Back To: Why The Religious-Freedom Argument Doesn’t Work

[Many bishops, including Bishop DiLorenzo, have encouraged us Catholics to contact our elected officials and assert the religious freedom of the Church. We insist that all Catholic institutions should be exempted from the federal-government contraceptive mandate. I have no expertise in how to arrive at the best practical way to address this crisis. Everyone should do what the bishops encourage.]

When asked why a Catholic university should not be required to provide artificial contraceptives to its employees, one official replied, “One would hardly expect to be served pork at a Jewish barbecue.”

The kosher Jew holds that God prohibits eating pork.

I do not put myself forward as a student of the question, but I imagine that many knowledgeable nutritionists have debated the health merits of keeping kosher, with strong arguments on both sides.

So the prohibition against eating pork could, in itself, be called arbitrary. But one never acts arbitrarily in obeying God. Obeying God always makes sense.

So, if any agent of the government—using any pretext whatsoever—tried to force the kosher Jew to serve pork at his barbecue, the kosher man responds:

My right to exercise my religion, recognized in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prohibits you from fussing at me about this in any way. Back off.

Praise God. Justice and peace reign in this scenario.

We have nothing but respect for our brother’s right to obey what appears to be an arbitrary commandment, and nothing but esteem for his obedience to his conscience.

That said, our religion does not work this way.

The Catholic faith, and the exercise thereof, stand on two un-prove-able tenets. 1. There are three divine Persons in the one Almighty God. 2. The second Person took our human nature to Himself and became the divine man, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps some would say that these two fundamentals seem arbitrary. Many reasons could be given, though, as to why these divine facts are beautiful and fitting. But they cannot be proved. If they are taken for granted, every other belief and practice of the Church can be explained with solid reasons.

So for a Catholic administrator to assert the Jewish-barbecue analogy to an employee who requests health-care coverage which, at least in certain circles, would be regarded as standard—to give this response, i.e. “Look, it may be arbitrary, but we are allowed to be arbitrary, because we are obeying God, and the First Amendment protects our right to obey God’s arbitrary commands–” This response might very well fall within the scope of the First Amendment, for all I know. Strictly speaking, this response stands to reason. “After all, no one forced you at gunpoint to come to this Jewish barbecue. You could have gone to work for a contraceptive-friendly employer.”

But: Is this the way that the Spouse of Christ speaks to Her children? Does She say, “Love it or leave it!” when her babes make earnest requests for Her succor?

No. She always loves. She always sympathizes. She always gives the benefit of the doubt, and She meets Her children where they live (which is always in this world of confusion and strife.)

Why will we not give you a contraceptive? Because we love you. Because contraceptives are bad for you. Because we want something better for you–and for everyone.

We refuse to comply with the HHS mandate, not because God is arbitrary, but because the mandate is arbitrary. Arbitrarily inhuman. Arbitrarily corrosive of genuine health and well-being. And here’s why…

The Why must be addressed further. I promise to come back to it, once I have studied some interventions kindly offered by my esteemed readers.

In the meantime, let me say what a priest must say.

The Lord gives us enormously wide latitude in how we spend our time. But He prohibits the use of artificial contraceptives. This has been taught by the Church in a definitive manner. We have the duty of inquiring into this, in order to explain it. We also have the clear duty of obeying it, whether or not we understand it.

Three Ways to Hear His Voice

He taught them as one having authority. (Mark 1:22)

From of old, the Almighty promised that a voice would ring out which would carry the divine guarantee of truth. He made this promise to a people like us: a people seeking the Promised Land, needing to hearken to the divine voice in order to find our way.

What if no voice of truth guided us? What if the only source for truth was me myself?

That would be a sketchy situation. I would want to have one set of rules when I was in one mood, and a different set when I was in another. Hungry? One set of rules. Angry? A different set. Eyes fixed on a toy I want to play with? Another set. Life without the voice of God would leave a person fat, friendless, and maxed-out with credit-card debt.

Thank God, then, that He speaks to us. With authority. He speaks to us with the authority of the final judge, before Whom we will have to answer for everything done or left undone.

Continue reading “Three Ways to Hear His Voice”

Slow, Invisible Growth

The parable of the seed scattered on the ground would seem to present one distinctive element, namely the invisible power of growth which the seed possesses.

The parable has three moments in its drama:

1. The man appears, and sews the seed.

2. What seems like a long time passes in which the man does not appear. Instead, an invisible force brings about the slow growth of the corn.

3. The man appears again at just the right moment, sickle in hand, to harvest the ripe corn.

The parable presents an image of the Kingdom of God as it appears in history.

1. The King appeared on earth and deposited the power of salvation.

2. Ages pass in which the King does not visibly appear. But His invisible power operates; the Kingdom grows. As St. Paul put it, regarding his own ministry, “Neither he that plants is anything, nor he that waters, but God gives the increase.” (I Cor 3:7)

3. When everything has been completed, the King will appear before our eyes again, and the blade of His truth will separate good from evil. He and everything good will shine with glory.

The moral of the story, then, as I see it: Patience, trust.

God knows His business. Everything we need is right under our noses, in the perennial customs of the Holy Church. In due time, we will grow to ripe fullness.

Contraceptives, Medicine, and Conscience

Man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man. According to it, he will be judged. (Vatican Council II)

[Rated PG-13]

Lately I have read somewhat widely regarding the federal-government mandate requiring free contraceptives. Forgive me, but B.S. alarms are ringing in every corner of my poor, little mind.

According to what law does the federal government have the authority to require this? I ask this in earnest, as I am no scholar of the “health-care debate.” Does it pertain to the vigilance of the federal government to control American medicine? Of course we must have laws prohibiting abuses.

But, in fact, contraceptives do not qualify as medicine. Being able to have a baby = healthy, not sick. To go to a doctor and say, “Doctor, I want to have sex and not get pregnant”—this does not qualify as a medical request.

An honest doctor would have to reply to such a request with a laugh and then a fatherly/motherly admonition: “My child, allow me to recommend better ways for you to spend your time…” (e.g. reading, hikes, frequenting church, frisbee golf, etc.)

Using artificial contraception is immoral because of the following fact: It is beneath the dignity of any human being to waste time masturbating.

Continue reading “Contraceptives, Medicine, and Conscience”

Christ’s Calling Location: the new Me

Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio

On Sunday we read about the Lord Jesus calling the first fishers of men—Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Today we read about Christ calling the Apostle Paul.

Something has changed between these two calling episodes. The Lord’s location has changed. When He called the first Apostles, Christ was still on earth. By the time He called St. Paul, the Lord had ascended to heaven.

Same act of calling, different location. The Lord will not stop summoning His champions, His co-workers, His friends—He will not stop calling until time ends.

St. Paul’s experience teaches us to stand ready for the invitation as it comes now, in the age of the Church.

Christ reigns above, invisible–for now–to our eyes. His Church on earth represents Him; Her works, Her teachings, and Her rules keep us close enough to Christ so that we can hear His voice. He speaks. Usually He speaks in such a way that only our quiet, deeply interior ears can hear.

He spoke to St. Paul in the very center of that pious, zealous Jew’s soul. The voice moved Saul to a new kind of religious obedience: the obedience of love.

God loves me. He loves me, myself, the person that I am—forgiving me all my evils. And He wills to use me as a means of communicating that love.

Yes. Of course I will co-operate. Yes, of course I will respond to love with love. What else could I do? The interior voice of Christ from heaven has awoken within me a me that I never even knew I had.

Best Way to Start…

…the Year of the Dragon: March for Life.

We will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When freedom is used to dominate the weak, we will stand up and reaffirm the demands of justice and social love.

–Pope John Paul II, on the Mall in Washington, October 7, 1979

…Might try to stop in Chinatown for a Tsingtao. The March might only be a half-mile stroll these days. But still it’s good to fortify yourself.

If you find yourself on Seventh Street, N.W. (during the interminable Rally, which I cannot bear to stand around for), look for the tall goofy priest.

Catholic Unity (Nine Points)

We find ourselves in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This past Wednesday, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said to us,

During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.

What do we Catholics believe about the unity of the Church?

1. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven—we believe that He rules as the sole Head and King of the Church and of the universe.

2. We believe that every man, woman, or child who has been baptized in water and in the name of the Blessed Trinity is a Christian, a member of the Church.

We generally give to the clergy the office of baptizing people. But, when you get down to it, everyone possesses the competence to baptize.

Water + the words = Holy Baptism = a Christian.

3. We Catholics believe that the written Word of God bears witness to the truth in such a way that the Bible must be our constant study and rule of life. God Himself speaks to us when we read or listen to the Bible. At the same time, we must study the sacred books for what they are, namely the work of human beings written in particular circumstances at particular times.

When it comes to how people interpret the Bible, we Catholics don’t call our brother- and sister-Christians ‘liberals’ or ‘fundamentalists,’ because neither of these terms really does anything to help people understand each other.

4. We Catholics believe that Christ gave everything essential in our religion to His Apostles, and they, in turn, gave everything to the first generation of Christians. Ever since then, the entire sacred patrimony has been handed down from one generation to the next.

Considering what the Lord gave us, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church shines gloriously, perfect in every respect. At the same time, considered as a human institution, the Church is nothing other than a hospital for sinners, constantly in need of reform and renewal.

5. We believe that, given the way human societies work, the Lord Jesus knew that His chosen band would need a leader, so He chose St. Peter for this office. The office has been filled ever since. The current occupant is Benedict XVI. The Pope governs Christ’s Church on earth.

6. We Catholics believe that we have a duty to stand up for truth and justice, for the right to life, for fairness in everything. We believe that we owe it to ourselves to help the poor. In all these enterprises we gladly co-operate with everyone who seeks to fulfill the same Christian duties, be they Catholic or not.

7. We believe that our Lord made marriage a sacrament and an unbreakable bond. We believe that the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament. We know that some of our separated brethren don’t even teach that marriage is a sacrament, but nonetheless our faith binds us to regard any marriage of two baptized Christians as a sacrament. We believe that the Church, and the Church alone, has the authority to declare null any particular marriage vows, taken by any Christian man and woman.

8. We Catholics love the saints in heaven. We love our Lady, and we constantly beg her help. We worship only the Triune God.

We worship all the Persons of the Trinity. We worship everything that is personally united with the eternal Son. We worship, therefore, His Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

9. Christ instituted the Mass at the Last Supper. He made His Apostles the first priests of the New Covenant. Ever since then, the sacred priesthood has been handed down by the laying on of hands.

We believe that only a duly ordained priest can celebrate Christ’s Holy Eucharist. We believe that Catholic and Orthodox priests are duly ordained. We believe that the Protestant clergy are not. That said, we believe that whenever two or three Christians gather together, the Lord is there in the midst of them.

We do not take communion at non-Catholic services, and we do not invite non-Catholics to take Holy Communion at Mass. That said, we rejoice whenever we pray with anybody and whenever anybody prays with us. We have nothing but respect for every man’s Christian faith. False pretenses of unity do not serve the cause of Christ. But, of course, neither do pride or disrespect.

…Please God we get there, will we find a big coffee hour in heaven, with Protestants holding heavenly Styrofoam cups right next to us? Maybe. Only God knows the answer to such questions. I, for one, would like to ask Him if we could have a Tina Turner concert in heaven. But I know better than to expect an answer at this point.

We Catholics concern ourselves with our getting to heaven. The Lord has given us the means of getting there; He has given us every reason to hope for it.

One of the means we have of getting to heaven is: Loving Protestant and Orthodox Christians as our brothers and sisters.

What Do You Priests Do All Day?

You’ve probably seen this charming Silverado ad. I must say that when I saw it, a little bell rang.

“Other than Sunday Mass, what do priests do?”

“I, ah…”

–Not the same stuff as in the ad. No candle-lit date nights. And I don’t mean to be grandiose here. The priesthood hardly involves a thrill a minute.

But hopefully you get the idea: the story is a little too complicated to tell.

An adventure, to be sure. The Lord may be calling you to jump in His sacerdotal Silverado, young man. Give it a thought.

Saul & David, Lucifer & Christ

In the very beginning, the great light-bearer of heaven beheld the Son of God and refused to serve Him, refused to co-operate with Him. Lucifer instead imagined a universe in which he sat alone on the highest throne.

In the end, only two paths lay open to us, brothers and sisters. On the one hand, humble submission to God Who is greater than we are. On the other, jealousy.

Saul had been made king by a higher authority. Young David sought nothing but to protect the reign. God gave David prodigious gifts, which he put to the service of the people. Saul, who never knew how to submit to the true divine king, saw in David only a threat. Just like Lucifer had seen in Christ only a threat.

David had no regal designs. He loved to play the lyre. Saul’s jealousy was ill-founded and led only to his own destruction.

Christ, of course, had no choice but to have regal designs—but what designs! He reigns from a cross, His Heart pierced, His Body mortally wounded.

So Lucifer’s jealousy, too, was ill-founded. His own dreams of a kingdom were fulfilled—but what a kingdom! The realm of darkness, ignorance, and senseless pain where no one serves the good God.

Let’s choose humble submission, brothers and sisters. Let’s give God glory for the great gifts he has chosen to give others. May God be praised for all the people who are smarter, better-looking, and more talented than we are!

Our job is humbly to serve the Master of all, to do the best with what we’ve got.

Let’s choose this, because the alternative is nothing but a ceaseless competition that we can’t win. When we give God the glory, we find ourselves on the winning team. Better to be a bench-warmer on a winning team than a superstar in hell.

Christian Unity Octave

According to ancient tradition, on this day in AD 44, St. Peter completed his journey from the Near East and arrived in Rome.

Also according to ancient tradition, a week from today will mark the 1,978th anniversary of the day when Saul of Tarsus, en route to Damascus, heard Christ speaking from heaven.

The Holy Apostles bequeathed to us the Christian faith in its entirety. They bequeathed to us the New Testament and the essential and unchangeable usages of our religion.

The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ confesses the faith we have received from our heroic patrons, Peter and Paul and all the other Apostles. Among them, they founded countless local churches in every corner of the Roman Empire. Christianity became a far-flung, international enterprise.

Every word of the New Testament, though, bears witness to the tireless efforts of the Apostles to keep all the local communities united in the one Church.

We could even say that the New Testament itself serves as the first witness to the perennial quest for Christian unity. The documents were written to unite in the truth those who were divided by great distance, lack of knowledge, or misunderstanding.

So: Between these anniversaries of Peter’s arrival in Rome on the 18th of January and Paul’s conversion on the 25th, we pray especially for the unity of the Church.

We pray that we might have the humility, the insight, the courage, and the faith we need to heal the divisions that inevitably arise in the sinful course of human history.

I think the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity probably calls for a little talk on what we Catholics believe about the unity of the Church. I will try to provide something like that on Sunday.

In the meantime, let’s pray that all of us baptized into Christ might love the Lord and each other enough to live in the truth and help each other in every possible way.