Sunday, September 13, 2015

Being a Citizen

I was surprised and flattered when two tourists from Thailand asked me if I was Jewish. That was about four decades back, at Grand Canyon National Park, near the visitor center.

I'd brought a big topographic map of that massive gulch, spreading it out at intervals to see what I was looking at, and taking photos. That's not mine, by the way: it's from Tom Bernard Anyz.

I think the Thai tourists had noticed that I had a full beard and never took my cap off.

Quite a few gentiles in America wore caps indoors and out at the time, and still do: but not many American men grow a 'haven't shaved in years' beard. The plain black jacket I wore probably helped, too.

I enjoyed being mistaken for one of our Lord's relatives, but my ancestors are about as gentile as it gets, west of the Urals. They probably hadn't even heard of Abraham or Isaac until missionaries arrived, and that's another topic.

Culture and Faith

Before I became a Catholic, I drove on the right side of the road. I wore pants instead of a kilt, seldom ate with chopsticks, spoke English with one of the American accents, and used "guess" as a verb.

I still do.

In a sense, becoming a Catholic made me 'more of an American.' Being a good citizen isn't an option for Catholics. We must contribute to the good of society and take part in public life, wherever we are. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

Being Catholic doesn't mean being American, though: or Western.

By the end of the 1500s, something like 130,000 folks in Japan were Catholics. The new faith appealed to locals from one end of the economic spectrum to the other: peasants, traders, sailors, warriors, and courtesans.

Then a Spanish ship's captain claimed that missionaries were setting Japan up for European conquest. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, concerned about Western imperialism, outlawed Catholicism.

Some folks, given a choice between abandoning our faith or death, chose death. Six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laymen, including three young boys, were crucified on February 5, 1597.1

Others were deported, or went underground. Two and a half centuries later, the Meiji Restoration restored imperial rule — and religious freedom. Many of the Kakure Kirishitan rejoined the Catholic Church.

Emperors, Tyrants, and Options

Japan has had one imperial family for about 2,600 years. I'm impressed by that sort of continuity. My civilization's history is — different.

Back in Emperor Jimmu's day, or thereabouts, Psamtik I re-unified Egypt, the Neo-Assyrian Empire dissolved, and Corinth was among the first Greek city-states to replace their traditional hereditary priest-kings with tyrants.

"Tyrant" eventually got unpleasant connotations, Rome's Republic became an empire, which crumbled after about five centuries. Charlemagne started the Carolingian dynasty. Then Saxons and Franks had emperors for a while.

England's Henry VIII was, by act of Parliament, 'imperial:' but never an emperor. A little over two centuries later, English colonists in North America got fed up with micromanagement, revolted, and set up a federal republic. A few more centuries, and we may try something else.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, Akihito is the world's only emperor. It's a largely ceremonial role at the moment, but that could change in the next millennium.

Japan's cultural continuity impresses me, but I'm used to the Western habit of kicking over the traces every few centuries.

Happily, the Church doesn't expect me to insist on a monarchy, or any other particular form of government.

As long as a local regime works for the common good, and the citizens are okay with how their country's authorities work, Catholics can live with any system. (Catechism, 1901)

Concern for the "common good" involves balancing individual and community needs, and that's yet another topic. (May 3, 2015; May 1, 2015)

United and Diverse

As I keep saying, the Catholic Church is καθολικός, universal: united and diverse, not tied to one era or region. I'm not forced into a particular cultural mold.2 (September 7, 2014)

I could receive the Eucharist, the heart of our faith, in any parish — and recognize what's central in the Mass.

The essentials in our re-presentation of the Last Supper haven't changed in two millennia. Details in how we celebrate vary, according to local culture. This is okay. (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; Catechism, 1145-1149, 1202-1209, 1322-1419, 1668)

The parish church on Sauk Centre's south side, for example, brings a tree inside during the Christmas season. The Christmas tree's origins aren't entirely certain — but northwestern Europeans liked trees: like Donar's Oak.

Sacred groves aren't strictly European, and I am not going to get sidetracked by deodar, Nang Tani, mistletoe, and Höðr.

Catholic Tradition3 is a "living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit." (Catechism, 77-78)

Desperately clinging old habits and customs — is yet again another topic. (August 23, 2015; July 31, 2015)


Like I said last week, taking God seriously means acting as if what our Lord said matters. (September 6, 2015)

It boils down to love God, love neighbors, see everyone as a neighbor, and treat others the way I want them to treat me. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

Citizenship, Catholic style, includes taking an active part in public life; contributing to the good of society "in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom;" and submitting to legitimate authorities. (Catechism, 1915, 2239)

Submission to legitimate authority does not mean unthinking obedience.

Sometimes the local or regional boss tells us to do something that violates natural law.4 (Catechism, 2242)

Saying 'no' to England's Henry VIII got Saints Thomas More and John Fisher killed. Nobody said this was going to be easy. (June 22, 2012)

Interestingly, genocide is specifically mentioned as something we're not supposed to do: and voting when we have that right is an obligation. (Catechism, 2240, 2313)


America's 2015 national elections are coming in November. The presidential election comes next year, but we're already getting the usual blather.

I'm not "political," in the sense of claiming that one party or candidate is always right and anyone who disagrees with me is in league with Satan.

I have to pay attention to all the braying and trumpeting, though. Voting responsibly is part of being a good citizen here.

One of the issues I'm concerned about is religious freedom: which doesn't mean forcing everyone to agree with me. As a Catholic, I must support religious freedom — for everybody. (Catechism, 2104-2109)

And that's still another topic. (April 12, 2015)

More about life, love, and getting a grip:

1We celebrate 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seiji, Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, on February 6. February 5 was already the feast day of Saint Agatha of Sicily.

2 Background:
3 Definitions:
  • "BIBLE: Sacred Scripture: the books which contain the truth of God's Revelation and were composed by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (105). The Bible contains both the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (120). See Old Testament; New Testament."
  • "MAGISTERIUM: The living, teaching office of the Church, whose task it is to give as authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form (Sacred Scripture), or in the form of Tradition. The Magisterium ensures the Church's fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles in matters of faith and morals (85, 890, 2033)."
  • "TRADITION: The living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (75-82). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (83)."
And see Catechism, 95, 113, 174, and 126.

4 Natural law is the set of ethical principles woven into reality. These principles do not change. How we apply them changes as our circumstances change. (Catechism, 1952, 1954-1960)

I've discussed natural law, unchanging principles; and positive law, rules we make up; before:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.