitimate constitutional principle, but an abstraction to most voters.

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed national law restricting abortion after 15 weeks has generated much angst among Republicans and even some pro-lifers. But at least Sen. Graham, by calling for “unborn children” to be included in our “compassion for those who suffer pain,” is focusing some attention on the rights of the other human being involved in abortion: the innocent baby being killed, often with excruciating pain.

The second negative effect of this approach for Republicans is its potential to turn off voters—and not just hard-core pro-abortion voters, who are not going to support Republicans anyway, given the pro-abortion absolutism of the Democrats.

It also has the potential to lose voters—be they pro-life or “pro-choice”—for whom abortion is not the defining issue, but who may be turned off by what they perceive as political cowardice on the part of candidates unwilling to say where they stand on such a compelling moral issue.

And it could even lose some pro-life voters, who have long tired of having their support quietly solicited by candidates who counsel caution before elections, with the caveat that “we have to get into office before we can advance the cause.”

The problem with that, as my former boss, the late, ardently pro-life Nassau County, NY District Attorney Denis Dillon once remarked to me, is that once elected, such calculating politicians often turn their focus immediately to getting re-elected; and so they still don’t want to engage a controversial issue that might hurt their future prospects.

So my unsolicited advice would be for pro-life Republicans to continue focusing on all the critical issues currently confronting our states and nation; and when challenged on the abortion issue, to point out that Democrats are using that issue to distract from all their current policy disasters; and that in any event, it is the Democrats whose abortion policies are extremist.

At the same time, I would counsel pro-lifers to be cognizant of the political realities impacting our pro-life candidates and officials—understanding their need to prioritize other urgent matters, and also understanding the limitations they face trying to advance pro-life initiatives in hostile jurisdictions.

For example, here in New York I am ardently supporting Rep. Lee Zeldin for governor, both for his solid and consistent pro-life record, and because I see him as best equipped to address the many terrible crises currently afflicting our state, from rampant violent crime, to economic hardship, poverty, homelessness and mental illness, to our state government’s culture of corruption.

I do so aware that even his election will offer little hope for any significant change in New York’s radical pro-abortion laws, given the overall political and cultural climate in this state.

I am confident, however, that he will work to protect our pro-life crisis pregnancy centers—and all the mothers and children who depend on their loving care—from the onslaught of the abortion industry and its government enablers determined to shut them down.

That, I think, is a realistic expectation even in a rabidly pro-abortion state—and reason enough for pro-life voters to support Lee Zeldin.

Nicaragua’s ‘Intense Waves of Repression’ 

From the Washington Post, 8/19/22:

“Federal police stormed the home of a Catholic bishop in northern Nicaragua at dawn on Friday and detained one of President Daniel Ortega’s most prominent remaining critics as the government moved ever closer to silencing all dissent in the Central American country.

“Authorities placed the bishop, the Rev. Rolando Álvarez, under house arrest at his parents’ home in Managua, the capital. Five priests and two seminarians who were with him at his residence in Matagalpa were locked up in El Chipote, the notorious prison where more than 100 of the president’s opponents have been jailed. …

“In the past year, Ortega’s government has jailed nearly all his best-known opponents, including seven politicians who had been expected to seek the presidency last November. His government has also shut down hundreds of civil society groups, as well as universities and media organizations, in one of the most intense waves of repression in the hemisphere.

“It has engaged in an increasingly bitter feud with religious leaders in the majority-Catholic country, closing eight Catholic radio stations and expelling the Vatican’s ambassador, the Rev. Waldemar Sommertag. Authorities also expelled 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who had been helping run shelters and orphanages.”

It feels like we’re in a time warp, the stories taken almost verbatim from the 1980s—the first time the Marxist tyrant Ortega sought to impose his will by terrorizing the Nicaraguan people, persecuting the Church, and banishing to his gulags any who dared dissent.

Except back then, it was hard to find any negative media coverage, or criticism of Ortega’s Sandinista government from western political liberals or the Catholic left. Having ousted Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua’s authoritarian despot, Ortega was being hailed as the “democratic reformer” he styled himself.

It was those who protested his subsequent persecutions of the Church and the Nicaraguan people who were tagged as subversives—people like Nicaragua’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, and Pope John Paul II, who warned, during a contentious visit to the country in 1983, against “false prophets” who “present themselves in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves.”

This was a familiar scene across the globe in those days: progressives, Catholic and secular, supporting revolutionary overthrow of repressive regimes, only to usher in brutal Marxist totalitarians. But by the time that became evident in each succeeding case—Cuba, then Southeast Asia, then Central America—the left-activists had invariably moved on to supporting the next insurgency, never bothering to look back at or learn from the consequences of the previous insurrections they had cheered on.

One praiseworthy exception was Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, who did call out the subsequent repression by Marxist regimes whose ascents he had welcomed. Unfortunately, he seemed to treat each such repression—no matter how often the pattern repeated itself—as aberrational, rather than endemic to Marxist revolution.

Democratic reform is never the intent; it was clearly not Daniel Ortega’s, then or now.

Voted out of power in 1990, when he foolishly sought to legitimize his rule by agreeing to an internationally monitored election—something Communist revolutionaries never allow, and which Marx would never have countenanced—Ortega worked to reinvent himself. He mended fences with the Nicaraguan people and the Catholic Church, presenting himself as a reformed democratic reformer, who really meant it this time! After two more electoral defeats, he was finally returned to power, with only 38% of the vote, in 2006.  

His commitment to democracy lasted only as long as it took for citizens to express disagreement—with certain Sandinista policies, perceived corruption of local elections, and overriding of constitutional limits on presidential terms so Ortega could run for re-election perpetually.

Then, in 2018, when protests against health and pension reforms were violently suppressed by police, Church leaders spoke out—again becoming “devils in cassocks” as Ortega had previously labeled them. Thus ensued—or continued—the repression of the Church by a Nicaraguan Marxist who had successfully disguised himself—twice now—as a friend of the poor, of democracy, and of the Church.

As a reporter for The Long Island Catholic during those earlier years of upheaval in Central America, I would often hear it observed that “everyone who speaks up for the poor gets labeled a Communist.”

That seemed plausible; except that virtually every national revolution on behalf of “the poor” did turn out to be a Communist insurgency, however well disguised until the insurgents seized power. Marxist revolutionaries have always thrived by exploiting very real injustices, and promising better; only to actually deliver worse once they are in control.

And western progressives, including well-meaning but sometimes naïve Catholic activists, have always been easily duped; those, that is, who are not actually sympathetic to Marxism.

Interviewing two local religious Sisters from Long Island back in the early 1990s, about their recent visit to El Salvador and their support for the FMLN “reformers” there, I asked them about a statement by the then-president of the Salvadoran Bishops’ Conference that the FMLN represented a Marxist philosophy.

Their answer?

“I refuse to see Marxism as an evil,” one of the Sisters responded. “Marxism doesn’t scare me.”

I suspect that the people of Nicaragua, living now for the second time under the same Marxist tyranny, would disagree.

On Scripture: Good Works Essential, So Is Prayer

“Jesus said:

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.’”

— Matthew 23:23

I tend to hear these words, from the Gospel reading of August 23, as I believe many Catholics do: as a pointed rebuke to those who, like the Pharisees, are ever faithful—and often very visible—in following prescribed prayer rituals and worship, and contributing financially to the Church; but less so in meeting our obligation to take the Gospel out into the world in how we treat others—instead passing judgement, lacking mercy, failing to offer love and care to our hungry, or sick, or suffering neighbor.

That is all clear in this reading. But the last line is often overlooked:

“These you should have done, without neglecting the others.

A long time ago, back when we were young, a pro-life friend and mentor had asked my brother and me to help with a high school CCD class he was teaching.

I don’t remember what the topic was this one night, but I reflected the above admonition when I quoted a line from Barry McGuire’s 1960s doomsday protest song, “Eve of Destruction”:

“Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”

My point, of course, was to note the hypocrisy of those who—like the Pharisees—follow all the rubrics and requirements of prayer and worship, but do not love their neighbor.

My friend quickly, and correctly, offered a crucial clarification. The truth, he told the students, is that God “wants us to do both.”

Yes, He wants us to love our neighbor as ourself. But He also wants us to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with all our mind. This, Jesus tells us in the same Gospel of Matthew, is “the greatest and first commandment,” love of neighbor being “the second.”

Of course, being all-knowing, all-loving, all-perfect and all-powerful, God does not need our love and worship. We need the humility that comes with giving glory to God, loving God, and understanding that all that we are comes from God. For it is through that humbling of self that we open ourselves to God’s will, strive to live as He intends us to, and thereby accept that transcendent destiny—eternal life in His glory—that His Son won for us on the Cross.

And humbling ourselves lovingly before God also helps us to more easily love our neighbor, as it opens us to seeing God, and God’s love, in every human person. This makes it easier for us to forgive and show mercy to others, as God forgives and shows mercy to us; to make sacrifices for others, as Jesus sacrificed and suffered for us; and, most importantly, to strive to bring others to Christ, so that they too may ask and receive God’s help in living according to His will, and ultimately being with Him in heaven.

So, yes, as Jesus taught the Pharisees, “these”—love, mercy, charity toward neighbor—we all should do; but “without neglecting” the prayer, worship, and sacrifice that are also essential to our practice of the faith.

And all of it should be done to the greater glory of God, without whom nothing—our transient lives on earth, our transcendent eternal destiny—would be possible.

Those are my thoughts when I read this Scriptural passage.

What are yours?

Running Scared

Writing back in May about how Democrats hoped the imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade could help them turn the tide against the projected Republican wave in the November mid-term elections, I predicted that wouldn’t happen “unless Republicans run scared” on the abortion issue.

True to form, a number of Republicans in the New York State Senate did just that only weeks later, when pro-abortion Catholic Gov. Kathy Hochul used a special legislative session—called specifically on the issue of gun violence—to rush through a pro-abortion state constitutional amendment.

Seven Republicans, including all four representing Suffolk County on Long Island, joined all 42 Democratic state Senators in voting for this latest attack on the unborn—in a state that already allows abortion right up to birth, denies protection even to babies born alive following failed abortions, and is targeting pro-life pregnancy care centers for destruction.

To be sure, the amendment’s authors couched abortion promotion within a whole range of “equal protection” provisions, banning “discrimination” based on “race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, creed, (or) religion, or sex”—under which is included “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive healthcare and autonomy.”

I am told Republicans who voted for this amendment are citing those other anti-discrimination provisions as their reason for doing so—even though New York State law already thoroughly protects against such discrimination.

Moreover, the Democratic Senate majority, in a news release celebrating passage of the amendment, made clear what its real intent was:

“Senate Majority Advances Amendment to Codify Abortion” read the top line of the release’s headline; and its lede sentence also highlighted “the right to abortion” before mentioning anything else.

That is the real purpose of this proposal. All else is so obviously just window-dressing designed to give cover to those, like their seven Republican fellow travelers, who were either embarrassingly duped by this pro-abortion ruse, or hoped to dupe the pro-life voters in their districts. They should know we are not as easily fooled as they apparently were.

This amendment, if enacted (it still must be passed by the next legislature, then ratified by voters), could be used to force Catholic hospitals to perform, or at least refer for, abortions (as well as sterilizations and gender-altering hormone treatments and surgical mutilations). It could be used to force pro-life pregnancy centers—if they survive at all—to likewise refer women for abortions. It could be used to make taxpayer funding for abortions a state constitutional right.

Once again, under the guise of preserving “freedom of choice,” New York’s pro-abortion politicians are passing legislation that is thoroughly anti-choice, imposing abortion mandates on religious health care facilities, pro-life pregnancy centers, and taxpayers. Even Republicans who are not strongly pro-life should be standing up against these attacks on personal freedom and religious liberty.

The seven Republicans who voted for this amendment are Phil Boyle, Mario Mattera, Anthony Palumbo, and Alexis Weik, all of Suffolk County; Mike Martucci of upstate Delaware, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties; Edward Rath of western New York; and Sue Serino, whose district straddles the Hudson valley from Saugerties to just above Peekskill.

If one of these is your state Senator, I urge you to contact them about their vote for this proposal. You might let them know that to earn your vote for their re-election in November, they must repudiate their previous vote and commit themselves to opposing this pro-abortion amendment when it comes up for a second vote in next year’s legislative session.

If you are represented by one of the 42 Democrats in the state Senate, you should of course contact them as well. They are all pro-abortion—they wouldn’t have been nominated by New York’s Democratic Party if they weren’t—but you should still let them know you object to this amendment, and their vote for it. And you should point out to them that if they were truly “pro-choice,” they would not be legislating to deny freedom of choice to taxpayers and religious institutions, and they certainly would not be attacking pro-life pregnancy centers that are simply offering women another choice besides abortion.

Just don’t get your hopes up expecting them to be responsive.

On Scripture: ‘Put Not Your Trust in Princes’

Put not your trust in princes,
in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.
When his spirit departs he returns to his earth;
on that day his plans perish.

                                                — Psalm 146, 3-4

We all look for heroes in life—people we can admire, take inspiration from, look to for leadership and great accomplishments.

We elevate all manner of prominent men and women to such stature: political figures, military leaders, media personalities, entertainment stars, accomplished academics, scientists, medical doctors and researchers.

As often as not, such earthly heroes ultimately disappoint us, when their frailties and inevitable human shortcomings manifest themselves. And then we abruptly depose them from the saintly pedestals upon which we had improvidently placed them in the first place.

We go from one extreme to the other: attributing almost God-like status to certain human beings in response to the good we perceive them doing; then bitterly condemning and abandoning them when they fail to live up to our unrealistic expectations.

In fact, most such people, no matter the prominent earthly status they have achieved, are little different from us: fallible human beings, trying (and often succeeding) in doing good things, but also subject to the same temptations and failures we all experience along our earthly journey. This does not undo their good works, nor necessarily discredit their inspiring example or leadership.

It does remind us, however, of the folly of attributing divine-like qualities to even the most seemingly admirable human beings. As the Psalm tells us, salvation—the ultimate and only transcendent purpose of our life on earth—comes from God, and God alone. Even religious leaders, as we have been reminded with devastating consequences in recent decades, can fall short of their sacred calling as shepherds of souls. Indeed, as my mother used to observe—even prior to revelations of the terrible clergy sexual abuse scandal—our priests, precisely because of their special closeness to Christ, are subject to greater temptations to evil, and need our prayers and, when they succumb to temptation, our forgiveness.

Of course, as events over the 20th and early 21st centuries have demonstrated with horrifying clarity, this compulsion to entrust our world to “the sons of men” can also empower truly malevolent forces who, in the name of creating an earthly utopia, perpetrate unspeakable evils.

Shortly before encountering this Psalm verse in the July 28 daily readings, I had read a powerful apocalyptic Catholic novel, “Lord of the World,” given to me by a good friend and former colleague from my days in our diocesan Office of Family Ministry.

“I advise you to read it,” Pope Francis has said of this book—with good reason. Written and originally published in 1907 by English Catholic priest and convert Robert Hugh Benson—whose father had been the Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Anglican Church—it is remarkably prescient—prophetic, actually—in its vision of the world 100 years hence, at the start of the 21st century.

What Benson describes—without using the term—is a secular humanism that has taken control of the world, in which divine power is not denied, it is transferred to humanity. A transcendent God does not exist, but humankind, on our own—led by one supreme figure, human himself yet all-knowing and all powerful—achieves the earthly nirvana that is its true destiny.

This human divinity will bring about “peace” through violence, “freedom” through subjugation, and an end to human suffering through destroying the victims, rather than the causes, of that suffering.

We saw this approach tried—and failed—throughout the 20th century, as atheistic, totalitarian ideologues seized power, imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered millions in their efforts to achieve what they envisioned as the perfection of humanity. And we see it today, in continued totalitarian threats, but more so among the cultural elites throughout the western world who relentlessly attack religion as they strive to elevate flawed humanity to the realm of the divine from which they have expunged Almighty God.

Rejecting this, however, does not mean denying our proper role—and responsibility—to help build a better world. Pope St. John Paul II showed us how: with a Christian humanism that, rather than trying to displace God, cooperates in His plan for humanity, using the individual gifts He has bestowed on us, and guided by the natural law he has imprinted on every human heart.

So that is what this Psalm verse says to me: that we are called as human beings to work together, and to support others working to improve the human condition; but that we do so placing our trust in God, and working in cooperation with His plan—not denying His divine reality while placing our trust in powerful earthly princes whose plans, absent God’s guidance, will surely perish.

As Clint Eastwood might put it, “Man has got to know his limitations.”

Mike Long, R.I.P.

Tributes poured forth, and deservedly so, following the death last week of Michael R. Long, a giant of conservative politics in New York and across the nation.

I wouldn’t even attempt to match the depth or eloquence of those remembrances, from loving family and friends, colleagues and allies in the political arena, leaders of his Catholic Church. I would instead commend to readers such particularly moving commentary as that in Newsmax by John Gizzi, the venerable chronicler of conservative politics, and in the New York Post by George Marlin, Mike’s longtime friend who, among his own many contributions, authored a history of the New York Conservative Party that Mike Long chaired for more than 30 years.

But as one who was also blessed to call him a friend—and whose blog posts he received in recent years, on occasion emailing back a comment or two—I would be remiss if I did not use this blog to offer a brief, humble reflection on the Mike Long I knew.

He was, in short, my kind of conservative: first and foremost a man of faith and family, fervently devoted to his Catholic Church and committed, beyond all else, to his wife Eileen and their nine children. A Marine, he was a deeply patriotic American. He was driven by a tremendous work ethic that enabled him and his brother Tom to be successful small shopkeepers—among the many ways he found to serve the Brooklyn community he loved.

It was these bedrock values—faith and family, country and community, freedom and personal responsibility—that led Mike into conservative politics. He was a doer, not an abstract thinker. When he saw these values under attack, he believed them worth promoting and defending, and he got busy doing so.

Speaking with Newsday, Gerard Kassar, for years Mike’s strong right hand and his very able successor as state Conservative Party chairman, said it best:

“He was an extraordinary man because he was such an ordinary man.”

As such, he related to so many other ordinary men and women, myself included, who shared his commitment to those bedrock values and supported his efforts to uphold them. It touched my heart to reflect that this great defender of the unborn had lived just long enough to see Roe v. Wade overturned—and greeted the news, I am told, with a radiant smile.

In one sense, it seems nothing special to say Mike Long was a friend of mine, because he was a friend to countless people, in virtually every walk of life. It seemed that for Mike, to know you was to be your friend—unless you were the kind to reject his friendship over political differences. Those who did were the poorer for it.

Yet in the truest sense, it was a very special honor to have Mike Long consider you a friend. And not because he counted among his friends presidents, senators, governors, princes of the Church; but rather, because of his character, his unimpeachable integrity, and the genuineness of his friendship no matter your stature or standing in the world. It was an honor to have Mike Long as a friend not because of who he knew, but because of who he was.

Mike’s integrity, and authenticity, are rare traits in the political world. I remember once, after I had pretty much left political activism to pursue a career in Catholic communications, I attended a local political dinner. Observing all the interactions, I remarked to a friend that I had almost forgotten how pretentious these gatherings were. Ostentatiously friendly greetings invariably had little to do with real friendship, but were instead calculated efforts to curry favor with influential people who might help advance one’s personal ambitions.

Mike Long was different. Indeed, even that night, when he came over to say hello, my friend— who as co-author of a weekly newspaper column had recently been critical of Mike and the state party leadership—felt rather awkward when I introduced them to each other. But Mike immediately defused any tension with a warm handshake, as he told my friend, “You write a nice column—most of the time.” He said it not with sarcasm or rancor, but with sincerity, and a friendly smile.

“His concern for people showed…in everything he did,” John Gizzi quoted Brooklyn Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio.

“Not only were his nine children fortunate to have him as a father,” his son Chris told the New York Post, “there were countless other people whose lives he positively impacted.” 

The world, Jerry Kassar commented to Gizzi, is “a better place because of the life he lived.”

Even as we pray for the repose of Mike Long’s soul, we are filled with faith that he has heard those cherished words we all should aspire to hear from our heavenly Father:

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”   

Mass Shootings and the Power of Evil

A racist shooting massacre in Buffalo last May. The horrible slaughter of little schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas in June. July opening with the mass shooting of holiday parade-goers in Highland Park, Illinois.

Each time, we grope for answers, solutions, interventions that will end this madness.

There are the immediate panaceas: tougher gun control, harsher punishments. Congress responded to Uvalde with some bi-partisan gun restrictions, though many consider them still woefully inadequate. Prosecutors in Florida are seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter, while federal terrorism charges make the Buffalo shooter also potentially subject to capital punishment.

But given that many of these shooters take their own lives, and all of them risk being killed immediately by responding law enforcement, it hardly seems likely they will be deterred by the prospect of execution years later.

Gun restrictions are more complex. While I am not a gun enthusiast, I do support the right to bear arms—for hunting, target or other sport shooting, and, yes, for protection of oneself, one’s family, one’s livelihood.

At the same time, I believe we can have sensible restrictions of gun ownership, related to things like mental illness or instability, criminal records or threatening behavior, age requirements. And I am increasingly sympathetic to more limits on possession of rapid-fire assault weapons, useless for hunting and sport shooting, unnecessary for self-protection, and tailor-made for these kinds of atrocities.

But what about the much deeper questions? What has gone so wrong in the lives of men and boys so young, that brings them to such depraved acts of evil?

Some factors seem to recur over and over again—chief among them, a deep and terrible isolation that leaves some youth prey to the power of incomprehensible evil that we Catholics know as Satan.

But what causes such isolation?

Mental illness is of course a factor. It can be internal in nature, related to brain injuries, chemical imbalances, etc. But it can also be caused, or exacerbated, by external forces: family dysfunction; horrific, sustained abuse by peers; substance dependencies; or, increasingly in these times, descent into the cyberworld, with all its depraved rantings heightening a disturbed person’s isolation, paranoia, hatreds, and inclinations to violence. That certainly seems to have fed into, or quite possibly created, the racist motivations of the Buffalo shooter.

Reports indicate that the Uvalde shooter’s mother suffered from a long history of drug abuse; that he may have been sexually abused as a young boy by the mother’s boyfriend; that he had a speech impediment that caused him to be cruelly bullied in school.

That doesn’t justify, of course, and doesn’t even rationally explain his massacre of innocent little schoolchildren who had nothing to do with his mistreatment. But it does illustrate how a vulnerable child, abused and tormented both at home and in school, can gradually turn into a deeply isolated, angry and violent young man; the kind who, as columnist Stanley Crouch wrote more than 20 years ago, “lose all sense of moral regard for the humanity of others because they seem to have been shown none themselves.”

Details keep emerging about the apparently dysfunctional family the Highland Park shooter grew up in. This can itself cause mental instability, and certainly militates against the family support a young person coping with such instability needs. Back in 1998, writing about a rash of school shootings, I noted that in Arkansas, one of the shooters had been devastated by his parents’ recent divorce, and his resulting separation from his father. The pain experienced by children from family break-up is constantly minimized by a society rationalizing easy divorce. But it is very real, and can be very dangerous to a child’s mental and emotional health.

What of the effect of mind-altering drugs? New York Post columnist Miranda Devine reports that the Highland Park shooter “habitually smoked cannabis, a habit he appeared to share with other young shooters, including in Uvalde, Dayton, Parkland and Aurora.” She cites a New York Times report on the heightened potency of cannabis products, and “scientific literature,” including from Lancet medical journal and the American Medical Association, “which increasingly shows that cannabis triggers psychosis.”  

No, marijuana use alone does not cause mass murder. But it can apparently be a contributing factor in further debilitating troubled young minds, helping push those so afflicted into ever deeper isolation and rage. Yet, while we rightly strive to find ways to deny such troubled young men access to guns, we are rushing headlong to legalize highly potent “recreational” marijuana, with little apparent concern for its dangerous effect on still-developing young brains.

Ultimately, we all have free will, and the shooters are responsible for the death, pain, and suffering they cause; for terrorizing and murdering even little children; for taking family members from one another, and leaving survivors to deal with a lifetime of trauma.

But evil is a very powerful force. When it can utilize serious medical, psychological, social and cultural pathologies to totally isolate a weak, tormented individual, it can induce human acts of incalculable evil.

If we are to prevent them, we are going to have to confront those pathologies.

Meanwhile, as we grieve and pray for all the victims and their loved ones, as Catholic Christians we should try–as difficult as this is–to also offer a prayer for the terribly tormented young souls driven to commit these atrocities.