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October 2, 2003 Edition

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Notes from the Vicar General
Eye on the Capitol

Be lights of Christ: Especially to children

photo of Msgr. Paul J. Swain
Notes from the 
Vicar General 

Msgr. Paul J. Swain 

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us that to be a Christian is not a part-time job. It is more than a Sunday Mass moment.

This is especially true for parents, and for those who guide and educate children in Catholic schools and religious education programs. As someone said, Christianity is a conspicuous religion. The light of Christ not only ought to shine within us, but radiate its glow in how we live and work and relate to one another.

Listen to them

May I suggest three ways in which we can be lights of Christ in the world, especially to the children. First, we need to listen to them. Jesus took people where they were and encouraged them to become better than they were, challenged them to grow in faith and holiness. So should we.

I must admit, as I get older, that I have a harder time at this. When I look at the list of top 10 tunes, I do not recognize the artists. Then when I hear the songs, I question whether they are artists at all. Yet, parents when I was growing up felt that way about the Beatles.

The midriff-free Brittany Spears look on an eight year old, frankly on any year old, is startling. We must admit, however, that the influences of the culture touch our children. They also touch their parents, who reflect them in what they allow or encourage their children to do.

We need to listen to the kids and help provide some perspective for them. The values once commonly shared are often not intentionally flouted, but simply unknown. Sometimes we need to not just tell the children what is expected, but why. They may not know, and they will be the teachers of tomorrow.

Be hopeful

A second way we can be lights of Christ to them is to be hopeful people in our own lives. It is so easy to get down, to wonder about the future, to become stressed out.

For parents it comes in coping with growing families, aging parents, and strained marital relationships. For teachers and catechists, it comes in trying to manage classroom planning, discipline, and candy sales.

Coupled with these are concerns about health and finances, let alone war, terrorism, and natural disasters like hurricanes. Kids pick up on our moods, probably even before we do. Humility, trust in God's way, and a sense of humor can allow us to be hopeful people and show it.

Reach out

A third way to be lights of Christ to the children in our care is to be sensitive to them, reach out to them in their need, but also to allow them to reach out to us in our need. Children are gifts of hope from God, and they can be his instruments of healing.

We are privileged to be Christians working in the Catholic Church. We also are privileged to work with young people, as the cliché says, the future of the country and of the church. Amidst their noise and hyper activity, or their sullenness and reserve, they long for what you and I long for - to know they count, that someone cares, that they are loved.

Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose for us, to show us that we count, that He cares, and that God loves us.

May we not hide the light of Christ under the bed of cultural challenge or burdens of work or the personal crosses we bear. May we by how we witness to our faith, let the light of Christ lift the spirits of those whose lives we touch, especially the children.

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On weapons: Look to Catholic teaching

photo of John Huebscher
Eye on the 

John Huebscher 

The debate over a proposal to permit citizens to carry concealed weapons has renewed the age-old debate over how far any of us should go in defending ourselves from harm.

As on so many issues, Catholic thought and teaching can help us frame our views, even as the stance we take is left to our prudential judgment.

One may start by asking, are we well served by our current law that bans the carrying of concealed weapons in public?

Current law

As we answer that question, we should note that our current law is not new, nor was it adopted during a frenzy of liberal activism during the 1960s. Rather, it was enacted in 1872, when Jesse James was still robbing banks and nearly two decades before the Wisconsin historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his famous essay on the end of the American frontier. Wisconsin has remained a safe place in the 130 years since.

On the other hand, 45 other states permit concealed weapons. Most of us have vacationed in such states and we probably have not seen gun fights in the streets, unless we happen upon a re-enactment of a famous shoot out like that at the O.K. Corral.

Right of self defense

The Catechism affirms that individuals, like nations, possess the right of self-defense. But, like all our rights, this right is conditioned. Nations and individuals alike must exercise defense in the least lethal way possible. They must also do so with respect for the legitimate rights of others.

We should also consider that peace is built on respect for the rights of other people. This includes recognizing that every other nation possesses the same right of self-defense. Our nation does not presume a right to wage war or occupy nations who pose no threat to us.

While the United States maintains military installations on foreign soil, this is done by treaty with the knowledge and consent of the host nations. The United States does not assert for itself, nor does it grant to others, the right to introduce weaponry into a sovereign nation with which we are at peace without its knowledge and consent.

Serious concerns

In such a context, the provision of the "conceal and carry" proposal that permits individuals to take guns into the homes of others raises serious concerns. It is one thing for an individual to possess a concealed weapon in his home or business. It is another to secretly introduce that weapon into the home of a neighbor who may wish to secure the safety of his home by keeping it "weapons free."

For an individual to claim the right to bring a weapon into his neighbor's house without his knowledge or consent is as problematic as if our nation asserts that right against Canada or Mexico or any other nation.

Role of weapons

As we consider the issue of whether to carry concealed weapons outside the home or workplace, it might also be useful to recall what the Catechism has to say about role of weapons in securing peace.

On this subject the Catechism reminds us that the arms race itself, far from eliminating the causes of war, can risk aggravating them. Thus it seems appropriate that concealed weapons are best not introduced into places like churches, schools, childcare centers, hospitals, and other public places.

Rather, private rights and public peace are better served by honoring two presumptions. One, that a citizen may employ concealed weapons to defend his own home and property. And, two, that we may not introduce weapons into the homes of others or in public places.

Is this perfect? No. But it seems consistent with the way we are expected to foster peace instead of strife, and trust instead of fear. It also retains the key elements of a law that has served us well since 1872.

John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

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