I have a memory of my very early childhood when I was perhaps 5 years old, and that memory is of great intimacy with God, who spoke to me simply…
I have a memory of my very early childhood when I was perhaps 5 years old, and that memory is of great intimacy with God, who spoke to me simply and with love, and I to him. As I grew older, and my brain grew “bigger,” my heart also seemed to diminish and I lost that experience of intimacy with God. I have spent my later years trying to recover that intimacy.
I do not offer this memory as proof that little children, or, by analogy, the mentally disabled, all have this intimacy, but only to indicate that there are mysteries in how God relates to us that cannot be simply reduced to high intellectual knowing.
It would seem rather that God relates to us in ways appropriate to our state. It would also seem we should at least be open to the possibility that the mentally disabled may have an even greater intimacy with God than we of “able mind” can only admire as we seek to become more “like little children, so as to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mk 10:15).
Msgr. Charles Pope is a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
In my diocese, a thriving prison ministry flourishes, led by the generous service of our permanent deacons, with the assistance of priests and many committed laity. Individual pastoral visits, Bible…
In my diocese, a thriving prison ministry flourishes, led by the generous service of our permanent deacons, with the assistance of priests and many committed laity. Individual pastoral visits, Bible study, regular Masses and confession, an RCIA process and retreats contribute to an extraordinary pastoral care unfolding for the benefit of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. I am deeply grateful for the Christians witness of so many dedicated servants of the Lord.
A great blessing for me has been the opportunity to visit the prisons, celebrating the Eucharist and Confirmation, helping with the annual retreat, doing some of the RCIA scrutinies and meeting with the men on death row. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that, when we visit someone in prison, we are encountering him. I have stood in the “pit,” still existent underneath Caiphas’ house in Jerusalem, the dark hole where Jesus spent in prison the last night of his earthly life, facing a horrible execution the following day. Christ spent time on death row.
Whenever I converse with prisoners, at least those involved in Church activities, I encounter faith, love and hope. Many of the men struggle to accept God’s forgiveness for what they have done and to forgive themselves. Like all of us, they try to believe, pray and keep on the path of discipleship. I consistently remind them that they are sons of the Father, beloved by Jesus Christ; their criminal and violent deeds do not fully define them as human beings. They are so much more than that. Many of them have spent decades behind bars; many will never leave.
At any given moment, counting Federal and state prisons, as well as local jails, over 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and the number steadily increases. Our country locks up more people per capita than any other nation on earth. Many prisoners are a threat to others and need to be behind bars; those guilty of serious crimes have a debt to pay society. Few would disagree that part of an effective justice system is fair sentencing for crimes committed.
My experiences of prison ministry in Wisconsin, the Dominican Republic and now here in Indiana, however, raise questions in my heart and mind. Should prisons be simply punitive or also rehabilitative? Should we simply punish people indefinitely, or can they possibly change for the better? So many formative programs, educational opportunities and humanizing details have disappeared from contemporary American prisons that many inmates are more dehumanized, angry, disconnected and incapable of embracing a peaceful, productive and lawful life out in society. Are we simply warehousing people, or do we have a responsibility to help those in prison to experience transformation and conversion?
Capital punishment is clearly a controversial issue because it, too, raises many questions. In the 21st century, is it truly moral to execute a criminal who can be securely contained from society? We certainly need to fully acknowledge the horrific and violent crimes that many on death row have committed, but is putting them to death really the solution? Evidence suggests that capital punishment does not effectively serve as a deterrent to murderous violence. It costs the state more to execute someone than to incarcerate them for life, because of all of the judicial appeals. Cases exist where DNA testing proved that some death row inmates were actually innocent. Can an act of violence truly heal another act of violence? Many of the men on death row have experienced repentance for their crimes and an authentic conversion. Their time in prison has allowed them to reach such a point of grace.
Some voices iterate that the death penalty is justified, that some murderers have committed such heinous and horrible deeds that they should be put to death. Loved ones of such murder victims sometimes call for the execution of the one who killed their child, spouse or sibling. We can certainly empathize with the horrible trauma inflicted when someone close is brutally murdered; a natural human response is the desire to see such a killer’s life taken away as well. But, doesn’t Christ call us to go beyond “a life for a life?” Peace can only come with reconciliation and forgiveness.
Clearly, some criminals must be incarcerated their entire lives because they pose a threat to society, but is it not time to do away with the death penalty, to seek rehabilitation and healing for prisoners where possible, to put more resources into a concerted effort to help released inmates to live productively, contributing to the common good and finding their place in society? I readily acknowledge that issues related to the justice system, criminality, and prisons are complex and difficult. Nevertheless, the Church will always speak out for the life and dignity of every human being, unborn and born, immigrant and native, wealthy and poor, incarcerated and free. The social vision of Catholicism imagines a society of respect for all life, solidarity with the marginalized, mercy and justice for the poor and a healthy concern for the fully integrated flourishing of the human person. As Catholic disciples of the Lord Jesus, we can never give up our efforts to build a civilization of life and love, ready for the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Bishop Hying is the Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.
Amid all the discussions related to the “Me Too” movement, there has been much attention given to the mistreatment and even abuse of women by men. Sometimes this panned decades,…
Amid all the discussions related to the “Me Too” movement, there has been much attention given to the mistreatment and even abuse of women by men. Sometimes this panned decades, including multiple victims. The growing awareness of these situations has raised questions about the social and cultural roles of men and women. And it’s also worth reflecting on how the differences between men and women are complementary, which means they are mutually beneficial and enriching. There are many questions for us to consider.
First, are men and women actually different? To answer, simply consult your own experience and use your common sense. Take note of obvious differences in size and shape. Look at how men interact with men and how women interact with women. Notice how a man is a father and how he treats the children differently than his wife, who is their mother. Next, look at yourself. Young girls have different struggles than adolescent boys; women face growing pains that men do not, and vice versa. They are also interested in different things. Those sorts of differences are not bad, but really are very good, though not always easy to experience.
Going further, is it wrong to be different, to be “unequal”? No, because being different is not related to one’s dignity. Unequal dignity, as a philosophical position, is false and should be opposed. The “Me Too” movement (in part) is a response from women who have experienced an insult to their dignity precisely in the realm of their difference from men. In the material grounding of what makes her her, she was injured and degraded. Yet, she has nothing of which to be ashamed. Abuse and derogatory behavior toward the opposite sex are inexcusable and unacceptable. Acknowledging differences and attractions between men and women does not degrade either sex, nor do differences necessarily lead to the objectification and use of the other. What, then, is the alternative?
In a word, it is complementarity. Complementarity is a way of relating between man and woman, male and female, that respects and reverences the differences in the other without making “different” mean “less than” or “better than” the opposite sex. Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “Womanhood expresses the ‘human’ as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way. When the Book of Genesis speaks of ‘help’ (2:18-25), it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ that the ‘human’ finds full realization” (Letter to Women, No. 7, emphases in original).
In other words, without both men and women, what humanity really is cannot be expressed or even fully known by us. This does not mean that every person has to be married or raise a family in order to realize his or her full potential. It does mean, however, that if we really want to know and understand men, we have to understand women, too. If we want to grow as individuals in strength of character, spirit and body, we have to do that in a community that teaches respect and understanding for the differences inherent in masculinity and femininity. These differences bring out the best of both worlds — the best of what is masculine or feminine in each of us.
None of this means we should do away with strong women or kind men. In fact, just the opposite is the goal. Let women become strong in an appropriately feminine way. Let men be compassionate in ways that incorporate all their masculinity. A young father recently confessed to me, “I’m a better father when my wife is around. I look at her and I want to be better for her sake, and for the kids. Her presence makes me do it right.” This is complementarity in action: she cannot be the father, only he can. But her presence makes him a better one. The same would be true for her mothering — it’s better with him there.
As Mary Prudence Allen, RSM, PhD wrote in her article, “The Fruitful Complementarity of Men and Women,” complementarity has four essential characteristics: equal dignity, significant difference, synergetic relation, and intergenerational fruition. Here, I only speak about the first two, but the last two can be summed up like this: something more happens when you have a man and woman together, and that something can be fruitful for generations (the obvious, but not only, example is children, grandchildren, etc.).
The equal dignity of man and woman is rooted in their creation in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:26-31). It can also simply be observed and known through philosophical inquiry. However, this knowledge is obscured by sins, especially sexual sins, which tend to make the other into an object for me, rather than a person who has rights and dignity that go beyond my pleasure. This goes both ways — women objectify men and men objectify women. Neither is good nor healthy. Making positive choices toward virtue, especially to interrupt the type of thinking or acting that objectifies the other person, is critical to understanding this foundation of complementarity.
The significant difference between men and women is known from experience and observation. Go back to your own reflection on what you see between men and women. They are different — this is not bad. Difference can be non-competitive; we can learn from each other rather than try to beat one another. In this same vein, we can learn to appreciate and even love what is “other” in men and women.
The biblical roots of “image and likeness” shape the Christian understanding of the human person. A Christian anthropology takes the polemics out of the differences between sexes: different is good, not a threat. The differences between male and female, man and woman, find their purpose in the relationship of complementarity. Therefore, not only is being different from each other not a threat, it actually brings out the best of both men and women.
Sister Anna Marie McGuan is with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, Michigan.