How is it that half of Catholic voters will vote against the mind of the Church this November? This question has kept me from sleep, so much so that I had to start writing. I have run into Catholic after Catholic who complains of the same frustration. They talk to family and friends about the election and can’t get them to understand, much less accept the Church’s teaching about voting as a Catholic, with the mind of the Church. “They just seem blinded!” I keep asking myself with the same frustration, why so blind?
I gave a homily just a couple weeks ago. The Readings compelled me to touch on the question of how a Catholic must vote. I guess I was rather straight forward and to the point. And the Holy Spirit made that easy. The theme of the Gospel was to think and act with the mind of God. After Mass, as I greeted the parishioners at the back of the Church, I was surprised at how many people appreciated the message and enthusiastically said so. One man said he had waited 10 years to hear it.
There were also some who avoided me as they made their way out. Maybe some were just in a hurry to get home to football and a good dinner. One woman though, made a point of greeting me and thanked me for Mass. And then she added, “I will NOT vote for another 4 years of war.” I nodded and said: “That’s fine, just don’t vote for evil.” She repeated her statement and left. Other parishioners explained that she was a Democrat.
I don’t get it! It shouldn’t matter what party you belong to. Faith should go deeper than a party allegiance. This is a matter of fighting to defend a fundamental and absolute moral injustice, the very right to life. Yet so many ‘good Catholics’, who faithfully attend Sunday Mass don’t see it! Why?
Blindness Has Roots
It really should not come as a surprise to us. This inexplicable condition of moral blindness has roots. America’s first Catholic President had promised in 1960 that his Faith would not affect his politics or governance. So why should a Catholic’s Faith affect their election voting? But I think the roots of the problem are deeper than a bad example, where Faith is exiled to “private life”. The hearts of many were revealed in the events of 1968.
Our family thought itself “normal” in those years. I was 11, the second oldest of five children. Four of us being boys, we did sports in the afternoons and fought at night. It seemed normal. I guess we weren’t. Three of us have become priests and my sister became, well, “a sister”. My youngest brother, in his own extraordinary and much needed vocation is getting his doctorate in psychology, maybe to try and figure out the rest of us.
After many years my dad has come to explain our vocations with one word, “fidelity”. Well before Pope Paul VI in 1968 reaffirmed the perennial Teaching of the Church against the use of artificial birth control dad and mom made a decision to accept and live by it. For dad it was an act of faith. He now feels that God has blessed the family because of their obedience. I can’t say he’s wrong.
In that same year of ‘68, in the midst of a cultural and moral revolution, the sexual revolution and media explosion, Catholics, at least in this country, began to learn that they could just “vote their conscience”. It didn’t begin at the ballot box. It began in the confessional, when many were told to simply follow their conscience in this area of moral decision, even though the mind of the Church was “made up”. “Humanae Vitae” was as clear as it was unpopular.
This lesson was learned not only in the confessional, which of course then soon became a “pre-Vatican II” practice itself, and why not, if nothing was absolutely wrong and no real solid moral teaching could be offered to help Catholics form their conscience. The same ambiguity showed itself from the pulpit. Obedience was often not modeled even by our own clergy. Of course, it was not too popular a virtue anywhere during those years. Teenagers were learning that it was “politically correct” to simply dissent and argue their own values. Rationalizing was “good reasoning”. The dictatorship of Relativism was already fogging the minds of many.
The confusion, as it is often referred to, also extended to catechesis. And that was only logical. Since teaching against the currant of modern thought was neither popular nor easy. I can recall vividly when in 9th grade Catechism class dramatically changed.
We had been blessed with instruction from religious sisters for as long as I can recall. Most of them did inspire fear. They were generally older nuns, scary at times in their dark black habits and rather stern ways. But they faithfully taught us the Truths of Faith. We knew why we were there. I remember the last sister who taught us though, was younger and really connected with us about many issues of faith and morals, including vocation. I think she was an important instrument in motivating my older brother to attend a Catholic high school the next year, for the sake of his vocation. I was still a bit blind myself, and stayed at public school one more year before being “converted” by my older brother.
It was 1971 when the change came! No one could miss it. We came to the first class of the year. It may even have been in the newly built modern looking Church; the old one was torn down. The teacher was a smiling mom who greeted us with the “6 million dollar word” that would sum up all that was taught that year, “love”.
Looking back I can’t help think that the idea was a good one. We needed to hear about love. It made sense of all that we had learned and would ever learn about Christ and his Church. But it became unfortunately a vague, meaningless concept that spoke to us more of the culture, music and antiwar sentiments than about the radical but concrete teaching of that Jewish rabbi, who was killed for claiming himself God. Feelings replaced Truth and sacrifice. Love was a word that had been hijacked by the moral relativism that was growing all around us. I don’t remember learning anything that year; “our Faith” became very boring.
The Blind Leading the Blind
In teaching, guidance, catechesis and in so many other ways, not to mention Catholic higher education… Catholics were learning to “think for themselves”. This might have been good if it weren’t for the simultaneous loss of our connection with “the mind of the Church”. You could say we were learning “to lose our minds”. If what makes us a Catholic, as opposed to other Christian denominations, is the creed, what we believe, then we were being taught to protest, to be “protestants” in some sense. It wasn’t important what the Church Magisterium said. We were free to believe, ultimately to pick and choose which things we accepted. Relativism was dictating at least what we didn’t need to think or believe.
Yes, Catholics were told to follow their conscience and that was good. But it was only half the truth. We unfortunately are not, individually at least, “infallible”. And with so many technological advances and a rapidly changing culture, moral doubts grew along with us. We also needed to be told: “FORM YOUR CONSCIENCE”. But we never heard it.
It should not have been hard to have discovered this need. But it was a time when “thinking for yourself” and having an opinion was what counted. Diversity and tolerance were the absolute values replacing Church Teaching and Truth in general. Freedom ultimately meant forming your own conscience, or better, letting it be formed, according to your own devises, your own whims or at least the whims of the world around you. The Mind of Christ was either not accessible or so allusive that it was not “teachable”. Did Jesus teach? Did he ask his Church (apostles) to teach?
Does the Church Teach?
Why didn’t someone just pick up the Gospel and notice that Jesus never once said follow your conscience? He undoubtedly understood that this was necessary; it’s the way the Father made us. But what was more urgent was to preach and teach the “mind of God”. This he did relentlessly. His words cut to the hearts of his audience. They were clear and unambiguous. “Thou shalt not kill… but I say even he who curses his brother…”
Our Lord’s teaching was often qualified by such phrases as “Amen, amen, I say to you…” And “behold, unless you do this… you shall not enter the Kingdom.” There were obviously matters that were more serious and non-negotiable for anyone who followed Jesus. St. Paul and the first Christians understood it: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2Tim1:13-14)
Why has this changed?
Well, if all that counts is that God loves us. And truth is in fact so relative that only those who try to “impose” it are to be feared. And to be mature we must “think for ourselves”, with no reference to Holy Mother Church… Then, the blindness of so many Catholics today is simply logical. There is no “mind of Christ”! Christ has become mindless.
From here the implications easily flow forth. If there is no “mind of Christ”, there is no need for a Teaching Church. And so, even the authority of Bishops is somewhat superfluous. They can be kept around to maintain some semblance of order in the organizational and operational dimensions of the Church, but they need not speak or teach.
This is a frightening reality. It hearkens back to the days of the Old Testament when Prophets were either scarce or in fact no longer sent by God to his people, because they had become blind and there hearts were hardened. (Lam2:9)
Taught Not to Listen
The real question I should be asking is “why am I so surprised at the attitudes and beliefs of so many Catholics?” They have been taught to be blind. They have learned to ignore the mindless killing of innocence for the past 35 years; that’s half his life for a 70 year old and the entire life of a parent of grade school children.
They have been taught to become indifferent to the Genocide, the new Holocaust; (we have all become necessarily more insensitive to ‘legal murder’ in our own society.) They have been taught by the culture to look the other way, to turn off their minds. They have been taught that it is more important to respect the right to choose evil than to do all we can to save the life of an innocent child. They have been taught that only they have the final say as to what is right and wrong in life and that neither the Church, nor even Jesus himself can help them know. They have been taught that man fixes his own problems as best he can while God looks on helplessly. They have been taught to feel, to fear and to follow their conscience but they have forgotten how to think, to be led (“e-ducare”) and how to believe the voice of Christ resounding in his Church, echoed by his divinely appointed Shepherds, in an uninterrupted 2000 years of Teaching.
To ignore the moral imperative to defend life, of both mother and child, to consider it just one among many issues or to sheepishly leave it up to proven blind judges and politicians is at least blind ignorance and at most cowardice. But one thing it is NOT, is Christian! Christians must act. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.”
(Lk 11:28) We have been given sight, faith. “To those to whom more is given, more will be demanded.” And we will be judged more harshly, because we have been told the Master’s Will. (Lk 12:45-48)
Martyr’s Courage or Culpable Silence
Even the story of Ester, read these days in the Liturgy of the Hours, speaks directly to us. Her adoptive father Mordecai pleads that she use her position as Queen to intercede and save the innocent lives of her fellow Jews, condemned throughout the Kingdom to extermination. When she hesitates out of fear for her own well being, Mordecai sends back this reply to her (and to us):
"Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." (Esther 4:13-14)
Our Baptism has given us the royal dignity of adopted sons of the Father, heirs of the Kingdom. We are called to announce and begin building the Kingdom here and now.
Pius XII has been unjustly accused of culpable silence during the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis. Yet honest history shows that he prudently chose silence during a critical time precisely in order to safe guard the lives of those Jews and others who would otherwise have endured the vengeful wrath of Hitler. Pius XII nevertheless worked tirelessly to save thousands of Jews who were hidden in countless convents and monasteries. This of course entailed serious risks for the Catholics “defenders of Life”.
This time in history, mirrors that of Pius and Hitler. The crisis proved one to be a murderer and the other to be a saint. But how many were guilty of culpable silence? How many did nothing to save lives? Just as Pope Pius XII as the spiritual and moral world leader of our Church (and world) is judged on a careful and demanding scale, so too Catholics today will be someday judged. And we will be judged more strictly than any of our fellow Americans, Republican or Democrat. We should know better!
There were undoubtedly many other issues at the time of the Holocaust. Do any of them compare? Do any of them carry the same weight of judgment? Was anyone ever hunted down years later because of those issues?
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once called this the “Catholic Moment”. The test of our faith will be on November 4th . What will we teach the world? Will we profess our faith as countless martyrs have for the past 2000 years? Will the most basic Teaching of Jesus Christ evangelize a seemingly blind and deaf world? Or will we fade into a dead culture (or culture of death), becoming assimilated by a wave of relativism that pretends not to know better. This is the Catholic moment!
Jesus died to give us the Truth. He is that Truth. Today the Church dies to give the same gift of Truth and Life to the world.
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