30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 28, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Today’s Gospel tells us the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus,
whose faith leads Jesus to cure him.

Of course, this story shows the mercy of Jesus in physically curing the blind.
But it also reminds us of something even greater:
that once Jesus cures him physically,
Bartimaeus’ faith leads him to see Jesus spiritually,
with the eyes of faith,
and: “Immediately he …followed him on the way.”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks nowadays, many Catholics,
who suffer from spiritual blindness.
They can’t see Jesus for who he truly is:
God the Son, who not only died on the Cross to save us,
but also taught us that there is a Christian way of living
and that we must that follow that way of life to be saved.

Now, two weeks ago Pope Benedict called us to begin a “year of faith.”
In this, he’s not just calling us to renew our faith in Jesus,
but to also renew our faith in what he taught,
and what his Church continues to teach in his name.

One reason Benedict chose this year to be the “year of faith”
is because it marks the 50th anniversary of the opening
of the 2nd Vatican Council, or Vatican II.
Vatican II was a huge watershed moment in the Church.
And no understands this better than Pope Benedict,
who as a young priest-theologian, named Fr. Joseph Ratzinger,
was one of the truly bright lights and leaders at the council.

But very soon after the council, Fr. Ratzinger noticed a problem.
The council had called for Catholics to engage in a dialogue with the world
so that we could figure out the best way to teach all mankind
the fullness of the Catholic faith.
But what Ratzinger saw was too many Catholics, even priests and bishops,
simply adopting the values of the world they were supposed to be teaching!

We need to remember, the Council was convened from 1962 to 1965,
and was being implemented for the next decade or so.
In other words, during the greatest upheaval in societal values in centuries,
generically called “the SIXTIES.”
And all too many Catholics, misunderstanding the council and the Church,
began to see things not with the eyes of faith in Christ and His Church,
but with the eyes of a secular culture
that embraced
the values of “if it feels good, do it,”
and lifestyles glorifying “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

And as a result, as if suffering the side-effects of bad drugs,
many Catholics continue to suffer from theological hallucinations,
seeing doctrines that weren’t really there;
the funny smoke of secular values blurs their vision,
and eventually they fall into spiritual, religious and moral blindness.

And so in this year of faith, Pope Benedict tells us it’s time to see clearly again,
to shout with Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see.”
And in seeing with the eyes of faith, to follow Christ on his way.

But in the meantime, to many of us still blinded to the truth,
And you hear Catholics say,
“well, that’s what the Church teaches,
but I have to follow my own conscience.”
Actually, that’s partly correct: the Church teaches that
“You must follow your conscience.”

But the thing is, what do we mean by “conscience”?

Those of worldly values have a notion of concience
that’s not too different from “if it feels good do it.”
Some say it’s sort of your “gut feeling.”

But this is not what the Catholic Church means by “conscience.”
It’s not simply our gut feeling, or what we wish were right or wrong.
Rather, conscience is our last best judgment of reason
about what we ought to do in a particular case.
That means I take in all the facts,
and then I take what I know about right and wrong,
and use my reason to intelligently judge
what I ought to do.

So for example, someone cuts me off in traffic,
my feelings might tell me:
“you ought to shout an obscenity at him.”
That’s not my conscience.
If I take a moment and think, my reason says: “you know that’s wrong!”
That’s my conscience.

Now, what this makes clear
is that the conscience relies on reason and knowledge.
Which means we have a duty to
learn how to exercise reason—to think logically—
and that we fill our minds with valuable and usable knowledge
—especially knowledge of what is right and wrong.
We call that the “proper formation of conscience.”

The problem is too many times we allow the secular world to form our conscience.
We like to think we think independently, but come on….
Have you ever noticed how you all dress basically the same?
Even rebellious teens who claim they’re not conforming….
dress like other rebellious teens.

So, how should we form our conscience?
For a person who believes in Jesus Christ this must involve
seeing him for who he is.
And recognizing he taught us to follow a particular way of life,
a teaching he entrusted to the Popes and bishops
to be handed down to ever generation of Christians.
So that when I say “I’m a Catholic,”
that should mean I believe in everything the Church teaches
to be definitely true.
If that’s what I believe to be true,
then reason tells me that the teachings of Christ and his Church
have to be right at the center of my conscience,
So that any time I, as a Catholic, purposefully, or negligently,
decide not to follow the way
clearly laid out by Christ and his Church,
and instead follow the way of the world,
I am, by definition either one of two things:
NO longer truly a Catholic and follower of Christ,
or not following my conscience.

But even if we accept that we must follow the way of Christ,
there’s a second problem that came to the surface
after Vatican II and the Sixties:
questions about what the Church actually teaches.
Again, influenced by the warped Sixties values many have tried,
for the last 5 decades,
to teach a very worldly form of Christianity.
Love was largely reduced to feelings
and charity to physical or financial wellbeing.
Certainly, these things are important,
but they are not the heart of the Gospel,
nor do they give us principles to guide us on the way of the Lord Jesus.

And so Pope Benedict
calls us to not cling to the secular culture that grew out of the Sixties,
but to cling the Church,
that has continued to teach the same truth
from the year 30 AD
to the year 1962 AD,
to the year 2012 AD.
To take off the dark glasses of secularism,
and seek the grace of Christ to see with the eyes of faith.

One important example where there is so much confusion
is in the area of doctrine called “Social Justice.”

In particular, many today will argue that the Catholic Church teaches
that we have a special duty to take care of the poor.
That’s very true.
But a lot of folks leave out the fact that the Church also
condemns envy, class warfare, burdensome taxes and socialism,
and upholds the right to property
and defends capitalism.

Some will remind us the Church says everyone has a right to basic healthcare,
and that’s true.
But some forget that the Church also
rejects big government bureaucratic solutions to problems,
and teaches that we should always, whenever possible,
leave it to families and local communities
to organize solutions to problems
—the principle of subsidiarity.

Many remind us the church defends the right of workers to organize into unions,
but forget that the church condemns forced union membership
and the corruption of unions by greed or Marxist principles and tactics.

Many rightly remind us the Church calls us to welcome immigrants,
but they forget that the Church also
teaches the right to immigrate is not absolute
and that immigrants must obey the rule of law.

There is a Social Justice doctrine in the Church,
but it is not a Secular Justice,
but a well-defined and nuanced doctrine
rooted in the long tradition of Catholic moral teaching.
And there are lots of different ways to legitimately achieve this justice
—whether it’s by so called “conservative” or “liberal” approaches.

Most importantly Social Justice doctrine is founded on basic Christian principles.
And when Catholics form their consciences and make moral choices
they must follow these Catholic principles
—not their gut feelings, or ideological talking points.

The very first of these principles (of Social Justice)
is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
From this principle flows two other basic principles:
“honor you mother and father”,
and “thou shall not commit adultery.”
Marriage is the foundation of all society,
so if we have no justice in the family,
if family—as God defines it—is warped or corrupted,
there can be no justice in society.
So that anyone who tries to corrupt family
—either by supporting deviant sexual lifestyles
or by redefining what a marriage is—
violates the most basic principles of social justice.

The principle to “love your neighbor” also leads to a second basic principle:
“thou shall not kill”, or:
“you shall not intentionally kill innocent human life.”
This has to be right at the center of the Catholic conscience.
Friends, unborn babies are “innocent human life” par excellence.
So the popes continually remind us that our first act of social justice
must be to protect the lives of unborn babies.
You have no rights if you don’t have the right to life.
And if you can deny his right to life,
what good does it do to prohibit discrimination against him,
or to guarantee his access to health care?

Now, of course, I just gave you are the 4th, 5th and 6th commandments.
These really do form the most basic principles for moral decisions
—of forming our consciences.
Secondary and tertiary principles and are important,
but only when you apply these first principles consistently.

Unfortunately, this understanding of conscience
is rejected by most Catholics in American today.
One excellent, or terrible, example of this is our Vice President, Joe Biden.
Now, I’m not in the habit of calling out individual Catholics by name,
but Mr. Biden has been publicly using his Catholicism
to woo Catholic voters,
while at the same time publicly undermining Catholic teaching.

And so he embraces the redefinition of marriage, so call “gay Marriage.”
And he emphatically supports the right to abortion.
And he supports the president’s attack on the conscience of all faithful Catholics,
the denial of our religious liberty,
as he tries to force Catholics employers to provide health insurance
to employees to pay for
contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization.
How ironic:
he insists on his right to “follow his conscience”
in disobeying the church’s teachings,
even as he denies the right of the rest of us to follow our consciences
in obeying those teachings.

All this shows a sad state of affairs in the Catholic Church today.
And it points to the reason Pope Benedict calls us to renew our faith in Christ,
by learning and living out what that faith entails.
And it explains why Catholic and priests have been, more and more,
trying to guide their flock to a true understanding of their moral obligations; whether in simple decisions of day to day life,
or in the life-changing decisions like voting.
And it explains why we say that some candidates and their parties
are not fit for office
because they reject the most basic requirements of justice by supporting abortion and “gay marriage”
and denying religious liberty and freedom of conscience
to faithful Catholics.

Today, the Gospel reminds us of Christ’s healing grace
that gives sight to the blind Bartimaeus.
As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
and see our merciful Lord before us in the Most Blessed Sacrament,
let us beg him to grant us the grace to learn and understand
the moral teachings of His Church.
Let us pray for the faith and courage
to re-form our consciences according to those teachings
so we may follow him along his way.
And let us cry out with Bartimaeus, with all sincerity and truth:
“Master, I want to see.”

September 30, 2012

SOCIAL JUSTICE. The Catholic Church coined the term “social justice” in the mid-1800’s as part of a systematic effort to apply traditional Catholic doctrine to address the new problems raised by the Industrial Revolution, and to counter the evil proposals advanced by Marx and other socialists, i.e., “the left.” This effort reached official “doctrinal” status when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and almost every Pope since then has weighed in to further clarify and to apply the doctrine to their own times.

Unfortunately, the doctrine has often been misunderstood, and even hijacked by the ideologies it was meant to counter, so much so that now many good Catholics identify the term with secular leftist principles. Even so, those same “good Catholics” would readily support the actual Catholic doctrine and apply it in real life. So, for example, these Catholics would have no problem with the doctrine the we must care for the poor, and would support programs that effectively and efficiently assist the truly needy, assuming it had no significant negative moral side-effects.

At least two key difficulties arise. The first is rather straightforward, arising when ideologues replace the unchanging principles of Catholic “social doctrine” with their own immoral ideological principles; e.g., redefining “marriage.” The second is more subtle, arising when the unchanging (Catholic) principles must be applied by individuals to the particular situations of their times by the use of prudential judgment. This can lead to different proposed solutions to the same problem, each being morally valid but not necessarily equally successful; e.g., one person might try to address poverty by giving a man a fish, another might try by teaching a man to fish.

SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE COMING ELECTION. Three key principles that form the basic foundation of Catholic social doctrine are the right to life, the dignity of the family, and freedom of religion and conscience. In the last month two bishops spoke out on the effect of these principles on the coming election. Allow me to quote from them at length:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois (Catholic Times, September 23, 2012):

“Much attention was given at the Democratic National Convention held recently in Charlotte, N.C., …In 1992 Presidential candidate Bill Clinton famously said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” That was the party’s official position until 2008. Apparently “rare” is so last century that it had to be dropped, because now the Democratic Party Platform says that abortion should be “safe and legal.” Moreover the Democratic Party Platform supports the right to abortion “regardless of the ability to pay.” Well, there are only three ways for that to happen: either taxpayers will be required to fund abortion, or insurance companies will be required to pay for them (as they are now required to pay for contraception), or hospitals will be forced to perform them for free.

“Moreover, the Democratic Party Platform also supports same-sex marriage, recognizes that “gay rights are human rights,” and calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

“…There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding “political” and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins…

“So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin…. One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils…

“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia (National Catholic Reporter, “Chaput in Philly swims against ‘nostalgia and red ink,’” Sept. 14, 2012, interview with John L Allen Jr.).

“Reporter: …Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
“AB Chaput: I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

“Reporter: What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
“AB Chaput: Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. … You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, I’m speaking only for myself, but I think that’s a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but it’s certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.

“The Ryan budget isn’t the budget I would write. I think he’s trying to deal with the same issue in the government I’m dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone who’s actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them…It’s immoral for us to continue to spend money we don’t have. I think that those persons who don’t want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.”

DON’T FORGET THE PARISH PICNIC TODAY from 1pm to 4pm! All are welcome!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles