I field a fairly regular question these days, and it goes something like this: “Bishop, what are the bishops going to do about…the HHS Mandate, or the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act, or religious liberty, or about the growing support for same sex marriage?” Obviously, there is no simple or immediate answer to such questions, but it begs a broader base of responsibility than the bishops alone.
First, it is important to know that the Bishop’s Conference has taken a very strong, public stance on a number of fronts, especially in promoting our right as a church and as individual people of faith to freely exercise our religion, privately and publicly. Second, there is a clear legal strategy making its way through the court system challenging the legality of the HHS mandate. A simple visit to the USCCB website will reveal the host of other ways in which your Catholic Conference of Bishops is leading on these many fronts.
There are a great many cultural issues being discussed, debated, and promoted today that fly in the face of our faith and Catholic teachings. The problem is not that people do not know or understand what the Church teaches. (Therefore, the solutions rest beyond the simple thought that the bishops alone can solve this problem.) I think the primary concern is that so many people want the voice of the Church silenced in these very public discussions. If people can convince themselves (or be left to their illusion) that there is no God, then there is no ultimate truth, no overarching moral law, and then everyone is free to do whatever they choose, as long as it does not hurt someone else.
For example, marriage is one of the longest standing institutions of human history. Why is it at this point in history we now need to broaden the definition of marriage? It is because so many people today reject the Truth. “Their senseless minds have been darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Marriage does not need to be redefined. Marriage simply needs to be respected. All of us are called to recognize God’s creation, the natural law inherent in creation, and the moral law given by God.
We are facing a serious cultural shift in our nation, indeed, in many parts of the world today. More and more people seem to favor the philosophy that allows everyone to do what they wish without any judgment. This is a false understanding of human freedom. Our Catholic, Christian belief tells us that we are created by God and for God, and our true freedom is found in our relationship with God and living in a manner that respects this relationship above all else. Human freedom is the pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful. The Author and Origin of Life, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is God.
My primary role as bishop in the midst of these cultural issues is to continue to preach the Gospel and to teach the faith. Our common goal as a people of faith is to live our faith. Granted, it is difficult to live faith in a time that it finds less and less respect. However, Jesus promised that if we follow Him, we will need to take up our cross. As a people of faith, I challenge all of us to spend a little more time on our knees in prayer. I challenge all of us to greater fidelity in regular attendance at Sunday Mass and reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. I challenge all of us to devote more time to studying and learning our faith.
If we are going to change our culture, we must begin by changing the present culture of our faith-practice, because fundamentally, the crisis of culture today is a crisis of faith. To a large extent, the liberal philosophy of the day is doing a good job of painting Christ and His Church as irrelevant. Does our faith-practice mirror that depiction?
How are each of us called to deeper conversion of life? Are you active in your parish? Are your children enrolled in a Catholic School or religious education program? Do you go to Mass every weekend as a family? Does your life revolve around faith or something else? Are you doing your best to know and live what the Church teaches? In the words of the Gospel, are we growing rich in what matters to God? (Luke 12:13-21)
St. Catherine of Siena teaches that worldly people fall into wickedness because they have left God. (Dialogue, #100) That seems to be the reality still today. So, changing our present worldly reality, begins with our remaining close to God.
St. Catherine also teaches that we are to leave judgment up to God. She writes of God speaking to her:
When you cannot see clearly and openly whether the sin is deadly, you must not pass judgment in your mind, but be concerned only about my will for that person. And if you do see it, you must respond not with judgment but with holy compassion. For you cast contempt on your neighbors when you pay attention to their ill will toward you rather than my will for them. Such contempt and scandal alienates the soul from me, blocks her perfection, and to some extent deprives her of grace… (Dialogue #100)
Even though we as a people of faith disagree strongly with some of the current cultural trends and shifts of our day, let us first be strong in our own belief and practice of faith. Called to love and respect our neighbor, we are also called to do whatever is in our power to help our culture recover a moral foundation. We can lead only when we ourselves are firmly rooted in Christ.
I will close with the encouraging words of Psalm 37:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil: If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. Be still before the Lord and wait in patience. The patient shall inherit the land. The sword of the wicked is drawn, his bow is bent to slaughter the upright. Their sword shall pierce their own hearts and their bows shall be broken to pieces.
The Lord will support the just.0