Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bad Priests, Scandal, Suicide: The Gospel Is What We Need

When David had sinned, he was still the king.  When the Israelites turned away from the Lord, they were still the Chosen People.  When Jeremiah felt like a fool, he was still the prophet. When Peter denied the Lord, he was still the rock upon whom Jesus intended to build his Church.  When Christians sin, they are still Christians. When the priests have committed gross and evil abominations, the Church is still the Church.

One of the fallouts from the revelations of priests who abused children is the widespread condemnation that follows anytime the Church attempts to speak authoritatively on moral issues.  Not unsurprisingly, the minute the Church speaks on controversial moral issues now, the inevitable is said: "How can the Church say what is good or evil after all those children were harmed?"  That children were cruelly harmed, that it is despicable, and that it is grossly evil is undeniable.  And, it is also undeniable that the Church's presumption of being looked upon as a good and authoritative teacher has been undermined by these depraved and evil acts.  It is one of the many effects of these evil acts.

What is surprising, however, is how easily many have cowered and succumbed to the temptation to remain silent until we have "earned" the right to speak again.  If the authority of the Church to speak on matters of Faith and morals was of human origin, then it is true that we would have to wait to preach and to teach.  Actually, we'd probably have to wait for a billion years to say anything.  But we are a divinely constituted Church and our mandate comes from God Himself: "Go and teach all the nations!"  To fall silent before the great moral issues of our day because we are ashamed of the sins committed by members of the Church (and specifically, the clergy) would be to perpetuate a great evil.  It would be to allow the Gospel to be silenced and for souls to be sacrificed upon the altar of some false propriety or some political schema.  To boldly preach after all that has occurred is not to ignore the evil.  But it is to act with Faith in the Gospel.

I'm sure that I am not the only priest (or preacher) who has ever climbed the pulpit knowing that he did not live up to the words that he was about to preach.  But preach we must.  To allow my own human weaknesses, faults, and sins to prevent me from proclaiming the Gospel would be to give those faults greater weight than the authority of Christ.  When the Gospel on a particular day says that we must love our enemies and I know that I haven't been doing that, the proper response is not to fall silent about our Lord's command.  The answer is to preach wholeheartedly on the command to love enemies and then for me to be convicted by the word and to go and do it.  That is not to let priests--or any Christian for that matter--off the hook.  The fact is that our sins do make it more difficult for us to be convincing witnesses in proclaiming the Gospel.  But, the answer to that is not to stop preaching.  The answer to that is to stop sinning!

In Massachusetts these days, there is a question on the upcoming ballot concerning Doctor Prescribed Suicide.  There have been many--including some in the Church, I'm afraid--who have said, "Alas, we really can't speak on this issue because we have lost our credibility."  To that I would say that we may have lost our credibility, but the Gospel has not lost it's authority.  Taking the life of a human being in this way is a violation of the Fifth Commandment.  I know a lot of time and effort is being spent talking about how this particular law is poorly written and has many problematic features.  There are questions concerning whether an heir could pressure somebody into doing this.  There are questions about lying on the death certificate, the fact that nobody ever knows for certain what happens to prescriptions that are filled but never taken by the person in whose name they were written etc.  Yes, I know there are many criticisms of this being a "badly written law."

But this is not just a badly written law.  It is a bad law in terms of it being an evil law.  Taking your own life is contrary to the moral law.  No human being has the right to take his own life.  This is fundamental Christian teaching.  Now, some are of the mind that the Church should not say stuff like that because the counter-strategy will be to say, "The Church has no moral authority left to preach on these topics."  Well, thanks be to God, the Church's moral authority is not dependent upon the morality of any members of the Church.  The moral authority of the Church is dependent upon the person of Jesus Christ.  Taking the life of the innocent--even if it is your own life--is not morally licit.  No Christian can support such a thing and to do so is to cooperate in the violation of one of the most serious commandments--thou shalt not kill.

Since being ordained, I have presided over the funerals of persons who tragically ended their lives.  Some of them I knew personally and grieve personally.  I'm certain that each one had what they thought were good reasons for ending their lives.  The day they ended their lives was the day they inflicted the worst possible pain on those around them.  The last thing they ever did in this world was to take the life of a person that others loved.  The pain that they caused to countless others is substantial and never ending.

Jesus commands that we comfort the sick and the dying.  We do not kill them.  As a society, when we adopt a method whereby the sick can kill themselves with the assistance of doctors, pharmacists, and the state, we are turning suicide into more than just an acceptable thing.  We are making it a preferential method of "treatment."  For a Christian to support such a thing would be an abomination and to embrace evil.

To those who stand outside of the Church, there are plenty of other arguments as to why this is a bad bill.  I agree that we should use every means and argument possible to defeat it.  But, to those who are in the Church, it should be sufficient to explain to them that to kill the sick or to assist the sick to kill themselves is a grave evil forbidden by the commandments and by the Gospel.

There may have been a day when there were politically savvy members of the Church who knew how to manipulate the inner-workings of the political and media world.  We don't seem quite so good at that anymore.  We are abysmal failures at influencing the political and cultural landscape through the methods determined by politics and media.  Maybe someday we might get good at it again.  Until then, we should probably risk everything on the Gospel.  Maybe we need to depend less on ourselves and more on the power of the Word.

Adopting the, "We really can't preach anymore," approach is to fall into the hands of our Enemy.  Not preaching the full truth of the Gospel, not engaging in serious evangelization, and not naming and condemning evil would be completely to abandon our apostolic mission. Might we look like fools for taking a stand this early in the game?  Yes, we might look like fools.  Perhaps the humiliation would be good for us.  But, the Gospel has the power to transform the world.  Jesus entrusted that Gospel to a bunch of sinners and he told them to go preach it.  Trusting him is not foolish.  Trusting any method other than his is to be the biggest fools of all.

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