Christian Life/Personal Holiness: July 2009 Archives

Duty to the Truth


"To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity."

Pope Benedict XVI--Caritas in Veritate (1)

There are two points I would make regarding this short quotation. First, "to bear witness to it in life." The individual is called not merely to know, defend, and speak the truth, but to live it--a call much more profound and difficult. And secondly, the triumvirate of activities comprises "exacting and indispensable forms of charity." Indispensable.

Enough said.

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Four words to those who would be wise: get it, read it. The three excerpts below act as impetus, review, and my own personal sendoff. It is a book I should (but probably won't) re read immediately.

from Render Unto Caesar
Archbishop Charles Chaput

In our day, sanctity-of-life issues are foundational--not because of anyone's "religious" views about abortion, although these are important; but because the act of dehumanizing and killing the unborn child attacks human dignity in a uniquely grave way. Deliberately killing the innocent is always, inexcusably wrong. It sets a pattern of contempt for every other aspect of human dignity. In redefining when human life begins and what is and isn't a human person, the logic behind permissive abortion makes all human right politically contingent. (p. 207)

The lessons of this quasi-religious creed, Brooks suggested, are two: First, "if you really wanted to supercharge the nation, you'd fill it with college students who constantly attend church, but who are skeptical of everything they hear there"; and second, always try to be "the least believing member of one of the more observant sects." (p. 213--referring to current the trend in current American Catholic practice.)

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple--to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn't one "right" answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision not church policy. (230-231)

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Contra Anti-voting

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I have read in places where live the wise and the thoughtful a variety of opinions about the efficacy and necessity of voting, and I have always questioned the wisdom of those who hold that one vote, my vote, or any single vote, really doesn't matter or make a difference to the outcome of an election. I must confess that mathematically such a proposition is really indisputable. In an election involving millions, my single vote will not decide the election.

However, in a spiritual and a societal sense, this form of thinking seems nearly suicidal. The action of voting, of placing that mathematically meaningless vote, if done in accord with a conscience informed by the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church has spiritual repercussions that cannot possibly be calculated. It is true of any action taken in accord with God's will, and it remains true in the exercise of the franchise.

from Render Unto Caesar
Archbishop Charles Chaput

In one of their early confrontations, King Henry VIII taunted Bishop John Fisher, the great bishop-martyr of the English Reformation who remained faithful to Rome and opposed Henry's marriage to Anne Bolyen, with this remark: "Well, well, it shall make no matter. . . for you are but one man." Catholics face the world's same taunting today: the temptation to think that society is too far gone, that our problems are too complex for any of us to make a difference. But one person can always make a difference--if that person believe in Jesus Christ and seeks to do his will. We're not called to get results. We're called to be faithful.

Next time we are tempted to think that our vote doesn't matter or doesn't make a difference or doesn't effect the outcome--it would be good to remind ourselves that a vote carelessly made is a grain of sand dropped into a pond, but a vote made after prayer, communion with God, and in accord with a well-formed conscience is like dropping a boulder into a pool. We may not get our candidate elected, but we will have made a difference and we can continue to agitate and act, become the thorn in the side for those who rode to election on the careless votes of others. We become then, for the world, the constant "agenbite of inwit," an irreconcilable and relentless reminder of the duty of our officials to serve the common good even if they will not willingly serve God.

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More on I Corinthians 13


Writing to a correspondent this morning, I realized how little I've actually been able to share of some of my reflections. The question came up that if Jesus exemplified love, what are we to make of the incidents of the money-changers in the temple and Jesus calling the Pharisees "white-washed sepulchres." Was this patient? Kind?

I think those are excellent questions and they have sparked this short rejoinder to continue some thinking and praying through 1 Corinthians 13.

My first point is that the language of the passage is neither hyperbole nor can it be taken in a literal sense without contextualization. What does it mean to be patient? To be kind? What does it mean to "endure all things?" Does that mean that one stands by while the holocaust occurs because you love all people?

As to the last, I have not yet progressed so far in my reflections. However, to the former, I might have some suggestions as to how the words can be interpreted in a context. Certainly patience refers to endurance and being faithful through trial. Perhaps when we read "Love is patient," we can substitute as a near, but incomplete equivalent, "Love never loses hope." That is, the patient subsists in abiding with a person one loves with the expectation that ultimately the goal will be reached and we will all see salvation. I do NOT think it means that one abides with a person in the constant hope that our love will change them in some human fashion. I think the patience is patience unto eternity, not unto mere Earthly change, although we may never stop praying and hoping for that as well. To give an example, to be patient with a grumpy, ungodly person, is to hope that he or she will become a grumpy, godly person. The patience here does not necessarily entail the hope that the person become cheerful and godly--although that is not a bad thing to hope for--it isn't the necessary thing.

The next phrase, "Love is kind," might be interpreted to mean rather that love always has at heart the best interests of the beloved. That is true kindness, not simply the surface show of etiquette or hospitality. If seen in this way, the actions Jesus takes with regard to the Pharisees and moneychangers become supremely kind. If He does not shock these people into alertness, into being alive and awake, they will spend eternity in their torpor. Would it be a kindness to bless someone into Hell? Kindness also should never be confused with niceness, which as C.S. Lewis points out, can often accompany the most dastardly and evil acts. Niceness is mere surface, kindness is to the bone.

These thoughts are not definitive, nor, probably well-formed or complete. But they offer a surface view of the depth of this passage. And I hope they provoke you to going to your Bible, picking it up and spending some time with Paul--seeking understanding from this great teacher of the Church.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from July 2009.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2009 is the previous archive.

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