Monday, February 13, 2012
Accommodation Soup: Looks Great and Will Kill You
It should come as no surprise that--to use the President's own words--the "wedge issue" his administration chose to use as a first attack on religious liberties and conscience protections involved contraception. This is obviously only the tip of the spear. If the government is able to force Catholic employers--be they private or religiously based--to succumb to this demand, then the floodgates open. In an interview the other evening, the head of the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts could barely conceal her glee at the thought that the government, at long last, was going to impose a mandate on every employer (no matter what their conscience says) to provide contraception. When asked if she wished abortion was also added to this mandate, she was cagey enough to keep avoiding the question. The answer was obviously, "yes." Much to the chagrin of the secularist agenda, the Catholic Church hasn't budged on the issue of contraception or abortion. So, its enemies are now waging a war of government mandates upon her.
It would only be a matter of time before the Church is forced to include abortion in those mandates. And, what about when some government decides that assisted suicide should be part of "preventive services." After all, what would be a better preventative for suffering than to just kill you outright? Will Catholics be forced to provide that as part of a new wave of government mandates? Then, of course, we get into matters of education. Will it be long before the long arm of government begins telling Catholic Schools that they will be required "as a health related issue" to provide contraception and instruction on homosexual lifestyles?
What should be remembered in all of this is that it was not the Church that started this conflict. This was a deliberate and premeditated political decision made by the Administration. Had the Administration kept the status quo, there would have been no "wedge issue." The Administration has declared a new right, "the right to have your employer pay for your contraception," as having more importance than the right of people to exercise their religious beliefs.
During the Potato Famine in Ireland, Catholics were often subjected to a humiliating choice. In exchange for renouncing the Faith (today, maybe the Administration wouldn't use the strong term, "renounce." Perhaps they would call it "accommodate"), a Catholic who was starving to death would be provided soup. Thus, one who took the soup, would live to see another day, but would be required to renounce his faith in the process. Today, individual employers and religious organizations who have moral objections to providing sterilization, abortifacients, and contraceptives will be put in a similar box by the Administration. Violate your conscience or be put out of business.
As I said above, the wedge issue here is one where the Church is admittedly vulnerable. Why are we vulnerable? Because, for fifty years or so, we have been making our own accommodation with sin. It is fascinating--but hardly accidental--that the very issue that has been ignored in teaching and preaching for so long, is now the wedge that a secularist administration is using to intrude upon freedom of religion. If there is a lesson to be learned in this, it is that accommodating sin (as appealing at it might sometimes appear) always blows up in our faces. The administration wouldn't have picked, for instance, abortion as the first issue because there are still way too many Catholics who stand with the Church on this issue.
We are definitely vulnerable on this issue. As every commentator and news report during the past three weeks has mentioned, the vast majority of Catholics uses contraception. I have three responses to that.
1. Not to be glib, but the vast majority of Catholics have lied, stolen, been impure, gossiped, spoken uncharitably, and failed to give God the proper worship that his due Him. These are all sins. We should all repent. If 98% of Catholics report that they have at some time or another failed to love the poor, that doesn't mean that the Church has no credibility to tell the world that we should love the poor. It means that 98% of Catholics need to repent of the sin of failing to love the poor.
2. Pastors should love their people enough to preach the truth about contraception. I've been a priest for fifteen years. I would hope that my parishioners would say my love for them is obvious. And, I would hope that they would say that when they've heard me talk about contraception in a homily, they knew that I was loving them by those words.
If the reported statistics about contraceptive use among Catholics is accurate, then chances are many of my parishioners are represented in those statistics. Many of them are likely my friends. Some of them who are using contraception probably know deep down that what the Church teaches is the truth. Others probably disagree with the Church's teaching. But, it would be a grave disservice to them if their priest never preached the full truth about marriage.
My personal experience is that preaching on these topics deepens the friendship between priest and people. I think we often underestimate the openness that people have to hearing the teaching of the Church. We presume that they will turn away and become resentful. My experience is just the opposite. Many times, they've never heard the Church's teaching, but they are open to it one they've heard it. For some, it introduces a struggle into their life that wasn't there before, but this struggle is not a bad thing. For some, it brings a full acceptance of the Church's teaching and opens a new and deeper love for their spouse.
I love my parishioners. They are intelligent people and they are people who want to become more and more holy. I trust that if they are presented the Church's teaching with love, it will bring no harm to them.
3. Accommodating disobedience is disastrous for the Church. The wink and smile approach to disobedience on the part of ecclesial personnel is what undermines us the most. You cannot serve both God and mammon. It is one thing to appreciate the struggles that each individual has with sin. It is entirely another thing to have persons in positions of authority who accommodate sin. In Catholic healthcare, education, chanceries, parishes, and seminaries, there cannot be any accommodation for people in leadership positions who oppose the Church on the level of doctrine. They've weakened us the most. When we allow those who do not hold to what the Church teaches and believes to be responsible for enacting what the Church teaches and believes in our institutions, we are setting ourselves up for trouble. If those who oppose the Church's teachings want to set up their soup kitchens and convince people to come and take it, that's their business. But, how dumb are we when we let them bring the soup into our very institutions and peddle it there?
When it comes to people in the pews, I think we exhaust ourselves in patiently and lovingly preaching the Gospel and helping them towards the full truth. Patience, patience, patience.
When it comes to those whom the Catholic Church pays to transmit the Gospel and to lead and guide our public institutions, I think we can safely conclude that we've been patient enough. These persons should be loved and respected. But, we shouldn't be paying them to work against us. The New Evangelization requires putting the right leaders in the right positions. The right leaders--at bare minimum--have to be people who are holding fast to the Faith. We shouldn't be afraid before putting persons into leadership positions to ask where they stand on particular issues of the Faith. If they disagree with certain aspects of the Faith, we wish them well and send them along. If they agree with everything the Church teaches, then we let them go on to the next stage of the interview process. If they give the o'l wink, smile, and cagey answer--then we tell them that they must have missed the memo: those days are gone. The soup days are over. The New Evanagelization has begun.