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What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded?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).