One of the great tasks in our spiritual and moral life is to fix our point of reference. Simply put, is Jesus Christ our point of reference, or is our reference point where we stand viz a viz others?
Many, today, in order to assess their moral state, consider their position in relation to the vast numbers of people that surround them. Perhaps they will consider that there are some who are surely holier than they are. Yes, surely internationally known figures (like Mother Theresa was), surely they rank up there way above us. Perhaps too in a more local way, many will see the holy ones who attend daily Mass or frequent Eucharistic Adoration or other devotions, and conclude that these sorts of people rank ahead of them in holiness and moral excellence.
But then comes the dark side of such relative moral ranking. For many of the same folks will also think of others as behind them and with relief say, “Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I am not like that drug dealer over there, or that prostitute, or that corrupt businessman or politician.”
And thus, most of us who use this point of reference will rank ourselves somewhere in the middle, and feel reasonably content. But this sort of contentedness is not the sort of assessment that helps us to be zealous to grow in holiness. And, more problematically, how I rank among others is not a valid standard, or meaningful assessment.
For indeed, we must find and fix our true point of reference on Jesus. He is the Way we must walk, he is the Truth to whom we must conform, He is the Life we must live. Jesus must be our moral reference, our moral compass.
Someone say, “Lord have mercy!” For now the standard shifts from a mediocre, middle of the pack, “at least I’m not as bad as so and so” reference point, to the very person of Jesus who also added: “You must be perfect, as the heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:43).
Thus, when Jesus is our standard and point of reference, we can rightly and with true humility and hope cry out “Lord, have mercy!” For with our sights fixed on Jesus, pride cannot long endure, and true humility begins to flourish.
For looking to Jesus, we know it is going to take boatloads of grace and mercy to ever close the gap between his holiness and our present unseemly state. Only grace and mercy will help us meet the standard that is Jesus himself.
To illustrate, go with me to the upper room, to the Last Supper. And as Mark’s gospel relates,
As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely it is not I?” (Mark 14:18-19)
“Surely it is not I?” And thus we see, none of us can be certain of our innocence in the presence of Jesus, in the presence of holiness Himself. Yes, in the presence of Innocence Himself, none of us are sure of our own innocence. Somehow, when Christ is our reference point, we see our truer state, and in a salutary grief and sober awareness of our capacity for sin, we simply and sincerely cry out: Kyrie, eleison! Lord, have mercy!
But now you see that we are thus equipped to trust Him, and to learn to depend on his mercy. He is not just the one who gets up over the top, or supplies what we lack. He is the one who has brought us back to life when we were dead in our sins! He is the one on whom we must wholly depend.
Too easily and smugly we rank ourselves among others, and too easily we falsely justify ourselves in this way. We grade ourselves on a kind of “moral curve” and thus become so easily prideful, self assured, and lacking in gratitude.
But when Jesus is our reference point, as He should be, we know our need to be saved. And perhaps we cry out the words of an old gospel hymn: “It’s me Oh Lord, Standin’ in the need of prayer!”
And looking to Him in this way, we may feel grieved, or overwhelmed, but in the end these are salutary, for they set the stage for, and usher in a kind of joyful humility and an immense gratitude, for what Jesus has done for us.
Knowing our unfathomable need for grace and mercy, how grateful we are to receive it! And being grateful, we are changed, we are different. Gratitude is a kind of joy. And when gratitude rushes into our chastened hearts, an awful lot of poison goes away. Anger, fear, resentment, ingratitude, greed, disappointment, desire for revenge, envy, jealously and so many other poisons, begin to vanish. And the joy of gratitude begins to usher in serenity, peace, love, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, contentment, and so many other gifts.
Yes, look to Jesus! Your neighbor is not the standard, not the point of reference, Jesus is. And while this look may bewilder at first, is is also a look that will save and bless us. Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!
Unlike many other countries, the United States does not have federal statutes or guidelines governing surrogacy parenting. Thus, many states have their own laws in this regard. Currently The District of Columbia prohibits surrogate parenting: Any person or entity who or which is involved in, or induces, arranges, or otherwise assists in the formation of a surrogate parenting contract for a fee, compensation, or other remuneration, or otherwise violates this section, shall be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $ 10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both.” (D.C. Code § 16-402)
But Council Member David Catania has introduced legislation that would legalize and regulate surrogacy parenting within the District of Columbia. Every council member except for Council Member Marion Barry co-sponsored the proposed legislation.
The Catholic Church opposes surrogate motherhood, a process wherein an embryo from one couple is placed in the womb of a second woman and carried to term by her, usually for remuneration.
Even many Catholics are not certain why we oppose this, along with the similar procedure of in vitro fertilization. Let’s consider from a faith perspective and also from Natural Law why the Church must oppose such procedures.
We begin by noting a kind of sacred trilogy that encompasses human sexuality and procreation.
First, we begin with the truth that human life is sacred. In saying that our life is “sacred” we do not mean merely that human life is somehow “very special” or “unique.” Rather, to say that human life is “sacred” is to say “it is of God.”
Human life comes intentionally and lovingly from the very hand of God. Every human being, even our enemies, and great sinners, are known by God, loved by God, willed by God, intended by God. In Jeremiah 1:5 God says Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Thus, in a mysterious way, our existence was already present to God long before we were ever conceived. We were already in the heart and the mind of God as he was preparing for our conception and existence. Psalm 139 speaks about God knitting us together in our mother’s womb. The same Psalm says that all of our days were written in gods book before one of them ever came to be.
Thus, the human person is sacred. That is, our lives have the mark of God upon them. Our life, our very existence, is caught up in the intention, the will, the very heart of God. Human life is sacred.
Second, since human life is sacred, so are the means by which we come into existence. Thus, our second truth is that sexual intercourse is sacred. Again, the word “sacred” is not simply a way of saying that sex is very special. Rather, it indicates the sexual intercourse is from God, and is touched by him.
Just as in marriage there are three to get married, the husband, the wife and the Lord; so, in the great sacramental expression of marriage, sexual intercourse, the husband and wife are joined, but in the Lord. The Lord, who is the author of their love, joins the spouses and, according to his will, makes their love fruitful in their children.
So, the origin of every sacred human person, is in the sacred sexual act, which involves not only the spouses, but also the Lord.
Sadly, in our culture, sex is treated as anything but sacred. It is often the butt of jokes, suffers from lewd conduct, countless misapplications and perversions, to include: fornication adultery, pornography, immodesty, homosexual acts, and so forth. What is beautiful and sacred, is treated to base and profane. What is serious and requires commitment, is treated as casual and often passing.
And, if the sacredness of sex is treated lightly, so is the sacredness of human life easily discarded. It is no coincidence that the culture of death has emerged in the age of promiscuity. The body count associated with lust is truly staggering.
Third, since human life is sacred, and the sexual intercourse, which gives rise to it, is sacred, so is the context of sex and life we call marriage also sacred. Once again, calling marriage “sacred” is not merely a way of saying it is “really neat” or “very special.” Once again, we call marriage sacred because it is set forth by God, and is from God, and every valid marriage is in fact a work of God.
Scripture details in Genesis (1 & 2) how God set forth marriage, declaring that it was not good for the man to be alone. God thus made Eve, and we are told that, for this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one (Gen 2:24). Therefore, marriage is one man, for one woman, in a stable and lasting bond. Jesus adds, What God has joined together, let no one divide (Matt 19:6). In saying this, Jesus also underscores that, not only is marriage an institution from God, but that every valid marriage is in fact a work of God. What God has joined together, no one is to divide.
It makes sense that marriage should be an enduring institution, for each couple. Why? For God sets fourth that the fruit of marriage should be godly offspring. He tells the first couple, Adam and Eve, to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth! (Gen 1:28). Thus that marriage should be heterosexual, fruitful and lasting makes sense, because that is what is best, and what is just for children. Namely, that they should be raised by their own father and mother, formed by a male and female influence, in an environment that is both stable, and gives complementary witness to the fullness of the human person.
And so, having set forth a kind of sacred trilogy that the human person, human sexual intercourse, and marriage are all sacred, we now observe the God has united these three sacred realities and intends them to be together. The human person, who is sacred, is intended to be conceived in the loving and sacred embrace of sexual intercourse, between a man and woman in the sacred union of holy matrimony.
Marriage, sex and children are all meant to be united, and God has joined them. Sadly, we seem today to be intent on dividing them.
We see any number of ways that the sacred trilogy is often violated today. Obviously fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts, all violate the trilogy by separating out or removing essential parts of it.
Fornicators and adulterers violate the marital aspect, and usually also, (by contraception), violate the connection to life. Indeed, all contraception denies that there is any necessary connection between sexual intercourse and procreation. As such, contraceptives separate what God intends to be joined.
Homosexuals deny the nuptial meaning of the body, and obviously cannot procreate in any way or be open to life in their acts. And now they seem, at least collectively, determined to utterly set aside marriage as God himself sets it forth in the Scriptures.
But now we also come to other aberrations that are proposed today which also violate the sacred trilogy of sacred human life, being conceived in the sacred sexual embrace, within sacred marriage.
Thus we see, so called “in vitro” fertilization wherein human conception is removed from sacred sexual intercourse, and done in a petri dish. Life now is no longer caught up in this sweet mystery of the marital embrace, and left to the hand of God. Life becomes now a product, produced in a laboratory, usually at a stated price. Sacred human life, becomes a commodity for sale.
The hand of God is overruled as is done in every human sinful practice where in God’s will is simply overridden by prideful human beings.
It will be admitted that infertility in certain couples is lamentable and, at human level, it may seem understandable that they should want to do what is possible to conceive. Yet, in the end, the reality is that we are separating what God has joined.
Also resisted is the notion that perhaps the couple is infertile for reasons known to God. Perhaps he wishes them to adopt. Or, perhaps He wishes them to engage in some dedicated work in the Church or the world, other than parenthood. In vitro fertilization resists discerning God’s will and seeks merely to supplant our wishes.
The killing of many embryos is also morally odious. The vast number of embryos that are conceived are either discarded, frozen, or sent off to experimentation and to be harvested by those engaged in stem cell research etc. Again, human life is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold, and used at will.
And this leads us then to the problem of so-called surrogate motherhood. The process is similar to in vitro fertilization wherein the father and mother both contribute sperm and ovum and these are combined in a petri dish. But the difference is, instead of being placed in the womb of the genetic mother, the embryo is placed in the womb of a second woman who carries the baby to term.
Genetically, this is not her child. But of course, motherhood is little more complicated than simply whose genes are involved. The mother who carries a child in her womb develops an intimacy and a real bond of connection to that child. And hence we are involved in some very great distortions of what God intends, and are playing with the notion of what motherhood really is about.
Once again, we are seeing a great break up of the trilogy that God intends to be together. The child is not conceived in the sacred marital embrace, but rather in a petri dish. God’s hand is once again overruled, or in effect He is a dis-invited from the decision of conception. Thirdly, the couple, even if married, goes outside the marriage and places their child in the womb of another woman.
There is a kind of a notion to work here, it would seem, that the womb of the surrogate mother is simply a container, a temporary resting place that can be borrowed or rented, if you will.
Absolutely nothing is left in place of what God intends to be together. There is a complete break up here.
Again, it will be admitted that infertility for a couple is a less desirable, even a very sad reality. But here too, the Church cannot simply say it’s okay to overrule God seems to will, or at least permit for reasons of His own. Neither can we fail to insist on the need to discern God’s will. If natural parenthood is not open, what is? Adoption? Some other worthy and noble undertaking? God never closes one door without opening others.
Surrogate motherhood is forbidden to a Catholic for the reasons stated above. We in the Church also argue that it is bad public policy to be supportive of the sorts of activities.
Natural law – In surrogate motherhood, not only is human life treated as a commodity; not only are many embryos discarded in the ways described above, but Natural Law and common sense arguments also show that surrogate motherhood is a bad idea to encourage.
Even without mentioning God, is clear that nature provides that children are conceived in the heterosexual embrace of sexual intercourse. Further, nature also shows that it is best for children to be raised in a stable environment and be raised with a male and female influence. Further, nature also demonstrates that the natural affections created by physical descent are stronger than merely legal or secondary relationships. Tampering with the normal course of families, and what nature provides as the best and most healthy environment to conceive and bear children, is a recipe for trouble.
It is bad public policy to in any way encourage the willful tampering with the natural order of things.
That the DC government thinks it necessary to pass laws regulating legal transactions around surrogate motherhood, shows that the practice is leads to all sorts of legal problems. What frequently happens is that when we meddle with natural affections, and try to think of motherhood merely in terms of genetics, (rather than nurturing and so forth), we end up with a real mess, and many conflicted feelings. Surrogate mothers are not always so happy to relinquish their babies after all. Imagine that!
Now into this fray, with all of its confusion, is proposed all sorts of legalities and a government trying to regulate but really shouldn’t be happening in the first place.
The District of Columbia should leave unchanged the current laws which forbid and discourage surrogate motherhood. Certain District residents may want to engage in practices harmful for the reasons stated, and the District government may not be able to stop them or enforce the laws forbidding the practice, but in no way should the District encourage such practices by enforcing contractual agreements related to them. Surrogate motherhood is a lamentable practice, and it is bad policy to support it in any way.
This video illustrates the strange but true world of Surrogacy.
In the readings from this Past Sunday St. Paul admonishes us to no longer walk as the unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds….and corrupted by deceitful desires (cf, Eph 4:17ff). I’d like to take a little time in this post to examine the critical importance that the Scriptures place on our minds.
In our times we face many critics of the Church and Scriptures. Some of them are very hostile, confrontational and ridiculing. Indeed, they reserve a special scorn for traditional Christianity, a scorn they would never publicly profess of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist faith.
That said, they do regard what we think as Christians to be important, important enough to try and ridicule and limit in terms of its influence. And we as Christians must heed St. Paul’s warning that we in no way permit them undue influence over that very precious part of us we call the mind.
There are others too in our age who take a less hostile, more “benign” approach which largely considers what anyone thinks to be of little importance, a kind of “who cares, live-and-let live,” pseudo-tolerance that is really more a form of laziness than anything else. So to them, it does not really matter what a person thinks or believes. All that matters is that a person behave well. Hence if a person is a good citizen, pays his taxes, does not beat his wife, is kind to children and animals then it doesn’t matter what he believes.
But this trivializes us. We were made to know the one, true God, to know the truth and, knowing this truth be set free (cf Jn 8:32). God’s plan for us is more than good behavior from some humanistic perspective. Rather he offers us a complete transformation, a new mind and new heart that is attained through personal knowledge and experience of him. Now all of this will surely affect our behavior but we must be clear that God is offering us something more than being nice in the sight of men and getting along with people.
One of the ways Scripture expresses what God is offering us at a deeper level is the appeal to the mind that so frequently occurs in the New Testament. The very opening words of Jesus as he began his public ministry announce the invitation to receive a new mind. Sadly most English translations do not well capture what the Greek text actually reports Jesus as saying. Most English renderings of Jesus opening words are “Repent and believe the Good News” (cf. Mark 1:15; Matt 3:2). Now to most people “repent” means to reform your behavior, to do good and avoid evil, or to stop sinning. That is its most common English meaning. But the Greek word is far richer than this. The Greek word is Μετανοείτε (metanoeite) which most literally means “to come to a new mind.” It is from the Greek meta (hard to translate perfectly in English but it often indicates accompaniment, change, or movement of some sort) and nous or noieo; (meaning mind or thought). Hence metanoeite means to think differently, i.e. reconsider, to come to a new mind. So what the Lord is more fully saying is “Come to new mind and be believing in the Good News”
Thus Jesus is not saying merely that we should clean up our act he is inviting us to come to a new mind that he alone can give us. When we think differently we will surely act differently and hence metanoeite can and does include a notion of reformed behavior. But notice that it is the result of a new mind. When we think differently by the new mind Christ will give us we start to see things more as God does. We share his priorities, his vision. We love what He loves, we think more as He does. This then effects a change in our behavior.
There is an old saying that goes: Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. Notice how it all begins with the mind. Our mind shapes our decisions, habits, character and ultimately our destiny.
The mind is the deepest part of the human person. It is not always possible in Scripture to perfectly distinguish the words mind and heart. Sometimes they are used interchangeably sometimes distinctively. But for our purposes here, the mind can be understood as the quite similar to the heart in that it is at the deepest part of the human person where thought, memory, imagination, and deliberation take place. The mind is not to be merely equated with the brain or simply with the intellect. It is deeper and richer than these. It is not simply a function of the physical body but more fully it involves the soul. The mind is where we live, think, reflect, ponder, remember and deliberate.
Hence, in appealing to the mind, God is offering a transformation to whole human person for it is from within the mind and heart that all proceeds forth. Good behavior is a nice goal but God does not trivialize us but only trying to reform our behavior, He offers much more by offering to reform US.
Thus, what a person thinks and believes DOES matter. In our hyper-tolerant times where tolerance is one of the few agreed upon virtues left, we want to brush aside the details. We are almost proud of ourselves as we affirm that people can think and believe whatever they want so long as they behave well. Well perhaps a person is free to think what ever they please, but we are foolish if we think that this does not ultimately influence behavior. Our dignity is that we were made to know the truth and thus to know Jesus Christ who is the truth and the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6). Hence our dignity is not just an outer transformation but an inner one as well. In fact it is an inner transformation that most truly leads to an outer transformation.
Here are a few more texts that refer to the mind as the locus of transformation and and also the main battleground where grace must win. Without a transformed, clear and sober mind, we will give way to sin and every form of bad behavior. Transformation starts with the mind. My comments on each text are in red.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind(Rom 12:2) Note, transformation comes by the renewal of our minds.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…..For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. ….he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1:17ff selectae) Notice here how a suppression of the truth leads to a depraved mind, and a depraved mind to shameless and depraved behavior. It begins in the mind, which is the real battleground
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5) Again, the sinful nature and its deeds proceed from a worldly mind. Those who have received the gift of the Spirit, and embraced it fully, have their minds set on what God desires. The remainder of Romans 8 goes on to describe the complete transformation of the human person that results from having a mind set on what God desires.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 cor 4:4) This text says simply that worldly thinking leads to spiritual blindness. And there is a lot of this today.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way…..put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:17-24) The bad behavior of the Gentiles comes from a mind that is frivolous, focused on futile things, and darkened. But the new mind we have received from Christ gives us a new (transformed) self. Note too, the clear warning to us to not live as “Gentiles” do. Here “Gentiles” means unbelievers, for it is clear that many Gentiles did come to faith, and it is to them, that Paul writes to “put off your old self.”Note too the hardened hearts that Paul describes them as having. One of the great issues that I, like you, encounter is that many in today’s secular world have hardened their hearts against God. I cannot fully tell you the grief that I experience on this blog at some of the comments that come in from many (not all) unbelievers (i.e. atheists, militant secularists, and agnostics). Most of these comments I just delete and you never have to see them. But the darkness of mind, and the hard-hardheartedness that reserves special hostility for biblical, ecclesial or traditional norms, is a very hard cycle to break through. Little conversation can be had in the climate of hostility, cynicism and suspicion that comes when people have hardened their hearts. Some, to be sure really are striving to overcome obstacles so they can understand or come to faith. I do know souls who struggle to believe and actually do seek to understand. And yet too many others do not really come to conversation with actual questions, but, rather to ridicule and vent anger, their minds are closed and they have hardened their hearts.
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (Phil 3:19) Destruction comes from a mind set on earthly things.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Heb 8:10) God wants to transform us interiorly not merely improve our behavior. He wants to give us a new mind and heart that have his law written deeply in them.
The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8) When the mind is impure or divided, the ways, the behavior is corrupted.
Therefore, gird the loins of your mind; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13) A sober and clear mind that assertively seeks God’s will will lead to a self-controlled and hopeful life.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be of clear mind and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7) In turbulent times a clear, sober mind is necessary so as not to lose control of one’s behavior and also to be serene enough to pray.
So the mind is critical to transformation. Be sober, the devil and the world want access to your mind, want to influence the way you think. The mind is THE battleground, (along with the heart wherein the battle of desire takes place). Mind your mind. Be careful what you think and who and what you allow to influence you. Be devoted to studying the faith and reading scripture. The mind is precious but vulnerable. Mind your mind!
This song says “I’ve got my mind made up and I won’t turn back ’cause I want to see my Jesus someday.” This is a lively Carribean medley by Donnie McClurkin.
I just finished reading Ross Douthat’s (pronounced DOW-that) book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. As I have told you before, I highly recommend this to your reading attention. The book is an excellent summary of what has happened to the Christian faith in the last sixty years, especially in this country.
Mr Douthat especially emphasizes how the careful balance of classical Christian orthodoxy tipped and an unbalanced, pick and choose, heresy took its place for most Americans. Hence where things tipped left we got things like liberation theology, the “god-within movements and the syncretizing of Oprah, new age and other odd blends. Where things tipped right we got things like the prosperity gospel, and an odd blend of country worship generally termed, Americanism.
The level of detail and keen theological insight make the book an important resource for anyone who seeks answers, and a strategy out of the current difficulties.
The answer of course is orthodoxy, and orthodoxy seeks to hold the tension of somewhat competing biblical and theological teachings in balance, rather than to choose some and discard others.
In the final chapter Mr. Douthat offers some thoughts on what a recovered Christianity might include. I want to reflect on one of those thoughts in this post, namely that Christianity should be both moralistic and holistic (respecting of the whole). In other words, we must courageously proclaim the moral vision of the New Testament, but we must also be careful to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (cf Acts 20:27). For it sometimes happens that we emphasize certain moral teachings which agree with our view, and neglect to preach others which challenge our view.
Orthodoxy must present the balanced and complete moral vision. Otherwise it too easily looks co-opted by other lesser agendas such as politics, economics, social science etc.
Let me have Mr. Douthat speak for himself. He begins by asserting the need to courageously proclaim our moral vision:
No aspect of Christian faith is less appealing to contemporary sensibilities in the faith’s long list of “thou shalt nots,” and no prohibition attracts more exasperation and contempt than the Christian view of chastity and sex. But, recurring efforts to downplay the faith’s moralistic side, to make his Commandments general rather than particular, to recontextualize Bible passages that offend contemporary sensibilities, to make the faith seem more hospitable to America’s many millions of divorced people, cohabiting couples, and (especially) gays and lesbians, have usually ended up redefining Christianity entirely. The traditional Christian view of sexuality is more essential to the faith as a whole than many modern believers want to acknowledge….[And] it doesn’t just rest on a literal reading of a few passages in the Scriptures which can easily be revised to reinterpreted. Rather, it’s the fruit of centuries worth of meditation and argument on the whole biblical narrative, from the creation of Adam and Eve, to Jesus’ prohibition on divorce
It seems easy enough to snip a single thread out of this pattern, but often the whole thing swiftly unravels once you do.
Yet many conservative Christians often make a similar mistake; they have emphasize the most hot-button (and easily politicized) moral issues, while losing sight of the tapestry as a whole. There are seven deadly sins not just one, and Christianity’s understanding of marriage and chastity is intimately bound to its views on gluttony and avarice and pride.
….It is rare to hear a rip roaring Sunday’s sermon about the temptations of the five course meal, and the all you can eat buffet, or to hear a high-profile pastor who addresses to sin of greed in the frank manner of, say, St. Basil the Great in the fourth century A.D.:
The extra bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the barefoot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people that you could help. (Basil, Homily on Avarice)
Note that Basil isn’t arguing for a slightly higher marginal tax rate to fund modest improvements in public services. He’s passing judgment on individual sins and calling for individual repentance. There are conservative Christians today who seemed terrified of even remotely criticizing Wall Street tycoons and high finance buccaneers, lest such criticism be interpreted as an endorsement of the Democratic Party’s political agenda.
Douthat goes on to warn that our partial outrage over certain things weakens our overall credibility before a skeptical world, since it seems that something, other than true and sincere Christian adherence to biblical norms, drives the concerns we express. And, since the world is particularly skeptical of the Church teaching on sexuality and beginning and end of life issues, our seeming silence on other biblical norms undermines our credibility. For indeed, considerable ink is spilled in the Biblical texts on issues related to greed, envy, jealously, anger, hatred, and God’s passion about how we care for the poor, as well as on sexual matters and concerns for the family and human life.
And even within the questions of sexual morality we need to be careful not simply to single out homosexuals and ignore many egregious examples of heterosexual misbehavior. Douthat writes:
…The Christian case for fidelity and chastity will inevitable seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases – on homosexual wedlock and the slippery slope to polygamy beyond. It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage, the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should command the most attention from Christian moralists……asking gays alone to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry. [Kindle edition Loc 5771-90]
I have long held this same view and will almost never address the sin of homosexual acts without also cataloging and warning against heterosexual sins such as fornication, adultery, pornography, contraception, abortion, divorce and so forth. Frankly, it would seem the case can be made that, the emergence of more widespread homosexual tendencies, and homosexual demands, has come in the aftermath of over sixty years of widespread heterosexual misbehavior and our own redefinition of marriage.
We have insisted on easy divorce (biblically prohibited), and turned procreation and raising of children into an option (via contraception), and a way of accessorizing marriage, rather than one of its most central tasks (again, completely unbiblical). In effect, for most heterosexuals, marriage has little more meaning than two adults being happy.
We cannot prophetically stand against gay “marriage” with such a vague and unbiblical notion operative in the lives of most Christians. Only the true and orthodox stance that the Scriptures proclaim, can withstand the charge of duplicity by an increasing number of Americans. Namely, that marriage is a stable and lasting union intrinsically oriented to the procreation and rearing of children.
And, to disagree with Mr. Douthat a bit, I do not think that most Catholic priests would be found guilty of of preaching “rip-roaring” sermons on sex or even focusing much on it. Frankly, and I think most Catholics would agree, Catholic pulpits have been too silent on sexual matters, and to be honest, on most moral topics. Too many Catholic sermons of the past sixty years are a collection of generalities and abstractions. Not only would most Catholics not hear a sermon about sex, but they would not likely hear all that much about what Basil says either.
Our outrage at homosexual acts (which I fully think we should have) can seem very hollow when, for some sixty years we have tended to ignore heterosexual promiscuity on a wide and huge scale, and worked with, and largely facilitated, the divorce culture. And then, when the homosexual community steps forth with their sinful demands, we should not be surprised that our claims to oppose to them is only about protecting the sacredness of the family, falls on deaf ears. We have sown in the wind and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
To be fair, some of this is changing and, especially younger clergy, are more likely to address specific moral topics. And if that be the case, then we clergy ought to be willing to address a wide sampling of the Christian moral vision in a non-political bu clear way, as Douthat admonishes and exemplifies by quoting St. Basil.
And thus we are brought back to St. Paul’s insistence to the Church at Ephesus that he preached to them “the whole counsel of God”Acts 20:27. For the true and orthodox moral vision of the Church is wide, and embraces all issues and all people. And it is not so much a faith that prohibits, as it is one that points to freedom by Grace:
Freedom to be able to experience and show mercy, forgiveness,
Freedom and have authority over our anger and hatred,
Freedom over our greed and the capacity to be generous and caring of the poor,
Freedom and authority to love our spouse, and children and be faithful to the commitments we have made, even in tough times,
Freedom and authority over our sexuality and the capacity to live chastely and joyfully,
Freedom and the capacity to welcome immigrants, and be free of the fears related to bigotry, ignorance and prejudice.
Yes, freedom, grace, power and authority over every sinful drive
And the joyful openness to greater love, mercy, kindness, chastity, generosity, joy, serenity, justice, piety and growing love for God and neighbor.
This is orthodoxy: holistic (respecting the whole), wide reaching, comprehensive and transcending of political categories and boxes.
The whole counsel of God.
If you can tolerate looking at Bill Maher, Ross Douthat handles him pretty well:
Some one stole my iPhone today, so I thought, maybe it would be good to post on the the 7th Commandment: You shall not steal!
At first glance this commandment seems pretty simple and straight-forward: “Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you without permission.” True enough, the seventh commandment does call us to respect the rights of others in regard to their personal property. This understanding alone, however, is incomplete.
The seventh commandment has very far reaching implications by calling upon everyone to act with justice in regards to the goods of this world. For example, take note of the following quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and see how wide ranging the sins against the seventh Commandment are:
The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, [unjustly taking or keeping] another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner…deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another… appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is also contrary to the moral law and requires reparation. (Catechism 2408-2409)
And, while the seventh commandment clearly involves questions of the rights to personal property, it has extensive social justice implications as well, since the unjust distribution of goods amounts to a form of theft. In order to understand the social justice implications of this commandment it is necessary to consider some principles regarding creation and our stewardship of it. Then we go on to principles regrading the respect for the goods of others.
I. The universal destination of goods– This principle of the universal destination of goods is described by the Catechism in the following way:
This means that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race…In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (Catechism 2402, 2404).
Stewards – God who is the giver of every good gift, generously gives us the whole of creation. But we are the stewards, not the owners of creation. A steward is expected manage the properties under his care according to the true owner’s instructions and manifest wishes. In countless passages of the Old Testament as well as the New, God commands a generous stewardship of his creation. We are not to hoard things or be selfish. We are to share the goods we have received with others. This is particularly true for those who have strong influence in the economy or who have received special business-related skills:
Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. (Catechism 2405)
Reiteration – Thus the catechism while acknowledging the right to private property justly acquired, nevertheless emphasizes that such property rights must be understood in the light of the universality of God’s gifts to the whole of mankind:
The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. (Catechism 2403).
II. The principle of moderation – A second principle in the possession and use of goods is moderation. Greed is the insatiable desire for more and it leads some to hoard the goods of this earth or to squander them for selfish purposes. The Catechism teaches that: those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor. (Catechism 2405).
Greed not only leads to an unjust distribution of goods, it also frequently leads to harmful effects through pollution and to the dissipation of resources. In addition, moderation is not only a virtue for the present time, it also regards the future.
The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.[cf Gen 1:28-31] Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (Catechism 2415)
III. Injustice is a form of theft – It is evident then, according to the Catechism, that to willfully neglect either the principle of moderation or the principle of the “universal destination of goods” amounts to a form of theft. This is because it neglects the just distribution of goods which God gave for all.
Thus, the Catechism upholds the need for justice and charity in the care and use of earthly goods. Care and concern for the poor should be considered an integral part of the justice and charity to which we are called.
The seventh commandant also provides an important basis for the social doctrine of the Church. This is an important body of Church moral teaching regarding economic and social matters and how they relate to the fundamental rights of the human person. There is simply not enough room in this context to consider all these moral teachings in detail but they are found collected here: Compendium of Social Doctrine
IV. Avoiding extremes – The heart of these teachings however is always to emphasize the rights and the dignity of the human person. This dignity must never be undermined by collectivist systems, or by considerations that are purely economic or where profit is the only norm and end of economic activity. In all her pronouncements the Church has steered a middle course which has found much to critique in both communism and capitalism as well as other ideologies and economic theories:
The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market. Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended. (Catechism 2425).
There are other matters spoken of in the Catechism relating to the social doctrine of the Church that flow from the seventh commandment. To intentionally neglect them amounts also to a form of theft: Failing to pay a just wage, Failing to perform a just day’s work for a just day’s wage, Engaging in unfair or unjustly discriminatory hiring practices, And subordinating basic human rights to production schedules or market forces.
V. The duty to work – The Catechism in its consideration of the seventh commandment also admonishes every Christian regarding the duty of work:
Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.[cf Gen 1:28] Hence work is a duty: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.”(2 Thess 3:10) Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. (Catechism 2427)
Clearly “work” here refers to more than a wage paying job. Work includes all the ways in which we are expected to contribute to household and community tasks. It must be recalled that God expects us to put our gifts which we have received from him at the service of one another.
The unreasonable refusal to work is a form of theft since it robs the human community of necessary human resources, deprives it of gifts God has given, and all the while still draws on the fruits of others’ labors. This reflection clearly presupposes that one is able to work in some fashion and not prevented from contributing to the human family due to illness of some other serious reason.
VI. Respect for the goods of others– Our work is not only a blessing for the community, it is also a blessing for the individual and his or her family. For this reason, the seventh commandment also protects and honors the fruits of our labor.
Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community..The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. (Catechism 2402, 2428).
Hence the personal or private property of individuals that is justly attained is to be respected by others. It is not to be used by others without the explicit permission of the one to whom it belongs. If it is damaged intentionally or by accident, reparation must be made.
By respecting the property of others we honor their freedom and dignity. We also acknowledge respect the duties of others when we respect their property for it is out of the fruits of their labors that they must support their family and meet their obligations to the community. In this way respect for private property is also related to the common good.
VII. Respect for the intellectual and artistic works of others – Individuals not only have tangible goods like houses and cars (and, might I add, iPhones), but many have also created works of art, written books, performed and recorded music, patented ideas and so forth. To use or take these goods against the reasonable will of the owner or creator, is usually a form of theft. Today many are quite casual in the way they share recorded music and other creative products. Often the artist, author, patent and or copyright owner is not compensated. Again, other things being equal, this is theft.
It is true that there are norms for something known as fair use, and it is not always possible, especially in the “wild west” of the Internet, to find the owner of photo or creative work. There are also many things that exist in what is usually called the “public domain,” and things like this may be used freely.
It is not always easy to know what exactly is proprietary and what is public domain, or how much use of a volume of work is “fair use” and what is going to far. As the Internet grows and matures, some of these answers are getting clearer, and when one comes to know that something is proprietary, one ought not use the art, music or other matter without permission and remuneration.
Further, copying and sharing music or professional movies is almost never allowed, and ought not be done. If one uses an brief excerpt, (often considered fair use) they should refer the viewer or listener to the whole work and identify the artist or author in hope that others might buy the complete work. Most artists and authors actually appreciate a little publicity, but no one appreciates outright theft.
VIII. The call to respect our neighbors’ goods is ultimately a call to respect our neighbor. In this way the seventh commandment, like all the others, is a solemn reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person. By setting forth our responsibilities with regard to this world’s goods God calls us to honor our neighbor, he also reminds us of the nobility of our call to be stewards of his creation.
Thus, the seventh commandment is a rich treasury of moral reflection for us. So, whoever took my iPhone, I hope they’ll read this and repent. I’d like it back! But preparing this reflection, I see that I too have much to ponder, for the 7th Commandment reminds me I am a steward and will be held to account for how I use the goods of this earth for the benefit not only of myself, but also of others.
On of the most common sins committed, and yet, one of the sins least confessed, is the sin of Rash Judgment. The commercial below humorously depicts the sin and how wrong we can sometimes be.
But in reality the sin is not often humorous and can lead us to some very dark places. We may, on account of rash judgments, harbor grudges, resentments, fears, and unjust anger. We may allow rash judgment to foster our pride as we feel superior to others, and we may carry deep hurts, or even seek revenge, all based on misinformation, or misinterpretation of what others do. And gossip is usually the daughter (or son) of rash judgment.
St. Thomas speaks of rash judgement as those times, When the human intellect lacks certainty, as when a person, without any solid motive, forms a negative judgment on some doubtful or hidden matter, it is called judgment by suspicion or rash judgment. (Summa Theologica, Quest. 60, art 2)
According to Fr. John Hardon:Rash Judgment is unquestioning conviction about another person’s bad conduct without adequate grounds for the judgment. The sinfulness of rash judgment lies in the hasty imprudence with which the critical appraisal is made, and in the loss of reputation that a person suffers in the eyes of the one who judges adversely (Modern Catholic Dictionary).
The Catechism places rash judgment in the context of the obligation we have to preserve the good reputation of others:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
– of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way (CCC 2477-2478)
All this said, rash judgment is often committed in weakness. Our minds are weak and we often lack patience or determination to carefully discern the whole truth. Sometimes we commit this sin based on hurts of the past, or the general climate of cynicism that permeates our culture.
On account of these roots in weakness, the necessary antidote is humility, and a quick appreciation that, in most incidents, we do not have all the facts at first. Further, we must often admit that we may never have all the facts in certain cases. In our humility we ought, usually, to presume the more benign interpretations of uncertain matters unless, and until, the facts require otherwise.
In our instant media culture of 24/7 news, we are encouraged to make quick judgments. News outlets often rush to “analysis” before most of the facts are in. And, with plausible “experts” at the anchor desk, rash judgments often seem “credible” when, in fact, they are little more than rash judgments.
Be very careful. Rash judgment, especially when shared with others, can do a lot of damage. It is not a sin to be taken lightly, even if it is often committed in weakness.
Perhaps then a little humor will make the point. In this commercial, a man with all the best of intentions, looks quite guilty of all the worst intentions. Enjoy.
Candidate Rick Santorum was grilled on Face the Nation by Bob Schieffer on his position that certain forms of pre-natal testing end up as conduits for abortion. In particular, Mr Santorum is concerned about amniocentesis, a test used to screen for fetal chromosomal abnormalities and certain infections. The procedure is not without its dangers. Complications of amniocentesis include miscarriage, respiratory distress at delivery, postural deformities, fetal trauma and rhesus disease. Studies estimate the risk of amniocentesis-related miscarriage at around 1 in 200.
Rick Santorum is right to raise serious concerns about this procedure and the fact that the government is going to force insurers to pay for this. Free amniocentesis means more of it and more of it, frankly, means more abortions.
This does not mean there is absolutely no legitimate use of amniocentesis. Indeed it can be argued that if there is a problem, it is best to know beforehand. However, for one to legitimately have recourse to amniocentesis, it is necessary that they exclude abortion, no matter the results. They must also understand there are risks involved with amniocentesis and, further, that they will likely be pressured to terminate a child with a poor diagnosis.
A hidden but tragic truth in this country is that there is a quiet sort of genocide being committed against the disabled. Mr. Santorum is right in pointing out that the rates of abortion in poor prenatal diagnoses trends as high as 90-100%. Indeed if the test come back “poor,” abortion is almost always recommended.
And, the pressure on such families to abort is often enormous. They are told, “It is the right thing to do” and, “You should not make the child suffer.” Some are even made to feel they are doing something “unethical” by bringing forth such children. There are also time pressures placed on such parents. Doctors often want the decision to terminate, made quickly, within a matter of days.
A life not worth living? There seems to be operative a notion on the part of many in our culture that there is such a thing as a life not worth living. We have stumbled upon the very unusual and tragically ironic concept that death is a form of therapy, that the “treatment” for disabled babies is to kill them. Of course death is not a treatment or a therapy, it cannot be considered a “solution” for the one who loses his or her life. Yet tragically this is often the advice that many parents with a poor pre-natal diagnosis receive, the urgent pressure that they terminate the pregnancy now.
90 % are lost – All this pressure goes a long way to explain that just over 90% of families with a poor pre-natal diagnosis choose to abort. We in the Church cannot remain silent in the face of this. We must prophetically and compassionately reach out to families in such a crisis. Many of them are devastated by the news that their baby may have serious disabilities. Often they descend into shock and are overwhelmed by fear, conflicting feelings and even anger at God, or others. Sometimes the greatest gifts we can give them are time, information, and the framework of faith. Simply considering some of the following may help:
1. They do not have to rush, despite what they are told. Serious life-changing decisions should never have to be made in a 48 to 72 hour time period. Pressure should never be applied to families by medical personnel and the family should consider such pressure a grave injustice.
2. Pre-natal diagnoses are not always right. We often think of Medicine as an exact science. It is not. Data can be misinterpreted and premises can sometimes be wrong. Further, there is a difference between the result of a screening and an actual diagnosis. Screenings can point to potential problems and likelihoods, but are not an actual diagnosis of a problem. Further study is always needed if a screening indicates potential problems. Quite frequently, further tests, after a screening reveal no problem at all.
3. Disabilities are not always as terrible a reality as we, in our “perfect-insistent” world, think. Many people with disabilities live very full lives and are a tremendous gift to their families, the Church and the world. Providing families with further information about disabilities and connecting them with families who have experience in these areas are essential to avoid the catastrophizing that sometimes sets in when an adverse pre-natal diagnosis is given.
4. For those with faith it is essential to connect them with the most basic truths of our Christian faith. The cross is an absurdity to the world. But to those of the Christian faith, the cross brings life and blessings, even despite its pain. Where it not for our crosses, most of us could never be saved. Bringing forth a disabled child will not be easy but God never fails. He can make a way out of no way and do anything, but fail. My own sister was mentally ill and she carried a cross. We too had a share in that cross. But my sister, Mary Anne, brought blessings to our family as well. I don’t know if I’d be a priest today if it were not for her. I am sure I would not be as compassionate and I doubt I could be saved were it not for the important lessons she taught me. I know she brought out strength and mercy, not to mention humility, from all of us in the family. Her cross and ours brought grace, strength and many personal gifts to all of us. Yes, the cross is painful, but it brings life as well. Easter Sunday is not possible without Good Friday. To the world the cross is absurdity but to us who believe it is salvation, it is life, it is our only real hope, it is our truest glory to carry it as Christ did.
5. Disability is not an all-or-nothing thing. Disability exists on a continuum. In some way all of us are disabled. Some of us have very serious weight problems, others diabetes, pressure, heart problems, etc. Some of us are intellectually challenged in certain areas. Some of us struggle with anxiety or depression, addictions, or compulsions. Some experience losses in mobility through an accident or just due to age. All of us have abilities and disabilities. Some of our disabilities are more visible than others, some disabilities are more serious than others. But in most cases we are able to adjust to what disables us and still live reasonably full lives. We may not be able to do all we would like, but life still has blessings for us. And even our weaknesses and disabilities can, and do, bring us blessings by helping to keep us humble. How much disability is too much? Can you really be the judge of that? Can you or I really decide for someone else that their life is not worth living?
6. Life is not usually what it seems. In this world we esteem things like wealth, ability, strength and power. But God is not all that impressed by these sorts of things. God has a special place for the poor and the humble. The Lord has said that many who are last in this life are going to be first in the next (cf Mat 19:30). There is a great reversal coming wherein the mighty are cast down and the lowly are raised up. In this world we may look upon those who suffer disability with a misplaced pity. But understand this: they are going to be the exalted ones in the kingdom of heaven. As we accept the disabled and the needy into our midst we are accepting those who will be the royalty in heaven. We ought to learn to look up to them, beg their prayers and only hope that their coattails may also help us attain to some of the glory they will specially enjoy. They have a dignity that this world may refuse to see but we who believe cannot fail to remember that the last are going to be the first. Life is not always what it seems.
What of those who aborted? We as a Church cannot avoid our responsibility to prophetically declare the dignity and worth of the disabled. More than ever our world needs the Church’s testimony, for it is a startling statistic that 90% of parents choose to abort in cases of a poor pre-natal diagnosis. Even as we prophetically witness to dignity of the disabled and the wrongness of abortion in these cases we must also embrace those who have chosen abortion and now struggle with that choice. We are called to reconcile and bring healing to all who have faced this crisis and fallen. Many were pressured, afraid and felt alone. We offer this embrace through confession, and healing ministries like Project Rachael which offers counseling, spiritual direction, support groups and prayer services. Even as the Church is prophetic in speaking against abortion she must also reconcile those who have fallen under the weight of these heavy issues.
Here is Mr. Santorum’s interview on the topic of amniocentesis. I think he raises very legitimate concerns:
This video was produced by the Office of Special Needs and the Life Issues Department for the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, held at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC on January 22, 2010. It shares the story of Maddie, who reminds us of the dignity and joy that can be found in every human life
In discussing the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate that will attempt to force the Catholic Church to pay for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, I have discovered that many Catholics, while generally understanding why we object to paying for sterilization and abortifacients, are less than enthusiastic about our refusal to pay for contraceptives. This “lack of enthusiasm” for the Church’s position on Contraception, along with political irritation, makes many Catholics ambivalent or even hostile to the Bishop’s call that we oppose the HHS mandate.
Why we won’t pay for contraceptives – While the fundamental issue is this matter is Religious Freedom and the First Amendment, (which we have discussed here before and will again in the future), it may be worthwhile to focus for a moment on why we religiously oppose the use and funding of contraceptives. This discussion on contraception cannot be complete in a brief blog post, but setting forth the principled reasons of the Church teaching may be helpful.
In looking at the issue, we might begin by looking at the “big picture.” For while many people fail to see why contraception is harmful in a particular marriage, it is easier for them to begin to see the harm that contraceptives have caused in our wider culture. Looking at some of the harm may be of help in addressing the overall negative attitude that many, including most Catholics, bring to the Church teaching on Contraception.
For indeed, a generation has passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitaewhich upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes the worldly to scoff more than our teaching against artificial contraception. The eyes of so many, Catholics among them, roll and the scoffing begins: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate! Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!
The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed him in a similar way: Time will prove where wisdom lies. (Matt 11:16-18)
And to a large degree time has proven where wisdom lies. For some forty or more years after widespread acceptance of contraception many grave cultural consequences have set in, related to sexuality and mistaken notions of sex. Among the consequences are: widespread and open promiscuity, which has led to higher and higher levels of STDs, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single parent homes, divorce, and to a decline in marriage rates. Recall that advocates of contraceptives, beginning in the 1950s and into the 1960s made many promises of the “benefits” of contraceptives.
The Promises of the Contraception Advocates:
Happier Marriages and a lower divorce rates since couples could have all the sex they wanted without “fear” of pregnancy.
Lower abortion rates since there would be far fewer “unwanted” children.
Greater dignity for women who will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
More recently contraceptive advocates have touted the medical benefits of preventing STDs and AIDS especially by the use of condoms.
Paul VI in refuting these benefits made a few predictions of his own.
What were some of the concerns and predictions made by Pope Paul VI? (All of these are quotes from Humanae Vitae)
Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (Humanae Vitae (HV) # 17)
A general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. (HV # 17)
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (HV # 17)
Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone. (HV # 17)
So, forty years later, who had the wisdom to see the true effects of Contraception, the world or the Church? Well lets consider some of the data:
The divorce rate did not decline. It skyrocketed. Divorce rates soared through the 1970s to to the 1990s to almost 50% of marriages failing. In recent years the divorce rate has dropped slightly but this may also be due to the fact that far fewer people get married in the first place, preferring to cohabitate and engage in a kind of serial polygamy drifting from relationship to relationship. The overall divorce rate despite its slight drop remains high, hovering in the low 40% range. Contraceptive advocates claim that divorce is a complicated matter. True enough. But they cannot have it both ways, claiming that contraception would be a “simple” fix to make marriages happier and then, when they are so horrifyingly wrong, claiming that divorce is “complicated.” Paul VI on the other hand predicted rough sailing for marriage in advent of contraception. Looks like the Pope was right.
Abortion rates did not decrease. They too skyrocketed. Within five years the pressure to have more abortion available led to its “legalization” in 1973. It has been well argued that, far from decreasing the abortion rate, contraception actually fueled it. Since contraception routinely fails, abortion became the “contraception of last recourse.” Further, just as the Pope predicted sexual immorality became widespread and this too led to higher rates of abortion. It is hard to compare promiscuity rates between periods since people “lie” a lot when asked about such things. But one would have to be very myopic not to notice the huge increase in open promiscuity, cohabitation, pornography and the like. All of this bad behavior, made more possible by contraceptives, also fuels abortion rates. Chalk up another one for the Pope and the Church.
The question of women’s dignity is hard to measure and different people have different measures. Women do have greater career choices. But is career or vocation the true source of one’s dignity? One’s dignity is surely more than their economic and utilitarian capacity. Sadly, motherhood has taken a real back seat in popular culture. And, as the Pope predicted women have been hypersexualized as well. (Yesterday’s Superbowl Ads featured large amounts of female nudity to sell even products like Doritos). The dignity of women as wives and mothers has been set aside in favor of the sexual pleasure they offer. As the Pope predicted many modern men, no longer bound by marriage for sexual satisfaction, use women and discard them on a regular basis. Men “get what they want” and it seems many women are willing to supply it rather freely. In this scenario men win. Women are often left with STDs, they are often left with children, and as they get older and “less attractive” they are often left alone. I am not sure this is dignity. But you decide who is right and if women really have won in the “new morality” that contraception helped usher in. I think the Pope wins this point as well.
As for preventing STDs and AIDS, again, big failure. STDs did not decrease and were not prevented. Infection rates skyrocketed through the 1970s and 1980s. AIDS which appeared on the scene later continues to show horribly high rates. Where is the promised deliverance? Contraceptives it seems, do not prevent anything. Rather they encourage the spread of these diseases by encouraging the bad behavior that causes them. Here too it looks like the Church was right and the world was wrong.
Add to this list the huge teenage pregnancy rates, the devastation of single parent families, broken hearts and even poverty. The link to poverty may seem obscure, but the bottom line is that single motherhood is the chief cause of poverty in this country. Contraception encourages promiscuity. Promiscuity leads to teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy leads to single motherhood (absent fatherhood). Single motherhood leads to welfare and poverty. Currently in the inner city over 80% of homes are headed by single mothers. It is the single highest factor related to poverty.
Declining birth rates are also having terrible effects on contracepting cultures. Europe as we have known it is simply going out of existence. And while many debate endlessly over demographic data and how to interpret it, Europe’s future seems increasingly Muslim and the social network wherein the young care for the old has been largely gutted. I have written more on this HERE: Contraception is Cultural Suicide! Likewise here in the USA white and African American communities are below replacement level. Thankfully our immigrants are largely Christian and share our American vision. But for the Church the declining birthrates are now resulting in closing schools, parishes, declining vocations and the like. We cannot sustain what we have on a population that is no longer replacing itself. Immigration has insulated us from this to some extent, but low Mass attendance has eclipsed that growth and we are starting to shut down a lot of our operations.
Sexual Confusion – Contraception “decouples” sex from having children. It emphasizes sex as pleasure. for its own sake, and simply for the bonding of the adults involved. And while the Church does teach that marital sex does have a unitive dimension, it is not to be separated from its link to the procreative dimension. Having largely separated out the procreative dimension from sex, leads to a loss in the sacredness of sex. For if sex is just for pleasure, and not intrinsically related to having children, why should it be thought of as so sacred or serious. And why wait until marriage and maturity to start having it? And if sex is just about adults having pleasure and sharing intimate love, then many stop understanding why homosexual acts (which cannot be open to procreation) are flawed and intrinsically disordered.
Thus we have sown in the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.
And of course it is the children who ultimately pay. For, even though we have tried through a contraceptive mentality to say that sex has little to do with having children, the fact is it does. And our children are born into a cultural whirlwind that is largely caused by sexual confusion and irresponsibility. And contraceptives and the contraceptive mentality have been a huge factor in the unraveling of our sexual sensibilities, and the breakdown of our families. Bad behavior has been encouraged, and all the bad consequences that flow from it are flourishing.
Most people seem largely disinterested in this data. Hearts have become numb and minds have gone to sleep. I hope you are not among them, and that you might consider this information well and share it with others. Time HAS proved where wisdom lay. It’s time to admit the obvious
What I have tried to do here is to show some of the reasons the Church opposes the use and promotion of contraceptive practices. There are actually insights that bring forth this opposition. It is not just a backward bunch of clerics in the Vatican opposing sex. Rather it is an ancient wisdom that makes good sense.
When sex is decoupled from child-bearing many grave distortions are introduced into a culture. As the proper understanding of sex becomes unraveled, so does the family. And it is children who suffer most.
While the crisis of Western Culture has more than contraception for its cause, contraception has still played a huge role in setting off many whirlwinds that have swept away much that was good. It is no accident or mere coincidence that in the very 50 years that contraceptives have become widely available and used, that the family has gone into a kind of nuclear winter. The statistics make it clear that more than half of children (and far more in minority communities) will never know the two parent family that most of us who are over fifty experienced as normal and ubiquitous.
Of course another fundamental reason we oppose Contraception is rooted in the ancient practice, stretching back into biblical times and carried forward all through the Christian era. Until the 1940 Lambeth conference there never was a Christian Church or communion who approved of contraception. In that fateful year the Anglican Church of England gave the first tip of the hat to contraceptive practice, and slowly, the Protestant denominations all followed. But Catholics, Orthodox and Orthodox Jews have never changed. We continue to hold the ancient and wise insight that sex is intrinsically linked to child bearing, and that the link should never be broken and replaced by other intentions in isolation from that. To do so invites disaster, as we can plainly see.
It will be granted that living the Church teaching on Contraception is not easy. Yet some of the difficulty must also be traced to our seeming obsession with small families. We have argued on this blog at some length about economic realities and many have voiced strong opinions that more than 2 children is just not economically feasible. And yet others with larger families say they do fine. It would seem that a lot has to do with what we want and what our priorities are going to be. And while the arguments will surely continue, it is remains true to this author that the absolute necessity for only 1 or 2 children is not an unassailable fact.
In the end however, Catholics are encouraged to look beyond merely their own family and see what contraception has done to us. Life is bigger than merely what is hard for me, or what I like or don’t like, think or don’t think. Contraception has been a bitter pill that the West has swallowed.
While our fight against the HHS ruling is essentially about religious liberty, Catholics and others must understand that we do not seek to religious freedom merely for some arcane doctrine of no importance, that Catholics or others should say “What’s the big deal?” Rather, opposition to contraception is an essential component in the Catholic teaching on sexuality by which we stand against grave forces that wreak havoc on our culture. We cannot pay for something we see as sinful and destructive.