Sunday, May 27, 2018

CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES: a homily on Trinity Sunday, May 27th, 2018

            Friday was a day of choice.  It is a privilege of our democratic constitutional system that we get to vote on changes to the fundamental law of the land.  Our people voted and they made a choice.  Every choice, no matter how small has consequences many of them unseen. There will be consequences to the choice our people have made whether we like those consequences or not.  
            This was not a vote about being Catholic but a vote about respecting that objective moral order about which I have spoken to you before.  Our nation has voted to reject that objective moral order.  It has chosen to remove the protection on the life of the unborn child and so to give the government a free hand in legislating for abortion. It has done so with such a majority that the same government may feel free to go further than they claimed they would go.
            One consequence of the vote will  definitely affect every one on this island but not immediately.  Within the last few weeks Minster Zappone herself announced that she was going to take action to try to stop the decline in the nation's birthrate.  This is a problem that has been there since the 1980's mind you.  The problem with our birthrate is not ours alone; it affects all advanced nations.  It is due to many reasons but the technology that has allowed it to happen is primarily that of contraception and surgical and chemical abortion. This will mean that the day will come, about twenty to thirty years from now, when there will not be enough young people in the population to support all the old people.  No one knows how this will play out because never before have we been able to observe whole nations go down this path together. We do know that such events have lead to the collapse of whole empires in the past. It happened to the Romans.  
            It's because of that prospect that there's already talk of raising the age at which people retire.  It's one of the reasons that there's so much emphasis on private pension schemes.  It is also why there's a push to bring in euthanasia.  I would've thought it was obvious that you don't save a sinking ship by poking holes in the hull and then trying to plug them.
            Friday's vote means that for those of us who are Catholic we too must make a choice.  If it wasn't obvious to you before it should be glaringly obvious now that 'Catholic Ireland' has been dead for some time.  Not just Catholic Ireland but even the capacity to reason about right and wrong seems to have left us.   We have only ourselves to blame though some may carry more blame than others.
            We are now a minority Faith on this island.  There was a time when everyone went to Mass.  Many went because they believed but some went to be seen and others so no would talk about them.  The Church was as part of Irish society as the GAA, the pubs and the national school.  There is still a certain amount of that.  It is called 'cultural Catholicism' where the Faith is not embraced but simply worn like a badge of identity, an expression of a brand of Irishness like wearing green on Patrick's day.  It is cultural Catholicism that makes an avowed atheist think that he can be a sponsor for someone's Confirmation.  
            The 'cultural Catholics' may still hang around but we will have to offer them a choice: "Take the Faith seriously or move on."  We can't afford to carry those who don't really care, who don't really believe.   I'm not talking about those who struggle with sin. We all struggle with sin.  I am talking about the superficial Catholics, sometimes called 'a la carte' or 'pick'n'mix' Catholics.  About those who can't be bothered to be one thing or the other our Lord Himself has said: "I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3.16)
            Our choice is whether we take our faith seriously or not.  It's a choice about whether we allow our Faith to touch every aspect of our lives and our behaviour or not.  There's much that must change in the Irish Church but not in the way some may want it.  We cannot go back to the 50's but we can live the Faith handed down to us from the Apostles, the Faith lived by St Anthony of Padua, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa and all the saints.  We can take the Gospel and the teachings of the Church seriously and put them into practice or we can walk away.  That is the real choice before us and it will have its own consequences.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

TO KNOW THE NATURAL LAW IS TO KNOW THE MIND OF CHRIST: a homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B.

An atheist was visiting the South Sea Islands.  While there he commiserated with a Chieftain on how Christianity had damaged his culture.  The Chieftain listened patiently and then said “You see this rock? Before the Christians came I would have killed you with it and eaten your brains.  It is because of the Christians that you are still alive.”  Christianity had taught his people not to treat strangers as enemies but as human beings  
Today there is an attempt to force religion and via religion morality into the private sphere.  But neither religion nor morality are private matters.  We cannot be Catholic only in private or only on some issues.  It is all or nothing.  While there are many areas over which Catholics can disagree with one another e.g. immigration, taxation, water charges etc., the fundamental moral teaching is not for negotiation.  But here I must make an important clarification.
The Church does not get her moral teaching from Revelation (that which has been revealed to us above all through Christ and His Apostles) but rather Revelation affirms, expands and deepens what we already know by reason.  By reason you and I know that it's wrong to take what does not belong to you, to have sex with someone to whom one is not married or to kill an innocent human being.  Just laws are based on such moral principles; that's what makes them just.  It's because we know it is wrong to steal that we have so many laws punishing burglary, shop-lifting, pick-pocketing, fraud and plagiarism.  An act is wrong not because it is against the law.  If it is against the law it ought to be so because it is wrong.  Law also functions to teach people right from wrong.  We show compassion in how we apply the law not in how we frame it.
We can know right from wrong by reason because there exists outside ourselves and our societies an Objective Moral Order.  It is Objective because it is real and not subject to our feelings or opinions. It is Moral because it governs our free actions as self-conscious and sentient beings.  It is an Order because it has a structure and a hierarchy.  This Objective Moral Order is usually called the Natural Law.  
Revelation affirms this Natural Law.  We must not confuse the Natural Law with the Laws of Nature.  The Laws of Nature are what rule the physical world and are studied through the disciplines of science: physics, chemistry and biology.  The Natural Law is what rules the moral world.  The Ten Commandments are a condensation of that Natural Law.  There is a lot more to right and wrong but most of Catholic moral teaching is an ‘unpacking’ of those Ten Commandments.  
Of course as we have just heard our Lord added another commandment that we love one another as He has loved us.  This we could not know by reason but only by Revelation.  It required revelation for us to know about the importance of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, of imitating Christ in His humility and obedience.  This is why our Lord said that not one iota, not one little dot, of the Law would be changed and that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil, that is, complete it.
The Natural Law is known not so much by experiment (unless all of human history can be understood as an experiment) but it is perceived by reason reflecting on what it is to be human and on the experience of conscience.  Conscience is that capacity of the soul to reflect on and examine our actions, to hold them up to inspection and judge them.  Conscience is not infallible but it is a capacity that we must form and foster, educate and nurture so that it becomes ever more sensitive.  The best education and formation a conscience can get is to be informed by the Word of God in the Catholic Faith.  Indeed to listen to an educated and well-formed conscience is to place one’s ear next to the mouth of God. 
It is conscience that tells us about the demands of the Natural Law.  For instance, conscience tells us, without too many arguments or without much thought, that it is always wrong to deliberately and directly take an innocent human life.  That is why we expect a man to go to prison for killing his neighbour but not for killing his neighbour’s dog.  The fact that we are fallen of course has shaped how different societies have understood that Law.  The more civilised the society the wider the understanding of the sanctity of human life has become. Christianity has widened our understanding of ‘innocent human being’ to the utmost.  Yet there remains a constant battle against those who would narrow that understanding again, who would push us back to barbarism.   
Much of our legal tradition was based on this Natural Law but that is being dismantled and rejected.  It does not suit the intelligentsia, the social engineers and ideologues who run our world.  Where once society held up the virtues for us to emulate and extolled moral goodness now we are subjected to the idolatry of personal freedom and the monstrous worship of depravity.   This goes hand in hand with the rejection of Christ and His Church.  One cannot behave as one wishes and still hold to an objective moral order, a Natural Law, nor can one hold to Christ and His Church.  Reject the Natural Law and one necessarily rejects Christ.
There is a battle for the soul of our own nation.  That is where the matter of the Eight Amendment to our Constitution comes in.  Either we give glory to God, proclaim His Truth and uphold what He has established or we deny Him by our silence and inaction.  The Nazis and Communists came to power in various countries because the good stood by and did nothing when they had a chance to make a difference.  The moral order in our society is under revolution and we are called to action.  A soldier who sits in the trench during a battle might as well be siding with the enemy.  It is not just a matter of voting in the right way or for the right politician.  If we do not speak up and get involved in resisting the evil that is threatening our country and the lives of the most vulnerable then we risk forfeiting Heaven.  We cannot expect a welcome from God if we have stood by and allowed His children to be murdered.  


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