Friday, August 30, 2013

Medical Ethics: An Absent Church, God

With the advent of possible military action in Syria as well as a number of other issues, the HHS mandate and the controversy surrounding it has shifted to the background. As we began our medical ethics class I recalled the words of Cardinal George (Chicago) where he said,

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? ...  A faithful ministry must choose between selling itself to a non-Catholic group, paying “exorbitant annual fines” until going bankrupt, breaking its ties to the Church’s “moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop,” or closing down. ...

[Its] long-term effect is that the Catholic Church will be stripped of the institutions that are her instruments for public service. ...

This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain. (courtesy of Lifesite news, Feb 2012)

He also said,

What is touted as “progressive” turns out to be the sinful ways that the Church first confronted publicly two thousand years ago. At the present moment, Catholics in this country are facing challenges to our institutional existence and our mission that we thought would never arise here. Real personal liberty is possible interiorly, but it is less than authentic if public liberty is curtailed more than is necessary for the common good. (Changes on the Horizon) also wrote that Cardinal George, "urged people to purchase a copy of the Archdiocesan directory “as a souvenir,” pointing to the page containing a list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions. ... “Two Lents from now [2014], unless something changes, that page will be blank.”
Certainly a living voice in the Church today.

The Church will stand against such injustice to the point that she may very well disappear. It may very well fade from public life. It could fade from private life too. Out of sight, out of mind. We have, however, a precedent about this type of situation in Scripture. God remains silent or, rather, his wrath is meted out by the self-destructive tendencies we adopt for ourselves.

"Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widows cause does not come to them" (Is 1:23).

Politicians "evolve" their notions of what is right and just at seemingly opportune times. Those who claim success are not warriors of justice or right but the tools and objects of ambition. Given a false sense of worth, they find themselves to be right because they are endorsed. "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horseman ... [he will take much from you] and in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you on that day" (1 Sam 8: 11, 18).

Some Catholic hospitals have caved in to such pressures, seeking to procure honor for being "understanding" to the demands of abortion, contraception, and the like. In order to continue their work they compromise the vision and purity of the Church for the sake of honor--and Catholicism slowly disappears from the world.

Similar to God, the Church grows silent in a place that abandons her. In those places we push God out of our lives, it's no wonder He's become silent, we don't bother to listen. Some will rejoice in the absence of God in public, but they too will no longer rejoice when they become old and marginal. They will sooner seek death and destruction before they accept that they were wrong. They will sooner find death in the world they built. Those who judge the world according to usefulness will soon become useless in the eyes of that world. "Evil will kill the wicked" (Ps 34:22a).

What are we to do then, those who seek to remain faithful? We cannot be silent, nor should we allow evil to prosper even though it may very well prosper. The gospel message carries with it power. It can convert hearts to those who listen, but we need those willing to speak it. The absence of God would seem to be unjust to those oppressed, but "near is the Lord to the broken-hearted" (Ps 34:19a). The injustice lies with those who wanted their own way and pushed God aside.

The Church absent in the world is like God being absent in the world. Jesus founded the Church to be an extension of His saving mission. We all share in His mission because of Him and because we have become a part of Him through baptism.

Benedict XVI says in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) that the "deepest nature of the Church is expressed in three-fold responsibility: proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity" (sec. 25).

The HHS mandate jeopardizes the first and the third essential aspect of the Church: public witness and exercising charity in a Catholic-Christian manner. In this sense the celebration of the sacraments is diminished because our witness to the Gospel is subdued.

The power of prayer must not be underestimated. Pray for peace in the Middle East and pray for justice in the United States.

St. Basil the Great (330-379 AD) quotes Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image and likeness." He says, "By our creation we [share in God's image], and by our free will we [share in His likeness" (On the Human Condition, sec. 16). All humanity shares in the image of God by being a rational creature. We only share in God's likeness when we endeavor to act like Him, to act like His Son: a concern for the poor, a commitment to prayer, fidelity to the Father, and loving what is good. When we do this in our own lives we dispel the mist that is so much modern thinking.

Rather, what we face is not "modern" at all. It is prideful thinking, something else that is ever-ancient and ever-new. Redefining health, life, and marriage among other things have their consequences. As we are all human we will share in these consequences, but we do not need to share in the guilt. If we give no warning, if we do not stand up for what is right, and persuade others from what is wrong with courage and gentleness we will be held just as accountable as those who commit various evils (cf. Ez 3:16-21).

"Do not grow weary of doing what is right, brothers" (Gal 6:9).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Obedience Restores Creation

Adam and Eve

“In the beginning God created heavens and the earth. … God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light” (Gen 1:1, 3). God spoke and it was made. There was no resistance, no struggle. All of creation was obedient to His word.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them” (1:26, 27). Man is created in the image of God—man is a reflection of the divine image. Man, like all things, came to be without struggle. His intelligence reflected divine intelligence, his power the divine power, and his love divine love.

Man sinned; he did not obey God. He saw what was forbidden him as “a delight to the eyes” (3:6). The woman took the fruit without struggle, the man did too. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24b). They obeyed desire without resistance. Both man and woman transgressed God's will—the first struggle in creation. While man was given Eden so he might “till it and keep it” (2:15), his labor was without resistance. The first struggle was disobedience.

God then questioned, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree which I commanded you not to eat?” (3:11). Man struggled further. He blamed the woman. She blamed the serpent. There was no acceptance of guilt, no self-accusations, no obedience. But God did not destroy when He punished them. They remained intact. God did not deform them—they remained a reflection of His image.

Man, however, would now reflect his disobedience in his life as well. His work would now reflect the struggle of disobedience. The soil would resist his will. Even his own body would resist his will. Work that was once necessary now became necessary and difficult. This was to teach man what sin is by analogy—the resistance of the world to us is a reflection of our resistance to God.

God did not destroy man: an act of love. God promised us a savior and salvation from disobedience: a second act of love. Thirdly, God clothed man and woman. He did not send them out in shame, but clothed them. Nakedness became shameful to them, since sin is a source of shame. They carried with them the guilt of their sin, but they were not exposed to shame by God. They were allowed to toil in confidence that their hard work would produce fruit and they were to enjoy the fruit of their labor without being exposed to shame. “Above all hold unfailingly to your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).

God showed how one's love for another covers the sin of another. God promised that love not only protects one from shame but restores creation to its original state. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). Love compels one to forgive, it restores the other, and it demands reciprocity—obedience—to be complete. God has given us this. To love is to obey. To obey is to carry out God's work. To carry out God's work is to share in the fruit of that work, now and forever. We have hope in all of these things through Jesus Christ.

Jesus and Mary

How? Jesus' life began by the simple “yes” of a virgin. God sent His angel to her, bearing His Word. Her “yes” was perfect obedience. There was no struggle—creation as it originally was. Christ came into this world through the cooperation of a woman with God. “Do two walk together, unless the have made an appointment? … Surely God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:3, 7). “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Mary is the servant, the God-bearer, and the obedient one. She is the new Eve because through Eve, “mother of all living” (Gen 3:20), disobedience entered creation. Through the new Eve obedience brought forth the savior. She became by her obedience to His will the “mother of all living” in the Spirit. God sought a humble woman to walk with Him, to bear the fruit of trust, love, and obedience and share in the glory of His Son's mission.
Her "yes" brought us the savior. It brought her joy and great suffering. It won her an incomparable crown since only Christ mother could suffer with her son in a unique way.

Why should the savior, God, be born of a woman? Through Jesus God came to share in humanity, through Mary man came to share in divinity through Christ. God effected the change, but He sought out man to share in His work.

Man was created in the image of God. Jesus is the perfect image of the Father. Jesus humbled Himself to be obedient to the Father. He took on flesh—He obeyed His flesh and His flesh obeyed His will.

Christ brought about salvation through obedience, and His obedience was to live as creation was meant to be. Unlike Adam, Jesus was born into a world mired in sin and death. He became like us in all things but sin. His servants, however, protected him, raised him, loved him, and worked with him. His servants Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna. His Apostles too worked alongside Him, instruments of His will yet also willing participants in His saving work.

It is Jesus who saves us, because Jesus is the God-man. Jesus showed us simultaneously the wages of sin and the path to salvation.

Creation was brought about without struggle. Jesus was like “a sheep led to slaughter … he opens not his mouth” (Is 53:7). Did creation talk back to its Creator? Yet here the Word did not talk back to men, motivated by anger, pride, envy, and fear—attendants of sin—but was obedient to their will. Christ so subjected himself to the will of sinful men that he accepted death, death on a cross.
His means of death was a sort of obedience, as he was dependent on everything else but himself. He hung there, helpless.

Man through sin distorted creation, as sin is opposed to God. Jesus placed the yoke of sin upon himself. He seemed as if he were less than any man because “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance” (Is 52: 14). Yet through the Father he was exalted and lifted up (52:13).

He suffered humiliation, torment, ridicule, pain, and death which are all the wages of sin. He did this and died. Sin forces all men into slavery. But Jesus “partook of [our] nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:14-15).

He showed us that sin has the power to enslave us but not the power to destroy. God, sending His graces upon us, stretches out His hand to meet ours. We reach out and the gift is ours. We withhold our hand and we do not accept the gift.

If God did not destroy man because of his disobedience, imagine how He glorifies us through our obedience. His son, obedient to death was raised and glorified. He promises the same to us.

We are in the midst of a struggle. Those who seek life struggle against sin and are hated by the sinful. Those who hate God are already among those who appear living but are dead. Those who pursue sin seek destruction, yet even that will not be fully given to them.

To lose one's life is to gain it—this is obedience. Obedience means to be as God intends you to be. It requires sacrifice and it requires love.

“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:8-9).

Christ has given us the Church, men who are “over you in the Lord” (1 Thes 5:13) to be a living voice of correction, a way of life, the inspiration of Scripture, the guidance of sacred Tradition, and the Spirit in every age to aid our discernment.

Denying any one of them outright is not from God, but disobedience and sin resisting God's will. God is merciful, and he bids us to show mercy. God has given us creation in order to worship Him. In denying what has been given to us, our fathers and mothers in history included, is to walk the wayward path. Those who desire control of themselves, disdaining correction, will be given over “to their stubborn hearts” (Ps 81:12). “The Lord preserves the simple” (Ps 116:6).