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Christmas: La Vie est Triste

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Christmas can be an especially difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Amidst the family celebrations, that loved one’s absence is more pronounced than their presence, although over the years one discovers how different family traditions and even attitudes persist in such a way as to make the loved one’s presence felt acutely.

But, it is not the same. It is never the same. And this year, for no particular reason, the absence of two loved ones has been acute.

All through Advent, I found my thoughts drawn to memories of Father Joseph Kugler. He was the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Willimantic when I was a teenager and was kind enough to let me practice on that church’s organ. I wrote about that experience last summer, about how the mystic chords of memory made Joe seem very present. I credit Joe with being the principal instrument of grace in keeping me within the Church at a time when many young people leave and never look back.

Bishop Aquila's Outrageous Statement

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Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota delivered remarks in the course of an interview with KFGO that are so outrageous as to boggle the mind. “People need to the understand that when a government essentially embraces atheism, which is what both communism and Nazism [did], that religious rights are going to be violated.” Huh?

First, when will people learn that analogies to the Nazis are always a bad idea. The evil Hitler inflicted on Europe is unique not in its scope – Stalin and Mao had as much blood on their hands – but in the purity of the evil Nazism achieved. The Nazis did not kill Jews to achieve some political goal, indeed, they often killed Jews whose talents would have been beneficial to the regime. The desire to exterminate an entire people simply because you think they should be exterminated does not warrant comparison with any other evil. Stalin killed kulaks to get their land. Mao killed entrepreneurs to capture their money and stamp out their autonomy. Hitler killed Jews because he wanted to exterminate them.

The Event of Christmas

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I once asked one of the smartest theologians I know to explain to me the essential point of disagreement between Rahner and the Communio theologians. “Of course, Pope Benedict always had great respect for Rahner,” my learned friend said. “But, I would put the difference this way. For Rahner, the Incarnation is a theological category. For Communio theologians, the Incarnation is first and foremost an event.” If that is true, and I believe it is (not being a theologian, I rely on the wisdom of others), than St. Luke was the first Communio theologian.

Bum Rap for Newt

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Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has been chastised for his response to a gay Iowa voter, during which Gingrich said that those who think gay marriage is the most important issue should support Obama. But, when you go to the video, there was nothing dismissive or disrespectful about what Gingrich said. He even acknowledged that it is "totally legitimate" to support his opponent if the issue is the most important to you. Trying to make it seem like Gingrich somehow dissed gays is a bum rap.

You can see the video for yourself here.

EPA's New Mercury Standards

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The Environmental Protection Agency released new standards for mercury and other toxic admissions yesterday. You can get all the details at the EPA website here.

And, over at NCR's "Eco Catholic," you can find the response of the USCCB which pushed hard for the new regulations not only because of their environmental benefits, but because of the happy consequence for children, born and unborn, of limiting toxic admissions.

Don't you wish there were another GOP presidential debate soon so that someone could ask the candidates if they approve of this explicitly pro-life regulation?

Garnett v. Reilly

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Over at Mirror of Justice, Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett responds to an op-ed Tuesday in the Washington Times by Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Garnett is one of the most careful and precise conservative thinkers I know, and as he demonstrates in this post, he is not afraid to call out other conservatives when they overstep. Reilly and his inaprropriately named society seem only intent on bomb-throwing whenever and however they can, especially when hurling their bombs towards less conservative co-religionists. Kudos to Garnett for taking them on.

Debate & Dysfunction in DC

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The fight over how to extend the payroll tax cut displays something profoundly misguided about our contemporary politics. On the one hand, the House Republicans are not wrong when they say that Congress should do its work, and its work is to find a way to extend the payroll tax cuts for a full year and stop with the Mickey Mouse compromises like the Senate bill which only guarantees the issue will be re-addressed in two months. On the other hand, the Senate leaders are correct to note that they achieved a broad bipartisan consensus on this particular bandaid and that such a consensus should not be easily cast aside.

On the larger, underlying issue of how to pay for the payroll tax cut extension, both sides are convinced that they have the full and complete truth. The Republicans believe that any tax cuts should be offset by cuts in spending. The Democrats believe that the middle class tax cut should be paid for by enacting a surcharge on the wealthiest of the wealthy, those making more than $1 million per year. You know where my sympathies lay in that debate.

Congress in Sandbox

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Is it any wonder that Congress' approval ratings are in the tank? The kerfuffle over whether or not to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance exhibits, in spades, the kind of childish antics that drive people crazy. The Senate works out a bipartisan bill (yeah!) but the bill is only a band-aid, extending the tax cuts and benefits for two months. Then the Senators escape for vacation. The House refuses to oblige the Senate, even though a clean vote on the Senate bill likely would have passed, forcing Speaker Boehner into parliamentary contortions. The Speaker has a point when he says Congress should be able to do better than a band-aid, but the actual consequence of the House's vote is to just let the wound fester with no short-term band-aid nor long-term cure.

Kudos to Commonweal

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In my first post this morning, I lamented how few voices had been raised in opposition to the health care mandates on liberal grounds. And, not five minutes after posting that, I turned to Rocco Palmo to get any breaking Church news and, voila, he had a link to an editorial at Commonweal entitled "Illiberal Mandates" that makes the case.

Commonweal is not Fox. Catholics on the left who have been indifferent to this issue and have been unpersuaded by my arguments should carefully consult the central argument put forth by the editors at Commonweal: "except when life or limb is at stake, it is hard to see what is “liberal” in coercing religious individuals and institutions. There are other ways that contraception can be made available to employees of Catholic institutions, should they choose to use it. One does not need to oppose contraception to see that, in this case, it’s far less important than the principle, and practice, of religious freedom."

Conscience Exemptions & the Press

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Some of the remarks in the combox, and conversations at holiday parties, have suggested that virtually no one is going to vote for or against President Obama based on his upcoming decision regarding conscience exemptions for Catholic and other religious organizations from certain mandates under the new health care reform law. This is only half true, and the half that is true is damning. The other half has to do with how our media culture frames issues and how issues and events feed a media narrative.

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