Sixteen Years of Splendor

john_paul_ii_pencil_drawing1Dear reader, you will have to forgive me for being almost a fortnight late.

On August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, we marked the sixteenth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

Veritatis Splendor considered the basics of Christian morals. The encyclical affirms that some acts are prohibited by God; there can never be a good reason to do them.

(If you have to ask what these things are, let me answer by saying: “They are exactly what your grandmother would have said they are.”)

The Pope explained Veritatis Splendor with these words:

The good of the person lies in being in the Truth and in doing the Truth.

This essential bond of Truth-Good-Liberty is largely lost in contemporary culture.

Therefore today it is one of the proper tasks of the mission of the Church to lead people back to seeing this union.

The Law of God is not our enemy. We cannot do whatever we want, but we can and must do whatever is good for us. We are truly free when we obey God.

The encyclical is based on the following event, narrated in the Gospel:

A rich young man came to the Lord Jesus and asked Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The Lord told him to keep the Ten Commandments. Then He invited the pious young man to follow Him.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann

Jesus Christ IS the Law of God. Through the sacraments of the Church, He gives us the grace to obey Him–and to be truly free.

Parables and Parables

little engineI speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. (Matthew 13:13)

There are a lot of great stories. Some of them teach important lessons. Like “If you build it, they will come.”

But the parables of Christ are not like these. The parables of Christ are in a class by themselves.

If we think Christ’s parables are moral lessons, we will not understand them. What is the moral lesson of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward?

The parables of Christ are about Christ Himself. They are about the salvation which God won for us by becoming man, suffering, dying, and rising again. The parables of Christ make sense only by the light of faith. They are not interchangeable with other morality tales.

There is a key to entering into Christ’s parables. Without the key, they are impossible to understand. With the key, Christ’s parables explain all of life, all of reality.

The key is the Nicene Creed, the truth about Who Christ is.

field_of_dreams

Is There a Choice?

I think that everybody knows that I vote pro-life. No issue could be more grave than the protection by law of the innocent, defenseless unborn. I will vote pro-life until Roe v. Wade is overturned, until the day when, as the director of Vitae Caring Foundation Carl Landwehr put it in a speech I heard him give the other night, “abortion becomes unthinkable.”

As someone who shares in the shepherding ministry which the Lord entrusted to the Bishops of the Church, I hold myself responsible for clearly teaching not only that abortion is an evil of enormous gravity, but also that the right to life of the innocent unborn must be a part of the fundamental plan of any truly just society.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Considering all this, you would think that I would applaud the recent letter of our former Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell, now Bishop of Dallas, and his brother Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth. These bishops spell out the morality of voting with admirable clarity.

They assert something, however, that I am afraid to say I do not think is true.

The Bishops carefully explain that the right to life of the innocent unborn is not a matter of prudential judgement, not something that can be weighed against other considerations. It MUST be decisive. Yes. I applaud the making of this crucial point. Thank God. This takes courage.

Then the Bishops go on to write that: “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil—and, therefore, morally impermissible.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Now, morally impermissible means what it says it means. We cannot do morally impermissible things. If we do morally impermissible things knowingly and freely, our souls are in danger of damnation.

One can cooperate in evil in one of two ways, either materially or formally. Someone who vacuums the carpets in a medical office building where a doctor performs abortions participates materially in those abortions. But unless he intends to support the work of doing abortions by vacuuming the carpet, he does not formally cooperate. He might just be trying to earn a living, and this is the only job he could find. It is not a good situation, but at the same time it is not ipso facto a sin on his part.

If someone’s material cooperation in evil is “remote,” that is, not closely connected to the evil, then they do not bear moral responsibility for the evil.

Remote participation is permissible provided the person does not intend to be a part of the evil business. I could sin by intending to cooperate with something evil even if had practically nothing to do with it. An absurd example: If I planned to take a trip to a particular city BECAUSE they allowed same-sex “marriage” in that city, that would be a sin. But it is not a sin to go to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Anyone who votes for a pro-“abortion rights” candidate participates materially in the evil. But if the voter does not vote for the candidate for this reason, but rather votes for the candidate for another reason, he or she does not formally co-operate with abortion. I would think that the material cooperation of a voter in an election for the President of the United States is certainly far enough removed from actual abortions themselves to qualify as “remote.”

Therefore, it is morally impermissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate BECAUSE he is pro-abortion. Likewise, it is negligent to vote without considering the gravity of the right to life of the innocent, defenseless unborn. But I think that it is incorrect to say that anyone who votes for Obama commits a sin.

It is clearly a sin to vote for him because he supports legal abortion. But there are other reasons why people might choose to vote for him. I do not claim to sympathize with those reasons; I would be delighted to argue them calmly.

I think people ought to vote for the more pro-life candidate.

But I am NOT telling anyone how to vote. My point is exactly the opposite. We HAVE to avoid committing serious sins. But we do not HAVE TO vote for one candidate or the other. What we have to do is to stand before God and do what we believe is right.

Not Above My Pay Grade

 

 

 

 

In the U.S. Congress, the Speaker of the House must have a higher salary than a junior Senator.  The Speaker undertook to catechize the country ( http://www.catholicexchange.com/2008/08/26/113593/ ) on a question which the democratic nominee asked for more money before he would give an answer (http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20080818/pl_politico/12602 ).

 

Archbishop Wuerl has written to us priests, asking us to explain Church teaching on abortion at the Holy Mass this Sunday.  It is pretty unusual for him to tell us what to preach on.

 

I thought it might be illuminating to try to break the matter down into discrete kinds of questions, so that we can see what is certain and what is not certain.  There are two distinct kinds of questions involved.  The first kind aim at things that exist; the second kind aim at the right thing to do.

 

When precisely did each of our lives begin?  When did our souls come into existence?  When we were in our mothers’ wombs, what happened?  None of these are questions about what we ought to do or not to do.  Some people might say these questions are just idle curiosity, needless philosophizing.  They are speculative questions.  They are not for everybody; most people do not worry about trying to answer speculative questions of this kind.

 

One reason for the unpopularity of these questions is:  Getting an irrefutable answer to any profound speculative question is very difficult.  “Is my dog asleep right now or awake?” is a speculative question; it can be answered just by looking at the dog.  But “When does the human soul come into being?” is not so easy.

 

As Cardinal Egan and other Catholic leaders have pointed out since Speaker Pelosi’s confusing catechesis last Sunday, we have recently developed remarkable means by which to observe pregnancies.  We can now see pretty well what is going on, and we can analyze the biological processes with great precision.  All this gives us a clear answer to the following question (a question which perplexed people for many centuries):  Is there a stage in the process of development when the guest of the womb changes from one kind of thing into another kind of thing, from an inanimate type of thing to an animate type of thing?  Or:  Is there a moment we can pinpoint when what does not appear to have been human now becomes human?  The clear answer to these questions is:  No.  No such moment has ever been discovered.  It would seem highly unlikely that it ever will be.

 

Still we have not touched the question of the soul, nor have we considered what ought to be done or not done.

 

Souls are invisible.  Sonograms and other studies show us that what began as one cell eventually grows into a recognizable baby.  Something makes this happen, some organizing power that keeps all the molecules from separating from each other into some kind of soup.

 

Speculative questions like this are endlessly interesting, so it is rather presumptuous for anyone to claim that he or she has the final answer.  The Church does not settle speculative questions.  When needed, She settles questions regarding what we believe and what we are to do or not do.

 

Sacred Scripture teaches us to believe that God has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, and that plan begins in the womb.  God loves the occupant of the womb, and He will always provide for him or her.  We believe this with certain faith.  There is no doubt about it.

 

Now let us get to the practical questions.  Should any pregnant woman ever have an abortion?  Should anyone ever perform an abortion, or co-operate with an abortion in any way?  When Rick Warren asked about when an unborn child acquires human rights, this was a somewhat convoluted way of leaving the speculative realm behind and transferring the debate to the moral realm.  Someone who has rights cannot be killed.  So Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum debate question really was:  Must the law prohibit abortion?

 

Moral questions have to do with what you or I do or don’t do.  Unborn children die in their mothers’ wombs all the time in miscarriages, but a miscarriage is not a moral matter; it didn’t result from what someone did or didn’t do.  Moral questions are confined to you and me and what we choose.

 

Answering moral questions is generally easier than answering speculative questions, especially when the speculative questions involve invisible realities.  Moral questions require moral certitude, because we either act or we don’t; we either do something or we don’t do it.  For me to do something, I have to be sure that it is not gravely evil for me to do it.  For the law to permit something, the legislator must be sure that it is not the slaughter of innocents.  There is no doubt that it is morally wrong to take risks when it comes to the life or death of innocent people.

 

Moral questions are not beyond us, like some speculative questions are.  We can always know what to do or not to do, either by reasoning things out carefully from basic principles like the Ten Commandments, or by submitting to the authority of the Church.  We do not have to know everything about the situation; we only have to know what to do or avoid.

 

In the case of the moral questions here, there is no doubt whatsoever.  It is never okay to have an abortion.  It is never okay to co-operate in an abortion.  It is never okay for the law to permit abortion.