When or Because?

JMJ

Did you ever notice that we called these things stoplights even when they’re green? Did you ever wonder about that? We tend to see these things as a hindrance rather than a conveyance, or help. When I was at NYU My Religion Professor, Dr. James Carse asked us one night if we went when the light turned green or because the light turned green. 35 years later I still wonder about that. We call it a stoplight, even though it is green as often as it is red – and you can also go when it is yellow. The device actually says go a lot more than it says stop. Do you go when the light turns green or because the light turns green?

I think most Americans go when the light turns green. We wait until it says we can go safely without getting a ticket. Late at night, when there’s no one around, on a backcountry road we might go anyway, getting angry at who in tarnation but a stoplight way the heck out here. If we’re in a strange place we might not realize that intersection is the most dangerous in the county, 5 deaths last year alone, until a petition got a light there. So we wait, maybe, until the light changes.

I won’t create a strawman in this argument by projecting that in XYZ location they go because the light gives them permission. However, I admit I want to imagine that somewhere there is such a place. I imagine it’s most other places, to be honest, with the possible exception of Australia. I say that based on 25 years of customer service, being aware that in America if I forget to charge you sales tax, you’ll be happy and walk away. But for 25 years, customers from other places have all been like, “Wait, you’re supposed to charge me a tax on this purchase. I need to pay for roads and schools, healthcare and more with that tax. It’s my obligation to my community. Charge me that tax!” Americans don’t feel that way at all, even though we tend to pay only pennies on the dollar for each item (some countries charge upwards from 20% in sales tax). I do want to imagine that these folks who demand the right to pay their sales tax also wait to go because the light has turned green.

You, dear reader, may have already begun to discern the difference. If a driver goes because the light has turned green, then he – the driver – is waiting for the state’s permission to go. The light says “go now” and the driver goes. The driver who goes when the light turns green was probably revving her engine as she saw the light from the other direction turn yellow. Must get away from these other cars. When the light turns green, throw it in gear and GO!

So, less a strong man than a projection. Nevertheless, it is a projection I want to use for this post. I am sure that there are folks in both sorts of cultures who fit both of these profiles. But I do know they exist. And I think America has more of the when the light turns green sort of folks. It would make sense to be so as we are very individualistic here. Even our more liberal or lefty sorts tend to be focused on individual liberty rather than community rights. Laws, to these people, are a hindrance rather than a help. Best, the government does something that usually gets in the way. At worst the government stops something that an individual wants to do. There is a reason we call it a stoplight.

What does this mean for us in light of covid-19? I think it explains a lot. Although the Italian people were in the streets partying until about 2 and 1/2 weeks ago once they were put under lockdown they wouldn’t willingly. They sing opera to each other. They send YouTube videos of jets flying overhead blasting Pavarotti. They are in this together not as a bunch of individuals who happen to be together but rather as a culture and a community. When the government does something in Italy, it is perceived as doing something to help. Perhaps it is too little, too late… but generally… let’s try this and see.

There are other places where this is not the case. America is one of these places. Although from person to person the attitude may change slightly, generally the assumption is if the government’s trying to do something it’s probably wrong. I say this can change slightly from person to person because often times it’s a matter of well, if I happen to agree with it… And those shades of if I agree with it do, in fact, differ from person to person in America. So, for some voters anything the previous president did was right. Our most anything, but anything the current president is wrong. For other voters, that’s exactly reversed. This is all a matter of personal opinion, of individual Choice: that’s the American way.

And so, covid-19. Ask anyone in Italy about lockdown. What you see on YouTube what you hear on Twitter what you read on Facebook it’s a bunch of people grumbly but aware of their safety and the health of their society. They understand that while this is really annoying. It’s better than everyone dying. It is possible that even in highly secular Europe, this is a result of their Catholic upbringing.

For Catholic ethics it is the common good that is important: the individual contributes to society. The individual is not saved alone, and the individual has an obligation to the community around him. That obligation is not only for their spiritual well-being, that is their salvation; it is also for their physical, their secular if you will, well being as well. How to not be greedy. Not because greed is wrong – it is – but it is wrong because it robs from you. I have an obligation to see that you have your needs met. In a Christian culture, everyone has an obligation to see that everyone’s needs are met. That includes salvation, don’t get me wrong. But it also includes housing Food and Health. In other words Christian Society relies upon Christian government. As we are a part of a society our collective action should be to force the government to do its job. That job is to secure the common good: both salvation and well-being. When the government fails to do its job individuals step in.

Yes, individuals have the moral obligation to feed the poor and to clothe the naked. But a Christian government has that same obligation. And the individual Christians – you and I – have the obligation to call on the government to do its job.

I have described this as an American problem. In fact it’s a modern, Western problem. Our American culture does this. Our modern European culture does this as well: it’s secular, Western culture that does this. Our American foundation documents in fact, back me up. Just as the Catholic Church teaches that I owe you all of these things because you are created in the image of God. Our Declaration of Independence says that all are created equal and are endowed by their creator. Our Constitution assures us that the duty of government is to provide for the common defense and to promote the general welfare’s advance. It’s only as we became modern that we forgot the meaning of endowed by their creator and promote the general welfare.

There are differing political and economic theories about how to accomplish this. They come from both the left and the right. I have met Catholics who, individually, hold all of these. I am not aware that one or the other actually is the Catholic position. I do know that the Catholic Church requires we promote the common good But thank you for checking in and that we are morally obligated to work towards a society and a government that does the same.

In the era of covid-19 this forbids from acting in the name of “muh freedomz” when those actions can endanger others. I raise this because so many of us are treating these enclosures, shelter-in-place orders, and even lockdowns as “stoplights” rather than “traffic lights”. We are posting warnings about “martial law” and “communism” when what we should see is actions in defense of the individuals “endowed by their creator” with the first right listed being “life”. And since, properly, no gov’t can grant a right not granted prior by God (else it is only license, not liberty) then no gov’t can give us the right to endanger the lives of others. To the contrary, a Christian gov’t is obligated to take action to prevent us from doing so. Additionally, when those actions have occurred, when my mobility is hindered, and when other actions have resulted in the health of the populace, it is also the government’s responsibility to take economic steps to ensure the continuance of prosperity.

Regardless of what political form or economic theory you name this, it is Christian charity. It is acting because the government says we can,

In short, covid-19 is bringing us a chance to institute, both from the gov’t and from us as individuals, charity. Don’t struggle with that grace-filled moment claiming “personal freedom”. That’s just the language of Eden recapitulated.

Love in the Time of Covid-19

JMJ

Dear Fathers in Christ –

Some diocese are canceling public services. Some are not. No matter where you fall on the spectrum between APOCALYPSE and TOO MUCH HYPE there is something you can do to help us all: especially the folks in the places with no Masses.

Put your Mass live on Facebook. Put your Mass live on YouTube. Do the same with your daily offices and any other devotions you offer. You can do this today, now, if you have a Facebook Page for your parish and a laptop with a camera built in. Follow these steps (I’ve marked the suggestions in italics the other steps have to be done.)

  1. Set up for Mass. (If you’re in “isolation mode” you’re probably going to want at least a server/lector with you – even a brother priest. Cantoring optional.)
  2. The Laptop needs to be somewhere the camera can “see” all the action at Mass. To be honest, you don’t need the full shebang for this. Put the laptop on your clean desk, spread a corporal and you’re off. But you can do this at a full altar as long as the camera can see everything. You don’t want to be moving the camera during Mass.
  3. Open the laptop and log in to FB. You’re going to want to have the laptop plugged in because you don’t want it to die during Mass.
  4. Make sure you and the reader (if any) are able to easily get into the line of sight. You’ll be preaching & reading from the same place.
  5. Go to your parish’s page (If you don’t have a page you should really fix that…). I would suggest adding links to the readings of the day and – if you feel like it – to any hymn texts you may want everyone to use. Keep it simple though!
  6. Click on live like in the image at the top of this post. Then you’ll go to a new page.
  7. When FB asks you to approve the use of your camera and audio say yes or there will be all kinds of problems! You’ll see your camera image appear.
  1. Make sure everything looks ok.
  2. Pick where this post will appear: it should be on your Parish’s Facebook page.
  3. Say something – here’s where to put the links for your readings, today’s Mass intentions, etc.
  4. Skip everything in this box unless you know what’s going on. It should be set correctly.
  5. A title: Mass, Vespers, etc.
  6. Click this when you’re ready!

I will help you if you’re having trouble. DM me on FB, or ping me on Twitter. Leave a comment here with a way I can get back to you online first (not via phone call until we’re both on board). With 25 years of customer and tech support, I can walk you through this! I will happily be tech support for getting your Mass online in this simple way. (There are more complex ways to do this, networked cameras, blue tooth mics… I’m not able to help with those: you’ll need someone with other skills.)

YouTube works really well, too, but accounts have to be approved to do livestreaming on YouTube: if you’re not approved this may not be the right time to go through that. If you are already approved then you know all about this. Never the less, I’ll do another post about that option later. Facebook is literally click-and-go for this.

This could work for Mass, the Daily Office, in fact for any possible set of devotions. I would advise having pictures for the Stations or Rosary. Your mileage may vary.

Although this may or may not work well for your parish (you know your people) once it’s on the internet, you’re available to anyone who has access to the internet and Facebook or YouTube. People who are panicking or stressed out because of the world situation can find your Mass and be comforted.

I would love it if there were masses everywhere all day on Facebook, and if the Daily Office were being offered all over the place.

If the Daily Office is a thing: you may want to consider setting up a Zoom account. I’ll do a post about that as well. The advantage of a Zoom (instead of FB or YT) is that your Zoom can be interactive: other folks can pray along and all participants would be able to hear and interact.

Your faithful son in Christ Jesus,

Huw (Stanley Robert), OP