Whoever will not receive you…it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15)
Sometimes the priest simply has to state the obvious. Like at a wedding I did when I was fresh out of seminary. The bride had starred on her college volleyball team. Her maid of honor had, too. The young volleyball star had found a groom of appropriate height, whose best friend, the best man, stood eye-to-eye with him.
So, as the wedding began, five people stood in front of the altar, all of them over 6’ 1”. So I had to say, ‘Yes, this is a wedding. It is not a practice for some kind of co-ed Olympic basketball team.’
Comcast finally carried out its threat. They took away all the channels that we don’t actually pay for at the rectory, so all I have left to watch is CSPAN. Which is fine. I watched with great interest the night-time re-broadcast of yesterday’s Senate border-crisis hearing.
Here’s the obvious thing that the priest needs to say. When a child comes into our custody, into the custody of the federal government of the United States of America, we are bound by the most fundamental laws of human decency. We must seek out the child’s parents or closest relatives, and, by any practicable means, get the child into the care of his or her parents, as soon as possible.
This moral obligation cannot be qualified in any way by our immigration policies and laws. There is no human authority with the competence to alter the fundamental demands of human decency. If a child comes into my care, and I can find the parents, I must get the child home to his or her parents, wherever the parents are, whether they are ‘legal’ or ‘illegal.’ To do anything other than this would involve offending the most basic standards of human decency, which are an international law that guides everyone.
How could anyone fail to see this? How could a room full of technocrats sit around at a hearing about unaccompanied minors and not begin by accepting as a clear and evident fact that this is the moral duty of the US government? Then we can have a discussion about immigration policy, but only after we recognize that getting the children into the custody of their parents is our primary duty before God. Right?
Of course, all other questions are secondary. Aren’t they? After all, we are a decent, civilized people. We recognize immediately the obligations that adults have towards children.
Oh, wait. I forgot. We are actually a barbarian nation, in which thousands of innocent and defenseless unborn children get killed right under our noses every day.
No wonder we have Senate committee hearings in which technocrats dispute secondary and tertiary political matters ad nauseam while innocent children remain separated from their parents and in our custody.
Today, in honor of St. John the Baptist’s birth, we present: Father Versace’s Fortnight-for-Freedom jeremiad.
My spiritual life, so far as it goes, consists in: trying to do my duty as a parish priest (which includes a fair amount of praying), visiting the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible, spending a day in total solitude whenever I can, and spiritual reading and mental prayer early each morning.
I hope and pray that this lame little spiritual life will suffice to prepare me adequately to go to prison, when the time comes. Because it seems to me that the question is not whether I will have to spend time in jail. The question is: For which of the two possible reasons will I actually wind up getting arrested, in the end?
Lately, in the early hours, I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, one chapter per day. Chapter 83 of Book IV goes a long way towards helping us understand our position in the Fortnight for Freedom. Book IV covers salvation. In the latter part of the book, St. Thomas explains life after the general resurrection.
Please God we find ourselves among the saved, rather than the damned, we will live in a state of universal brotherhood, perfectly united with God. There will be no more of a lot of things. One of the the things there will be no more of: sex.
Let’s consider universal brotherhood first.
On the news the other day, I heard a “border-security” pundit say, “The officials of this administration, in their heart of hearts, don’t believe that we have a right to keep people out of this country. People who are not murderers or drug-dealers, who just want a job.”
Then an administration official they had on the show immediately denied it. But I wanted to say to the first guy: You got it, brother! Whether or not the administration officials believe it is a secondary issue. The primary thing is: It’s true. No human authority possesses the right to keep peaceful, law-abiding migrants from moving from one place on God’s earth to another, if such be their will.
The fact that the U.S. tries to impede perfectly legitimate migration indicates a major lapse in our Christian perspective on things. It calls into question whether we, as a nation, can really claim to have a Christian perspective on things.
When people migrate into his land, a Christian does not wonder whether or not the migrants have a good reason for migrating. The Christian assumes, as a decent human being, that they must have a good reason. Why would a law-abiding person leave his or her homeland? Must have been forced by extreme hardship and/or grave danger.
So the Christian thinks, What can I do to help?
The idea that a migrant doesn’t belong here? Again, this is something that just does not occur to a Christian mind. This land belongs to God, not the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Of course, God gives us the duty of maintaining law and order. But migrants in search of a stable and peaceful life do not disturb law and order. To the contrary, they have talent and can make contributions that we need in order to have the vigorous society that we want to have.
So: What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in, brothers and sisters in the Lord, because we cannot and do not accept one of the pretensions to authority that the federal government fondles for itself? What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in because we say that the border-control juggernaut operates like an un-Christian, inhumane racket?
Forgive me. I sat in the waiting room at the detention center in Farmville last Tuesday evening, while they were bringing Enrique from the dining hall to the visitors’ area. I saw a shift-change take place. Well-meaning young officers going home, more well-meaning young officers coming on duty. I do not criticize them; they need a good job, just like everyone else.
But: Why? Why does this barbed-wire-fenced compound, holding several hundred good, hard-working people–keeping them away from their families and their jobs–why does it exist? I don’t mean to be cynical. But the border-control business is a racket.
Maybe, though, I will wind up in jail for reason #2.
In chapter 83 of Book II of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas carefully considers whether we will have sex with each other after the general resurrection at the end of time. We will no longer need to keep the human race going by procreation, because we will no longer die. Ergo, no good reason for sex.
What about having sex just for the pleasure of it? St. Thomas replies:
To indulge in the pleasure of sex without a good reason for having sex reduces a human being to the level of animals. God made sex pleasurable, just like He made eating pleasurable, in order to encourage us to do it, when a good reason presents itself. But when there is no good reason to have sex, it is beneath the dignity of man to indulge just for the sake of fleshly pleasure.
Of course, St. Thomas has the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself behind him here. In the kingdom of heaven, saith the Lord, they will not marry; they will be like angels.
“You’re interested in having children together? Great,” say I, the priest. “Come in to my office and we’ll work on preparing you to get married!” Or: “Ok, not intending to have children? No problem. Live a beautiful single life, like so many great saints have done!”
I have no problem with “gay” people, per se; I have no problem with teenagers who claim to be in love; I have no problem with successful professionals who honestly believe the Lord has something other than baby-making in mind for them, at least for the moment. Great.
But no one in any of these situations has a legitimate reason for taking their pants off with anyone else in the same room. All of us have more important, more constructive, and more dignified things to do than engaging in fruitless sex.
From one perspective, ‘gay marriage’ and the HHS contraceptive mandate appear to present separate political problems for the Church in the United States. But it seems to me that these problems stem from the same fundamental Christian point-of-view, which St. Thomas outlined.
If someone says, “I want to be married, or do married things, but bearing children isn’t one of them,” then I, the priest, representing the Church as an institution, and as an employer, am like: “Um, no entiendo. How can you possibly imagine that I could do anything for you? Other than encourage you to repent of your sins and try to lead a more reasonable, healthy, and holy life?”
Let’s pray. I don’t particularly want to go to jail. I can’t imagine that any of you do, either.
Let’s pray that everyone will calm down and thereby see things more clearly. Let’s pray that none of us have to go to jail simply because we see life from a Christian point-of-view, which governs all our interactions with other people.
Let’s pray that all of us here on earth will receive the grace to repent of our sins and get to heaven together, where we will live in universal brotherhood, with angel-like chastity, gazing upon the unbounded glory of God.
Our laser weapon of religious-freedom clarification, Cathleen Kaveny, has made some more awesome distinctions and points. This time she considers a judge hearing the potential Religious-Freedom-Restoration-Act case that we would hypothetically mount. Click through the link to savor her insights.
Two things that strike me:
1. Seems to me that the judge could reasonably ask of us plaintiffs: “Okay, now: about this burden on you. Taking for granted that using artificial contraception is evil…Under the disputed law, when the evil deed is done, who exactly will be doing it? Will you have to do something evil?”
To which question we do not have a compelling answer. If we say we would formally co-operate by paying into a healthcare plan with bad provisions, a sympathetic interlocutor could respond: But couldn’t you put your conscience at ease? By your own teaching regarding just compensation, you assert that everyone deserves the provision of healthcare. The healthcare delivery system will simply be following the law. You publicly disagree with the law. You clearly teach that artificial contraception and abortion are immoral. Therefore, your conscience can be clear. If others act immorally, they will answer for it. Not you.
(And I, for one, firmly believe that any judge has a right to question any religious-freedom claimant in this manner. True religion is not irrational. The Free-Exercise Clause should be understood to protect only that religious practice that can be defended on reasonable grounds.)
2. Regarding the government making its case:
The fact of the matter is that, while there may be plenty of big-time problems with the Obama administration, doing due diligence in drafting the Affordable-Care-Act regulations is not one of them.
In coming up with the regulations, the administration did what any reasonable governing body would do. They consulted experts and accepted the assertions of the spokespeople of mainstream medicine. The “medical community” of the U.S. does in fact say that artificial contraception is good medicine and important medicine.
Here, my friends, is where I believe we meet the heart of the problem. The nearly universal presumption of medical practice holds that artificial contraception counts as medicine.
Now, in fact, artificial contraception does not count as medicine. But to make this point, we have to build from the ground up, starting with:
to facilitate sexual libertinism ≠ to heal
To the contrary:
to facilitate sexual libertinism = to wound
This is the point-of-view of a (now middle-aged) man who was born at the hour of history when the bad bell tolled. I grew up with condoms being shoved in my face.
To me, the whole business looks like a racket for getting people to do things that are truly bad for us. I am pretty sure that a special furnace in hell burns for everyone who peddles condoms and birth-control pills. Its fires are fed by the pain of every young heart broken by someone’s unchaste act.
True health means a mature spiritual life and the self-control that goes with it. It means chastity, love, and hope for the future, with trust in God. Health means church on Sunday and a lot of people who love you and will help you through any difficulty.
The whole rationale for Roe v. Wade, namely that abortion has to be legal because otherwise it will happen dangerously in the shadows–this rationale fails for one reason. There is a safety net for every pregnant woman, and it is the love of Christ, Who does not condemn but rather rejoices in all life. And the love of His Church. If every woman who thought she needed an abortion walked into a Catholic parish church and started asking for help, there would be no abortions.
Hence, my position on the HHS-mandate business is:
We do not belong on the sidelines whining to the referees about our poor, little religious freedom.
We belong in the game. We need to run down the throat of the defense like Ray Rice.
The idea that sex on-demand is a key to health is simply false. Chastity is a key to health. This can be demonstrated by careful argument, including the all-important citation of many statistics.
We can attack the Obama administration, if we want to. But, in this particular case, we need to attack the false medical consensus.
Abortion sucks. Contraception sucks. Doctors who give out artificial contraceptives suck twice. Doctors who perform abortions…well, God help us. I’m sorry I brought that one up.
The HHS controversy is not a religious-freedom problem for American Catholics. It is an evangelical mandate for American Catholics.
What are you and I going to do about the real problem? All the people who crush human life, anywhere from the zygote stage on–they’re all going to hell. Unless we do something to help them.
Just when you thought that maybe we could forget all about it!
…Cathleen Kaveny of Commonweal has written an illuminating essay, which I commend to your reading.
Points she has made well:
1. She distinguishes: On the one hand, the Church’s teaching, as an expert analyst of human morality, that any sexual act is unchaste and wrong if it is intentionally rendered fruitless by human intervention. This applies in every case–Catholic, non-Catholic, Jew, Quaker, Presbyterian. No one will ever be able to stand before God and defend him- or herself for turning sex into an act of mutual masturbation.
On the other hand: the Church Herself does not propose that we should live under ecclesiastical secular rule.
We live in a republican democracy. The Church made Her case that the healthcare law should not include artificial contraception. Our duly elected leaders chose otherwise (having received, as Kaveny points out, the counsel of supposed experts–in other words, the government did, in fact, do its due dilligence). Result: they made a law that includes artificial contraception.
[Now, Kaveny does ignore one big elephant in the room here, namely that hormone contraceptives cause early abortions–or at least appear to do so with some frequency. Which means that, from a moral point-of-view, the issue at hand must be considered to include not just immoral sex acts, but also embryo-icide, which is a far graver moral evil. But let’s let that pass for now…]
2. She–to my mind, decisively–points out that “clarion calls for religious freedom” do not serve any real purpose in this context. The whole business must be analyzed in minute detail in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
In the first part of her essay (the link above is to Part II), she points out–again, quite decisively–that any claim by our Church to the effect that co-operating with the mandate is immoral cannot withstand scrutiny. Because we have already co-operated with such mandates in numerous states. Money in the coffers of Catholic institutions already winds up in other coffers that pay for artificial contraceptives, and it happens because of state and local laws that govern what healthcare coverage must include.
Now, perhaps this means that the moment has arrived for a careful scholar to outline precisely the moral problem with this phenomenon (of money moving in this way). I will be glad to read it. I haven’t yet come across it. And I have looked.
To my mind, the fact of the matter is: money moving in this way does not necessarily implicate anyone morally. It implicates only those who intentionally use artificial contraceptives, and those who wrongly counsel them to do so and facilitate their doing so.
But obeying a law about where I am required to send money to cover my employee’s government-mandated health services does not implicate me in any immoral use of that money later on.
So, in fact, there really is no moral problem for the institutions, businesses, employers, etc. So, in fact, there is no real religious freedom claim to be made.
1. Gold for Mexico in fút. 2. Gold for Team USA, worthily won in a Sunday-morning thriller, which was perfectly timed to unfold immediately after Mass. 3. Rental house has two porches, free bikes, skylights, ceiling fans. On vacation… Dude, I am swimming in the good sweet butter of life.
But I am like the (beach) dog that cannot let go of the bone. The religious-freedom-is-not-the-issue bone…
The National Catholic Bioethics Center produces precise moral analyses, based on incontrovertible principles and developed via careful distinctions. Few organizations in this world make so much sense so consistently.
When he discusses artificial contraception, President Barack Obama lies, flimflams, and cravenly tries to marginalize us Paul-VI feminists–i.e, kind-hearted, reasonable people (like Mahatma Gandhi) who think women deserve better than poison for the womb.
Can such a day come? Namely, a day on which campaign-stumping President Obama refers to some actual facts—facts which the careful analysts of the NCBC failed adequately to take into account in one of their expert moral studies?
Well, it happened. On Thursday.
The NCBC published a vademecum for business owners to guide their discernment about how to handle the federal contraception-coverage mandate (which has now gone into effect for all “non-religious” employers). While I do not hold myself out as an expert on the “health-care industry,” the NCBC’s essay strikes me as realistic when it comes to laying out the options which a business owner/operator has.
I have to say that I think Chief Justice Roberts has illuminated something important for us. Governments do have some authority over the money our economy produces. So, dear ones, the loyal opposition speaks…
Our assertion: Catholic Church will not pay for contraceptives / abortifacients / sterilizations.
Reasonable response: Fair enough. Granted. But there is no question of Catholic Church, Inc., paying for objectionables. Because the $$$ to be used for these—and all other healthcare items involved in the ACA (Obamacare) regime—the money does not belong to the Catholic Church.
Ergo: No formal co-operation with evil. No material co-operation. No co-operation at all. Ain’t yo’ money, homes.
At first, St. John’s father Zechariah did not believe that his elderly wife could bear a son. But then, when Zechariah showed his faith and named the boy John as the angel had told him to do, the Lord loosened Zechariah’s tongue. The old priest had the privilege of singing one of the original Gospel canticles.
Zechariah sang that his son would be the herald of the Savior. And that the Lord would come to His people and set them free. The Lord will set us free to “worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of our lives.”
For freedom Christ has set us free. Every morning, to greet the dawn, the Church sings Zechariah’s canticle. But we sing it louder and prouder now, during our Fortnight for Freedom.
Independence Day draws near, and our thoughts turn to the Founding Fathers of our nation. When we hear the phrase in Zechariah’s canticle about God “setting us free from our enemies,” an echo sounds in our minds. We think of the war against the British which our forefathers fought and won.
This document includes a paragraph making the distinction between conscientiously objecting to a just law and refusing to obey an unjust law. One may conscientiously refuse to serve when drafted, but the draft is not unjust.
Okay. But isn’t a law requiring abortions unjust? Unjust to the unborn? None of the unborn are Catholics, but they all have the right not to be killed. Isn’t a law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship before receiving medical care–isn’t the law unjust to the medical patient, regardless of his or her religion?
ERGO: Religious freedom for Catholics is not the central issue. The central issue is justice for defenseless human beings.
I recognized myself as a hopeless “act-based” moralist. Hopeless because I can’t really see what we will be judged on in the end, other than our acts and omissions. Will we be judged on the “symbolic power” of the t.v. shows we watch? Only insofar as we chose or did not choose to watch them.
So I am hopelessly act-based in my moral analysis. And I am irredeemably individualistic about it. I can’t quite figure how I could be judged for something I unknowingly co-operate with in a remote manner, especially if the law binds me to do so. And how could I fail to be judged for intending to co-operate with something evil, even if I simultaneously engaged in symbolic gestures supporting the good people I know?
But then something dawned on me.
The Church must be considered a proper moral agent, in Her fulfillment of Her mission. The Church does good and avoids evil. Those who guide Her make decisions regarding what She does. Because of this, when She is mis-guided and errs culpably, She bears a corporate responsibility.
(Obviously, she never errs in teaching faith and morals as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But She can act immorally as, for instance, as the Archdiocese of Boston, or as Father So-and-so, or as St. Such-and-such School.)
The Catholic Church in the U.s. exists as a moral agent. She acts in all Her official “Catholic” institutions. And everyone who calls him or herself Catholic co-operates with Her.
Thinking along these lines, an irredeemable act-based, hopelessly individualistic moralist can assert, with a clear mind, that we cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.
Still not sure about First-Amendment litigation. But at least now I can conceive of who exactly the plaintiff would be.
The day has arrived when your humble servant will do my duty. Namely, I will begin a four-part series of homilies aimed at preparing us to pray and fast through the “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4.
Dr. Schindler exposes the paradox at the heart of the liberal ideal of a religion-neutral state. If the law/the courts/the goverment say that freedom means anything other than openness to God and truth, then the content of what freedom is will always be supplied by the strong–at the expense of the weak.
The independent man who determines for himself what life means will inevitably do so at the expense of a weaker person. The only man who never infringes on the genuine “rights” of others is the one who acknowledges that he depends on God for his freedom, and he must use his freedom to seek goodness and truth.
In other words, if man is not for God, then he is for himself–at the expense of someone else, sooner or later.
I bring this up because: Obviously, Dr. Shindler has been reading my posts on the HHS-Mandate controversy and decided to supply the philosophical argumentation for why I make so much daggone sense.
We present a collection of the ramblings on this subject from the past few months, years:
[PREVIEW PREVIEW: Your unworthy servant gives his final apologia for not being on the Religious-Freedom bandwagon.]
Like any God-fearing person, I consider the red solo cup a friend. But: Can we really count on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
In my book, an idea is reliable as a friend precisely to the degree that the idea is clear. The clearer the idea, the better a friend.
“Stay out of trouble” makes for a good friend. But “keep the needle on the speedometer within 10 mph of the posted speed limit” makes for a better friend, owing to its greater clarity.
Now, I do not mean to suggest that
Congrefs shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
does not make for a respectable friend, as ideas go.
This sentence makes nicer with the Church than a sentence like “La ley, en consecuencia, no permite el establecimiento de ordenes monasticas”—by which the original Mexican Constitution of 1917 forbad religious orders.
But, as a friend, the First Amendment of our Constitution can get prickly. Quickly. Because what it actually means is, well, not clear.
Does the state have the right to bind believers with laws that impede the exercise of religion? Well, yes—when the protection of the common good is at stake. The Supreme Court has so ruled, I believe–as well it should.
But, of course, there is no telling how a court will rule in any given “separation of church and state” case. Because the idea itself is really quite opaque.
Does it mean that the President can’t appoint bishops? Or does it mean that he can’t appropriate money to support the work of Catholic social workers? Does it mean that the government can’t prevent me from praying in public? Or does it mean that no law can prohibit the ritual use of narcotic mushrooms? Or polygamy?
Having read somewhat widely on the subject, I am left with the following impression: The First Amendment is much more an object of faith than Pope Paul VI’s encyclical about artificial contraception is.
I applaud any couple who refrain from using artificial contraception simply because “the Church teaches it’s wrong, and I believe in the Church.” Beautiful exercise of faith.
But I would venture to claim that, for the most part, the great army of people who eschew artificial means of contraception do so because the practice is evidently unnatural, unwholesome, and unbecoming a mature person.
As I have tried to point out before, Pope Paul VI himself never proposed his doctrine on artificial contraception as an object of faith. Spilling semen intentionally is a bad business. We can read about this in Genesis 38. But we do not need to read the Bible to get the drift.
And killing an unborn child? Better to consult a sonogram than Scripture, if you want to know why no one should ever do it.
If it gets boring, please forgive me. But I cannot help but return to one of the great themes of my silly little life:
When it comes to sexual morality, what the Church teaches is a matter of sound science. It is based on a combination of the following: cold, hard biological facts and one simple proposition, “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” (This proposition has been demonstrated repeatedly by psychological and sociological studies.)
The Church teaches many things about supernatural truths that must be accepted on faith—e.g., Christ in heaven, the sacraments, etc. But Her sexual morality is not one of these things.
On the other hand, it seems to me that “the separation of church and state” has become more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously, than a clear idea.