Monday, March 05, 2012

This Astonishing Moment

Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio, 14 year old 20th century martyr of Mexico

I've been thinking about how remarkable this moment is for the Catholic Faith; there are so many things bound up in the seemingly sudden assault on religious freedom and on the Catholic Church in particular, and what follows will certainly not do justice to it.

But there is something profound at work. If this plays out as it seems it will--events can easily intervene to short-circuit the trajectory I describe below--then we are talking about an epochal event in the life of the Church. This is no mere blip. This is huge.

Here's what I see, presented inartfully, because if I wait until I can really polish this, I may not post it for awhile, or ever...

> We have a mounting confrontation between the government--and a very significant share of the culture--of the world's pre-eminent nation, and the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Church in the U.S., while not the largest national body of Catholics, nor the most energetic or enthusiastic, is, nonetheless, one of the healthier portions of the Church worldwide. It is certainly the richest and and plays a huge role in the life of the Church.

> This is a confrontation that goes to the heart of the Faith. Because it is national, there is little or no way for the Church to evade it, to seek a work-around, as she might if it were a state battle only (as has happened many times on this very issue of contraception and abortion). The bishops have rightly sensed they must take a stand. They have, thus far, made it hard for themselves to back down.

> Here is something I find very remarkable and providential: it involves at least two parts of our Faith that have either been under serious attack, or have been neglected. It involves our Church's teaching on human sexuality, particularly contraception, and it involves the fundamental constitution of the Church as built upon, and led by, the bishops.

Let me dwell on this.

For how many years have we experienced, in the precincts of our Church, a silence, punctuated infrequently by embarrassed, half-hearted perfunctory statements, on the subject of contraception and deliberate refusal of God's gift of fertility? We clerics have said just enough to refute, technically, the charge that we are silent or do not accept Church teaching; yet the subject has been widely neglected.

For myself, I do talk about it; if you search this blog, you'll find a number of homilies. I know many other priests have done the same. Yet we have not raised this subject nearly as forcefully as we have assaults on the unborn. And very candidly, it is far, far easier to deliver a strong homily on the Real Presence or on the imminence of divine judgment than it is on contraception. Even those of us who are willing to address the subject do so aware of the eggshells we're walking on.

This moment--these events--viewed from a supernatural perspective seem to mean only one thing: God has spoken and acted. He has allowed things to transpire such that we pretty much have to do so. Sooner or later, as this plays out, it will become necessary to explain why we Catholics are making such an issue about this. We clerics are duty-bound to do so; yet meanwhile, more and more of the laity are doing so.

> At this moment, we have the advantage, such as we've never had before, of means for the laity to fill the gaps created by clerical inaction.

I am praying--and I beg you to pray--that all our bishops and priests provide exactly the sort of teaching needed. But in the meantime, the laity are well able to act without us.

Consider that we have--whether from Vatican II or prior teaching--a strong notion that the laity must be engaged and speak out. And, at the same time, cable and satellite TV and the Internet and twitter all create a climate in which that is easier to do than ever in human history.

> This is not only about contraception; it's not only about religious freedom; it's also about the constitution of the Church.

Another doctrine under assault--from within as well as without--is the governance of the Church and the teaching authority.

One can visit the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter almost daily and see yet another installment of that wretched outfit's campaign to destroy the governance of the Church which our Savior himself instituted. It is the dream of the NcR and many others to overthrow the authority of the bishops to teach and govern. The running commentary from the NcR's own readers--who have been fed these lies for so long--tells the story, unfiltered by the euphemisms and doubletalk of the NcR's editors and polished contributors: they despise the bishops and utterly reject the doctrine of the Church about her teaching office. Namely, that the bishops, together with the pope, guide the authority of the Church as a whole to teach in the Name of Christ. The NcR and others long to seize the ring of power, to appoint themselves, or some Rousseau-ian "general will" as the true teaching authority; or they claim, falsely that this has already happened, either by action of the Second Vatican Council, or by some other sort of revolution.

Make no mistake, this is a big part of what's going on, and President Obama and his allies are only too happy to join in, for their own interests.

You have folks like Sister Keehan of the Catholic Health Association who has twice ridden to the rescue of Obama, in opposition to the teaching authority of the bishops. First when the bishops were withholding support from Obama's health care bill, until sufficiently pro-life protections were included. And again, when the bishops were united against Obama's contraception mandate.

Sister Keehan is only one of many players, within the Church, who either want to overthrow the teaching office of the bishops, or else are willing, for whatever reason, to cooperate with those efforts. Please understand--I have no idea whether all these folks realize what they are doing. I cannot read hearts so I will--until I have concrete reasons to do otherwise--assume they do not realize the harm they are doing. In the case of NcR, I cannot defend them--they knowingly and explicitly advocate the downfall of the bishops' teaching authority. And when they protest against my accusation, I will point out their own, regular readers certainly see it clearly enough. The NcR has very effectively "catechized" them in this view. Read your own readers' comments, NcR editors.

So here again, note how God has superintended this battle on this very ground.

This battle forces us to grapple with the question: who exercises the teaching office? Who speaks for Christ?

> This is also a time of purification and renewal.

In all of this, much will be demanded of all of us. I don't say that as though I am there yet. I am no paragon of virtue or self-denial. But it seems clear to me that as this unfolds--again, assuming the crisis is not averted, as it may be (see below)--that all of us who must defend the Church's teaching will be called to profound conversion.

Brace yourselves. It will get bad, often in unexpected ways.

Prepare to see people you trust and count on, fail--just as the Twelve saw Judas betray the Lord and Peter deny him.

Prepare to see the enemy and his cohorts find a weakness and exploit it. Dirty laundry will be aired. Any weapon to hand. Some of us clerics who speak out will be embarrassed by the fact that we are not perfect.

Prepare for temptations to remain silent, to remain passive, to trim and to get bogged down. The enemy will seek to sow confusion among our ranks. Our leaders are not perfect and they will make mistakes in judgment and execution. If we want to find fault, we will succeed. Our leaders almost certainly will not do everything right, so it will be very easy, from the ranks, to resent they didn't do it our way.

> All that said, do not despair or be discouraged. Recall the many times our Lord--presaged by many passages from the Old Testament--warned us of such times, of being overwhelmed by fear of the situation, of family and friends turning against each other, of very dark times.

These may or may not be such times--how can I know? But there is nothing that can happen that we have not been prepared for. Remember that.

> This is a remarkable ecumenical moment. It may bear fruit such as we cannot imagine. Please pray for that!

Consider who is lining up together:

The Catholic Church
The Orthodox Churches
Many Jews
Many Muslims
Many others of various faiths, or none.

These are mighty forces who have centuries, if not millenia, of distrust and hurt to overcome. But it is so often true that, if you want to bring squabbling folks together, present them with a common enemy. The enemy has just done that.

One possible fruit of this moment could be healing of divisions within Christendom. I am not so smart nor courageous enough to predict more than that. All I can say is, you can see the forces lining up the same as I can. Make your own predictions.

> I truly believe the Obama Administration has made a fundamental mistake. The President has chosen a course that, if it plays out, will awaken and unite the Catholic Church and many other allies as a powerful force. It may be that he will realize this and find an escape route--and it may be he can still quiet down the forces he has awakened. It may not. I just don't know.

I wonder if the President doesn't cynically count on the courts to save his bacon. It may be he expects that even before the election. Then he gets the benefit of this--his allies are charged up and turn out--while his opponents relax once the danger seems to recede.

Alternately, he may have bargained for that after the election.

Or, he may even plan to give a gracious concession on religious liberty after the election, when he doesn't care so much about the outrage of his allies.

Consider this: the mandate, even with some, superficial, modifications, goes into effect. The courts (improbably but not impossibly), uphold it. Our bishops choose varying paths, but let us hopefully suppose they mostly choose either to close or sell off institutions, or else defiance (I call this more hopeful, only in contrast to the option of capitulation). Then comes the confrontation: when the fines are levied but not paid; and the Obama Administration must take enforcement action.

And here I raise a question--not being familiar with the legal issues involved--might not the Administration simply choose to refrain from enforcement? Tolerate the disobedience, and by doing so, discredit the bishops who predicted a terrible outcome? Could he not allow that to go on for some time, until our side is lulled back to sleep?

> In all this, the hand of God seems undeniable.

If you do not believe in God, or you wonder if he is largely absent from human affairs; if you wonder if the Catholic Church's claims really hold water, consider these events.

Why should this battle even be happening?

Why on this ground--over claims the Catholic Church almost alone makes?

Had this been a battle over abortion or same-sex marriage, then it would not involve claims that are uniquely those of the Catholic Church.

I predict there will be many folks who will, in these events, realize God is validating the Catholic Church--with all her blemishes and wounds--as the visible Body of Christ on earth.

Fellow Catholics, if you have ever wondered about, or doubted, the claims of our Church--if you have wondered about the teaching on contraception, if God really cared about it--then consider this moment. Why would God put his Church on trial over this issue--if it did not matter to him?

Consider what I just wrote. God is choosing to allow his Church to enter into a terrible trial...over contraception. Do you think it possible that this matters quite a lot to God?

Something momentous is at work. We may be frightened, and perhaps we should be; yet isn't there something exciting and hopeful about this as well?

Let our hearts and voices resound with the thrilling last words of the martyrs of Mexico and Spain: Viva Christo Rey!

Update 1: Welcome New Advent readers! And thanks for the Advent-alanche! Feel free to look around...)

Update 2: welcome readers from The and Over the Rhine and Into the Tiber!


Unknown said...

While I agree that Religious Freedom is the key issue here, the Catholic Church has always championed “women’s health care” through natural birth control, either by abstinence or “Natural Family Planning”.
Which is healthier for women? Taking artificial drugs that have potentially life threatening negative health consequences or using natural means that are just as effective, without any negative side effects?
Why do we allow others to dishonestly frame the argument for the government mandating insurance coverage of “artificial birth control & abortion inducing drugs” as “women’s rights” or “women’s health care?”

Ikedi said...

"Why do we allow others to dishonestly frame the argument for the government mandating insurance coverage of “artificial birth control & abortion inducing drugs” as “women’s rights” or “women’s health care?"

Because majority of Catholics place transient things before the truth that has been revealed to us by the hand of the Father through Holy Mother Church. Unless society acknowledges God as Lord over all things and seeks His ways first then society will be left to the vomit it has produced.

Anonymous said...

True indeed...40+ years of bishops, priests, and lay-people avoiding to communicate the Church's clear and beautiful teaching against contraception; Our Lord seems to be allowing this trial to, in part, make the issue unavoidable. The time for fence sitting and 'playing nice' on the subject is hopefully over.

aimee said...

Well said, Father. You've articulated well what I've been thinking. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I agree with you Father. But I must say that the liberal wing of the Church has helped to bring us to this point. The problem here is government run health care. In a private health care system, providers and patients have liberty. A Catholic provider can provide the services it deems moral and ethical. If people don't like it they can go elsewhere.

But when the government runs healthcare (which the Supreme Court will I hope hold unconstitutional), decisions are political, not moral, ethical or economic. And for too long, the Church has been a ready arm of the socialists and statists. This has been in the guise of providing to "the needy". But never forget, the socialists absolutely despise us, the Church and all of her teachings. At best, they treat Catholics as useful idiots, helping to bring around their own demise.

Also, Obama's contraception mandate is NOT about contraception. It is about control. Free contraception is readily available in this country. Go to any "family planning" office and you can get all the condoms, birth control pills, abortions and all of it gratis!

No, this is about control. The Obama administration believes that religious organizations must serve the state and do as they are told. The Obama administration recently lost in its efforts to use employment law to force a Lutheran to reinstate a minister it had dismissed for teaching false doctrine. See Hosanna-Tabor.

Kirsten said...

I am a convert. i say this because i often have...well unknowingly dragged in old views, bad teachings, etc..but at the same time i came as an adult, i read the official teachings of the church, and even if i disagree on some point i understand what the teachings ARE sometimes more than my fellow Catholics born and raised in the Church.

i have witnessed first hand the TERRIBLE catechism that passes for education. The silence of Priests on some topics (or worse the active heresy!) my own RCIA class had a priest try to tell us that married priests were soon to be thr norm and womenbpriests were "inevitable" in the church, and was shocked when the three protestant children of ministers united in saying "NO WAY".

i have also seen people driven from the church by people who stridently upheld the (true) church position, but without charity, or explanation, or even an attempt at anything but "OMG! you are not a REAL CATHOLIC! get off our forum!" (which almost lost ME from the church , but for the grace of the Rosary.....

there are several things i see that MUST be done:
1. dont water down the teachings in RCIA or church school. but be prepared for the person who needs to discuss, or learn, or doesnt understand. but DO NOT avoid the topic for fear of discussion.

2. emphasis a daily prayer and study life. its not emphasized enough in education here. the Rosary, Bible reading, study grroups (with a well catechized leader) but especially the Rosary...

3. for the love of heaven, when one who claims authority (like a sister, a priest, or a brother) preaches heresy.. actively TEACHES heresy.. get them off the public stage! fair enough to give them a warning, but if they will not at least SHUT their mouth, then excommunicate them . to do otherwise divides the authority of the church at the time we need it unified the most.

jayeverett said...

God does not sit back and watch the Catholic Church being tried by evil forces. God is with each and everyone of us at all times ready to help us. So get off your rear and do something (God's Will) about it rather than just shoot your mouth off about what you think God is doing. Remember God causes the sun to shine on all regardless of who you are.

Anneg said...

Thank you, Father. I believe this is a great moment for the Church in the US. We are finally worthy of some suffering and we can learn from it.
At mass this morning we got a homily on not being judgmental, that is the most frequently violated command. Really?
Thanks, I needed this.

truthfinder2 said...

Another convert here; I agree with Kirsten that there has been some very bad catechesis in many U.S. parishes. When I began RCIA, a priest sad to me, "Why do you want to become Catholic? Being an Episcopalian is so much easier?" I looked at him and was so shocked I could not speak. But I persevered, in spite of the fact that certain key teachings of the Church, (especially in regard to marriage), were not clearly communicated, or were never communicated at all. I had to look elsewhere, mostly on EWTN and the internet, to discover a lot of what I now know. I believe that what we are seeing is forcing some Catholics to get a "crash course" in Catholic teaching on sexual morality, if only to understand what is going on. Bravo, Father Fox, for the stand you have taken on your blog and in your homilies. May you and all who love the faith be strengthened by the gifts received in Baptism and in Confirmation. May we all continue the battle -- on our knees. --- Rosemary

jandog said...

Isaac Asimov created a literary device that he used in his Foundation series of novels. He called it a "Seldon Crisis".

A Seldon Crisis usually involves both an external pressure (such as threat of attack) and an internal pressure (such as threat of revolt). Both pressures will come to a head simultaneously, and be resolved with the same action.

Check it out on Wikipedia and see if it doesn't remind you of the present situation.

Subvet said...

Thank you Father, much of what you say I've heard at various times from other sources, i.e. we're in for a time of persecution.

May God's will be done

donn4bill said...

Father can we encourage our Bishops to come up with better criteria for voting in the fall. The last proclamation by the bishops in 2008 did not encourage voting for pro life candidates.

Fr Tom said...

Dear Fr Martin,
Great words, God bless you

Fr Tom Koys

Fr Martin Fox said...


All I can suggest is, write your bishop and tell him what you think.

FREE in Christ! said...

As a recent convert who really feels like a gentile who converted to Judaism as Nebuchadrezzar's forces were coming towards Jerusalem, I have to say a couple words here that are going to somewhat disagree with you.

Do you not think abortion to the Lord is as bad as contraception? You say the Lord picked this moment, but I think the Lord didn't pick the moment but the bishops did. This would have been a show-down, a moral Armageddon in 1973 if the bishops had stood up then against abortion. This would have been a moral showdown if the bishops had chosen to make a huge deal about same-sex marriages a few years ago.

Our country has been sliding into relativistic chaos and the bishops have been watching from the sidelines. This isn't God choosing, it is the bishops. They have waited until God has turned up the heat from underneath them and our land is scorching with moral decay before they have put their foot down. This failure and chaos you are predicting? I think you are about four decades too late. THAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING!!

When the priest from my dioceses walks into our RCIA class and his first statement is "don't confess how many times you have said f*#!! (and when he said this to all the PROTESTANTS who were there thinking of converting and the priest says words they have never let come out of their mouth?... ) We are SMACK DAB into the middle of Catholic church meltdown.

I agree with much of what you said, but time to awaken and smell the burning of Rome.

tim mccarthy said...

Father, that's a very fine post, but have you ever considered how this fits perfectly with the warning Our Lady gave at Fatima. Not to descend into an argument over the Consecration of Russia, but it is curious that this is one of the errors of Russia, and HH
Pope Benedict XVI is suffering greatly.

Fr Martin Fox said...

To those who asked...

I don't claim to know really how to understand these events. This post was a first attempt.

Certainly others are likely to see things I didn't see.

mdepie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mansfield1721 said...

It stands to reason that if the founding of God's Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church started with persecution it must thus end that way. "if the world hates you, know it hated me first" "Rejoice and be glad for your redemption is near."

The Church will be cleansed and only the faithful will be left they be be a small band but the harvest of souls will be great. The Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church

Long live Christ my King. I hope I will be faithful I'm a coward but Christ is not!

mdepie said...

you said "I don't claim to know really how to understand these events. This post was a first attempt."

Pretty impressive attempt!
This was one of the most insightful posts on this issue I have read, and I have followed the issue avidly.

While I welcome the Bishops attempt to oppose this vile and unconstitutional mandate, I think the real focus needs to be on defeating Obama and replacing the Democrats in the Senate. Obama is not going to reverse himself and a Senate controlled by Democrats will not change the law. A different President could repeal the mandate. Obama quite clearly intends to marginalize the Church, except for those Catholics who are willing to comprimise its teachings. I am afraid that the current efforts of the Bishops may be too little, too late. One indication of how Catholics as a group have lost any sense of identity is that for the first time in perhaps history, we have a sincere orthodox Catholic running for the Presidency in former Senator Santorum who clearly views political issues through a Catholic political philosophy and he can not win the Catholic vote! In fact he has been attacked preceisely over the fact that in his personal life he takes seriously Catholic doctrines like the immorality of contraception or the existence of the Devil. I am saddened that no one sees this for the Anti-Catholic crusade it is.

Great post Father, hope folks take it seriously

Theresa said...

I agree with you, Father. It seems something supernatural is going on here with contraception at the center of the controversy. Contraception, really! Most Catholics do not even realize there is a teaching about contraception out there, much less what that teaching is. Most non Catholics never give the subject a thought or think for a moment that in using it they are doing something wrong.
I was touched when I heard about JPII’s encyclical in the early 90’s reiterating the Church’s teaching. I remember my thought at the time was: The Church still cares about that??? Oddly enough, I heard about the encyclical by listening to an NPR piece! I had never heard anything about it in a Catholic Church, never saw a pamphlet addressing the issue, never heard people talking about it, even though I have been an involved, Mass-going Catholic my whole life. Hearing the NPR piece made me look into it further. Thank God for groups like Couple to Couple League who have been courageously getting the word out for years. Their booklet “Birth Control and Christian Marriage” was eye-opening to me. The book presents a lovely down-to-earth explanation of Humanae Vitae, the purpose of married love, and a good case that many of the evils we are fighting today come directly from ignorance of the Church’s teaching on BC.

I think an interesting statistic being tossed around lately is that 98% of American Catholic couples “have used” artificial contraception. If 98% “have used,” I sense that some “have stopped”. Why? Many couples stop using bc in their child-bearing years once they read and learn something describing the Church’s teaching on married love. I hope the Church – priests, bishops, and laity - uses this opportunity to teach about the beauty of the Catholic teaching concerning the meaning and purpose of marriage. We need to educate people that there is much more to it than “no! no!”.
“FREE in Christ” - interesting observation. We have many more faithful bishops now than we have had in the last 40 or so years, bishops who are willing to respond and lead. It’s odd to me -- the issues of abortion and homosexual marriage seem like no-brainers – and you could have convinced people much more easily of the evil of those things in 1973 than you can now. But yet, now, at this time, the issue of contraception is coming to the fore?? The Church’s teaching on Contraception? Really? A teaching that is so confused and misunderstood and hard to explain? At a time when people are so thoroughly out of touch with the purpose and meaning of marriage that they think homosexuals can be married and women have a right to kill their own children? It boggles my mind. It’s like the Lord is patiently saying, “OK, you guys are all really confused, let’s go back to square one and start to clear things up. First topic: Contraception. First reading assignment: Humanae Vitae.”

I pray for you, Father, and for all of our priests and bishops. I truly wept for you and for us all that day in January when the bishops’ response to the HHS mandate was read at Mass.

Wayne said...

First and foremost, we must keep in mind that the issue with Obama is about more than contraception – it is about religious freedom under the first amendment – and about being forced to pay for abortion. We should first of all make our public argument about our first amendment rights - as that is a battle we should win.
Secondly, I agree that we Catholics need to do a far better job of explaining our stand on contraception and ALSO promoting alternatives. In the past we simply said “don’t contracept”; but women say “what else am I supposed to do?” A deacon at our church and gave a great homily on natural family planning as the alternative. After contracepting for a short time early in our marriage, my wife and I started practicing NFP and it has been an incredible blessing to us – and our four children! Several secular studies from renowned secular universities have shown that contraception is the number one cause of poverty among single mothers. The studies make great sense and the Church should be utilizing them to promote its contraception message in a secular world. In other words, “do it for yourselves, your health, and for the good of society, not just because the Church says so”. And we should also be pointing out the strong link between contraception and breast cancer - there is strong evidence that the reason 30 year old women are suddenly having a high incidence of breast cancer is because of contraception.
I agree that this whole thing could backfire on Obama and the femi-nazi “catholics” that have publicly betrayed the Church’s teaching to support his/their cause. Let us pray! - but also get active and work hard on one of the most important battles in one of the most opportune times of our lives to make a difference!

Greta said...

The real question is it too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube? We are 65 years into the carefully planned assult on America. We had defeated the Nazi's and made the world safe from evil. But many learned a lot from the Nazi party. First step is to give the state control over religon. 1947 Everson radically changed the words and meaning of the first right in the first amendment of the bill or rights. Who today accepts that the framers of the constitution and bill of rights wanted to protect government from religon by a high wall of separation becuase their intent was a secular government with religion prohibited from the public square? The intent of the founders and wording in the bill of rights was specifically designed to build a wall around government designed to protect religion from the government. In fact they said that without this important pillar of a protected relious liberty, the government they built would not stand. The letter from Jefferson was written to assure that Baptist Church that the rumor they heard that the state was going to make the Anglican Church the state religion was not only not true, but not possible because a wall of separation had been built to protect all religious liberty from government.

By 1962/63, the lie of separation wall protecting government from religon was so accepted as true, that the state went into full gear and removed prayer from schools. But this was not some simple morning prayer being eliminated, but a book burning nazi raid on every aspect of God from the schools and the public square because the state religion had been determined as part of the coup and it was a godless secualar humanist religon. No God was allowed meant that every textbook had to be purged. History had to go because anywhere you looked in American history exposed the lie. Washington farewell addrss if taught would declare that religious liberty protected from the government was essential. By saying no God, about half of Washington farewell address had to be edited out or not taught at all. Bibles in the classrooms, once a major part of all lessions, had to be removed. Pictures of Christ had to go. Social studies created a replacement for history and could be made to teach what the secular humanist wanted free of the problem of God.

So today is the cleaning up of the last vestiges of the complete takeover by the state religion of our godless country and that is to put the Catholic Church on full attack. the bishops so long sleeping and even supporting the agenda have been slapped in the face and seem to be confused as to how we got here. Take a look at every dioceses with a social justice office and you have your answer. Didn't social justice trump abortion allowing Catholics to be lied to and sent down the path of their own distruction.

Bishops, if you want a good start, sack all those in the social justice wing and use the hires to boost up the pro life wing in the diocese offices and then have them write a voter guide. Where you find dioceses controlled by social justice bishops you will find the must abuse and cover up. They are also the ones that set up this trap to force Catholics to accept the secular humanist government religion. Same thing happened in Germany with the State appointed Reichbishop Mueller over the German Christian Church that sore alligience to Hitler, not Christ. they helped Hitler kill people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Fight now like America depended on it because if Obama wins a second term, the battle is lost.

Ann Roth said...

Father, Thank you for not waiting to post this. It is very powerful. I think it is what many are thinking/feeling. We must do everything we can to teach, evangelise, convert those around us. And we must pray. My family has joined in the Memorare Army( Benedictine College) for the intention of bishops, priest and all the people-courage, strength and faith are needed as only the Holy Spirit can give them.