Saturday, March 3, 2007

The point and purpose of obedience

This is a re-worked version of a post from yesterday. I deleted the previous post.

I just read a really wonderful article written by His Excellency, Robert Vasa, bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, entitled, There are just and unjust choices — church teaching helps. Bishop Vasa's article, commenting on The Rites of Election he presided over in his diocese on the First Sunday of Lent, builds on last evening's RCIA class at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the topic for which was the Sacrament of Matrimony. It especially puts me mind of our discussion of marital sexuality towards the end of class. It is vitally important for adults seeking to enter into full communion with the Church to know what the Church teaches on such delicate matters, to borrow a phrase from Papa Luciani.

In addition to the post for which the link above is provided, I also addressed the issue of marital sexuality in the wake of a wonderful document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their meeting last November in a post called Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations. Finally, in the wake of a very unenlighthened article in the Salt Lake Tribune by a Philosophy professor from the "U", in which he castigates religiously held views of sexuality, I offer my post on sexuality in general: Observing the gap through the prism of sexuality. The long and short of all this, in light of Bishop Vasa's column, is that adults need to know both what Christ teaches us through the Church and why the Church teaches what she does (i.e., the reasons derived from both reason and revelation), so that they can give their free assent to these teachings, even if this causes some grappling, doubt, and fear.

We engage in the struggle so that we are ever more conformed, by God's grace, given us in and through the sacraments, to Christ. Struggling with certain clear teachings, either to accept or to live these freeing truths, may be a life-long process. The point, however, is not to drive ourselves crazy by futilely trying to adhere to a list of dos and donts that we perceive as being externally imposed on us. In his first encyclical, our Holy Father wrote, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1). The point and the mode of life that arises from being a Christian, therefore, is to become ever more like God, who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and who is love- agapé (1 Jn 4,8.16). In a word, through the struggle, with the undeserved help of God, we become divinized. It is for no other reason that we engage in the agon, knowing that we need God's help, which He freely gives us, especially through the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Put simply, we must always keep in mind that the only good reason for obedience can be nothing other than love of God and neighbor. Such an understanding should immunize us against the sin of self-righteousness.

More importantly, it is the grave responsibility of those, like myself, entrusted by our bishops and pastors with teaching the faith, to know, to strive to live, and to be able and willing to clearly communicate what the Church teaches, especially on these matters that, in our culture, all too easily become matters of serious confusion. Here is an extract from the good bishop's column that bears reading:

"Some months ago a prominent Catholic public person, described as faithful to the church, was asked if being pro-choice or pro-abortion was an issue which conflicted with the Catholic Faith. Here is what was said: 'To me it isn’t even a question. God has given us a free will. We’re all responsible for our actions. If you don’t want an abortion, you don’t believe in it, then don’t have one. But don’t tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their responsibilities.' According to a close relative the choice to have an abortion or not to have an abortion had no moral component whatsoever. 'They were just choices.'

It seems to me that there are just choices and there are unjust choices. Choices would be the preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream or sherbet instead of ice cream. That is just a choice.

A just choice would be to choose to pay a fair and living wage to employees as opposed to simply meeting the mandatory standard of minimum wage laws. An unjust choice would be to choose to terminate the life of another human being. This is not just a choice and it is not a just choice; it is an unjust choice.

Furthermore it is an unjust choice which is diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as well as to the clear and consistent teaching of God Himself in the Ten Commandments. The direct, intentional taking of the life of an innocent human being is inhumane and unjust. It is not just a choice!

It is categorically impossible for the same person to state that he or she believes simultaneously both what the Catholic Church teaches and that abortion is just a choice. What we believe must inform what we do."

Indeed, there is a link between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, lest theology become, borrowing from Herman Hesse, as quoted by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the mid-90s, a "glass bead game." Bishop Vasa's words bear pondering today, which falls during this season of preparation for and renewal of our baptismal covenant with God, made possible by Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who effects the sacraments. Number 25 of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is also worth reflecting upon at this time:
Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking." (emboldening and underlining are mine).

Dear friends, this is my last post at least until Tuesday. It is time for me finalize the first of my two-part presentation on the Holy Father's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which I am scheduled to deliver Monday evening at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, as we begin our ambitious Lenten schedule of events in earnest. To this end, as always, I invoke the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, Sts. Stephen and Martin of Tours, Sts. Lawrence, Philip, and Francis of Assisi. I would also greatly appreciate your prayers as we re-inaugurate, after a hiatus of several years, our Cathedral Lenten series.

(Diaconal bow to Fr. Erik over at The Orthometer for bringing Bishop Vasa's most recent article to my attention)

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