Saturday, May 25, 2019

Value of life - harm of abortion - what to do?

Life is generally recognized as a value. On that basis, death is seen as a loss; so abortion then could also be seen as a loss. Does that mean that clergy should preach vigorously and frequently against abortion and in favor of defending and protecting life from conception to the grave?

I view this question as simplistic in a way. We don't live in a vacuum or in static time. For centuries the clergy in most places on Earth were very straightforward on moral issues, with the result that there were very strong taboos against abortions, and everyone believed that they are wrong.

As people in the West left the Church from the 1950's through the 1990's - to the point that in Québec most French churches with a capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 people (and where 5 to 8 Sunday Masses used to bring 5,000 to 12,000 people, adults, teens, children, and elders every Sunday of the year) now only see a few hundred people at one Mass on any given Sunday. Ethnic and English language parishes have fared better generally, but they have also declined, especially in recent years.

Vatican Council II (1962-1965) brought a different approach to preaching. For centuries people would hear series of sermons on specific themes, such as moral issues; with the general effect over time that all the serious thinking was done by "specialists" or "professional religious". Meanwhile what was neglected was the ability of the faithful to think for themselves and discover on their own the truth of the Gospel and of the Church's Tradition.

Sermons were now to be replaced by "homilies", which were to be reflections on the Word of God with a view to take up what had been neglected for centuries, namely, accompanying the faithful on the journey of faith in a personal relationship with the living God, the most Holy Trinity, through the development and equipping of their conscience; so that all might "put on the mind of Christ" as St. Paul regularly taught.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5

"For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16

"Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." Romans 13:14

"You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the nw self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24

We are called to set aside the old, depraved way of living and in its place embrace the new life exemplified by Christ Jesus and offered to us by Him, patterning ourselves after his example and dedicating ourselves to a life of faith and devotion, love, forgiveness and mercy, truth and service. Colossians 3

The one who brings conviction to our consciences is the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, and the One who reminds us of all the truth as taught and witnessed by Jesus, and who gives light to mind, heart, and soul to understand all things as God understands them.

It was often felt that from the early 1800's to the mid-1950's that the Church barged into people's consciences and decided for them, with the result that we had a fairly uniform and complacent society in which only the most desperate and disobedient and distant would dare to seek out an abortion. The orphanages were full of abandoned children who at least survived their own birth.

If we are to give the benefit of the doubt that clergy were motivated by genuine love for the people, then we can only surmise that this more authoritarian approach was taken because they were unable or found it difficult to form people in their consciences or ultimately to trust them to abide by their own consciences. It was more direct and perhaps felt to be simpler to dictate to people's consciences and just tell them what to do and what to avoid.

The rather uniform collective behavior typical of these closed societies was more a function of conformity, but not necessarily a deliberately chosen morality or or enthusiastically sought after sanctity. Societies become "closed societies" when there is a general consensus and desire or need to do all that is possible in order for the collectivity to survive and carry on its way of life and values. These mechanisms are much more about society than about the Church, sociology not theology.

As a result the society has generally turned away from the Church as a moral or spiritual guide and in seeking answers and meaning people are going anywhere but to the Church or Christianity or the Word of God. That is why our Diocese, as with all the others, is at a point of going back to basics, to how Jesus himself began his ministry, namely, a personal relationship with God the Father in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

We have no choice but to follow Jesus and imitate the Master. He did not snuff out the smoldering wick nor break the bent reed, but instead proclaimed a good news. He only spoke in judgement against those who tried to prevent the little ones from coming to Jesus. He himself said that He came not to judge but to save.

There are those even today, and they are not few, who would want the clergy to go back to going on crusades against abortion. The problem is that those who go to Church today generally do so because they want to. For the most part, they already know that abortion - among other acts - is wrong or a great harm, because they are listening to the Holy Spirit. They perceive that gentle voice within their conscience, each to the varying degrees of their development of conscience. The ones who are being fooled into thinking that abortion is just a procedure and that what is taken out during an abortion is merely "a lump of flesh", and not a human life, are far less likely to be in Church at any time but are very numerous and most likely not in Church but "out there".

It is a commonly held view that, as a result of this high handed and authoritarian approach "laying down the law" and condemning lists of sinful behaviours, we shoved the Holy Spirit out of the way by preaching fire and brimstone from the pulpit. The fruits are that we alienated a whole population away from God because we were no longer preaching the good news as Jesus intends.

We are not going back to fire and brimstone because it doesn't work. We don't avoid preaching on moral issues, but the primary focus is on the good news of God's love and mercy. Once people begin to really understand that God loves them, that Jesus died in order to offer them a new way of life, and to accept God's love and mercy as a free gift; then love supernaturally prompts them to want to love God back and to avoid offending Him.

People are thinking for themselves now, whether we like it or not, and they feed on whatever they can find on the Internet for the most part. There are new waves of evangelists, Catholic as well as from all of the other Christian denominations, who proclaim this good news of God's love coupled with his call to repentance. It is good that in our churches we echo this proclamation of the kerygma, of the essential teaching which Jesus initiated and exemplified in his life, preaching, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit.

We also reach out to the general population who, for the most part, are not going very often if at all to any church, through "40 Days for Life" when Pro-Life people hold placards near abortion clinics and manage to reach a few people but also bear the brunt of contempt from others. This is an action in which all can take part, a work of mercy accessible to all. It is not difficult for anyone to get in touch with their local Pro-Life organization such as Campaign Life Coalition in Canada or to simply go through the "40 Days" website. Here is the webpage for Montreal, Québec, Canada.

We pray. We preach the good news as well as we can. We try to form missionary disciples who give witness out in the world to the truth, the way, and the life, and whenever possible, engage in chats about moral issues to accompany people in their searching. Anyone can take their relationship with God more seriously and make a point to pray every day, and even several times a day.

Unless more young men find the courage in God's love to answer Jesus' call to follow Him as bearers of his priestly ministry, in a short time our parishes will no longer have priests to celebrate the Sunday Liturgy, at all; so this issue of insisting on the evils of abortion from the pulpit will be moot. We are all responsible to pray for vocations - for those whom God is calling to the priesthood, or to religious life, or to consecrated virginity, celibacy for the kingdom of God, and of course, Marriage / Matrimony and family life.

Our Archbishop is right. This is not our Church, but the Church of Jesus Christ. We all need to listen to Him, because He is the Master and Lord, and no one else. It is not up to us to devise strategies for resolving the Church's and the world's issues and problems. Jesus is the King, and He needs willing and obedient (listening) servants, soldiers, friends, and missionary disciples.

In light of this perspective, like Saint Paul and the other apostles, we realize that we live here in exile and that our true home is heaven, the kingdom of God, which is already begun on Earth in the minds, hearts, and souls of believers, and in whom God has already begun to reign. Jesus declared "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3

Our duty to the state is to obey its laws and to pray for its leaders.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:1-4

One of the state's laws relates to elections; so Christians are no different in this regard from other citizens: we have a duty to vote. We can try to vote for candidates who support life and oppose abortion; however, it is not beyond some candidates to manipulate these issues as well. Our Church teaches us that we are to employ our minds and hearts and vote the best we can according to our conscience. We are no longer in the days when clergy reminded people that heaven was blue and hell was red in reference to the colors of the two major parties of the day. To the best of their ability, citizens need to hold accountable those who stand for public office, are elected, and carry the mantle and burden of authority and public service.

When we cannot find candidates who are on record for supporting life, we can prick their consciences by writing them with all due respect and kindness, to try to open up dialogue on these issues. We can become a catalyst for change for the good.

Some will cancel their vote when they find no pro-life candidate; while others will vote for the lesser of possible evils. No one can or should dictate such outcomes, in my opinion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers common sense guidelines to assist the faithful in their deliberations before voting in public elections. When there are no other options, it may be reasonable to vote for the lesser of possible evils in accord with the short list of available candidates.

From what we can see here in Canada, our southern neighbor, the American Church, has been much more aggressive in dictating to the consciences of the faithful, going so far as to excommunicate RC politicians who voted for abortion services, just to give one example. However, the general failure of the American episcopate to properly manage the clergy sex abuse has now had an adverse effect on the consciences of the general population, both Catholic and non-Catholic. The more strident the clergy have been against abortion, the more people are losing respect for that voice.

The role of the clergy is to accompany people and help them form their conscience, not to try to manipulate public behavior and policy with "moral strong arm tactics". Jesus did not come into our world to initiate "power plays" either in secular government or in religious leadership. Rather, Jesus came to appeal to individual consciences to welcome his Father's love and turn away from evil.

We need to take our cues from the Master. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, simultaneously sitting at the Father's right hand and dwelling among us here on Earth. He is King of the nations. He is the only Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, the beloved Son of the Father, and the Father's command to us is: "Listen to his voice."

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Christians, like Jesus Christ, have always been hated

Much is said and written these days about the anomalous fact that the majority of peoples suffering persecution all over Planet Earth in our day are Christians. Perhaps not surprisingly, it appears to have always been so. It is believed that the following "Letter to Diognetus" was written in the second century A.D. It is astounding to see how relevant even today, almost two millennia later, the author's observations remain pertinent today. 

While individual Christians actually manifest human weakness and do not always follow perfectly the example of their Lord Jesus in the face of persecution, hatred, and suffering; Christians generally tend to eventually rise to the occasion as individuals, and as a collective body, they do effectively make Christ visible in each generation. This would be the most dramatic way in which the Christian faith continues to give witness to the presence and action of the risen Christ in every time and place. 



The Christian in the world

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. 

Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. 

Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. 

A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. 

As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. 

Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. 

The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. 

As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.