My mind and soul are often inundated with the complex issues of today. I do my best to read multiple sources and stay current, praying and meditating upon what is said. I have to be comfortable with the fact there is no easy answer, and in dialogue with family and friends (and God), I attempt to humbly work out an understanding of the issues.
Thus for the past few months I have tried to understand my own reactions to the HHS mandate/freedom-of-religion/politics-and-Christian-ethics issue. As I have cycled through many stages of understanding and emotions, something has long been nagging me. The root of this discord is recently becoming clearer. Providentially, this nascent understanding has come to me through St Paul, whom I have been studying as of late, and whose joint feast day with Peter was just celebrated last Saturday.
I’ve been reading a book on Paul by Joseph Holzner called “Paul of Tarsus.” Of course we’re also reading much from Paul and about Paul during these Ordinary liturgical weeks following Pentecost (such as last Sunday’s reading). Against this very Pauline backdrop, I have sensed a discord between the way Paul argues for the Gospel, and what I have heard lately in some Christian media. Thus, at the close of this Fortnight for Freedom, I’d like to offer a few reflections here, that I myself have found helpful and relevant as I struggle with these issues.
Reflection Point 1 – “All Things to All Men”
Paul is one of our best early examples of an apostle speaking passionately about the gospel “in the middle of the world.” As the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” he finds his mission particularly in preaching to the pagans, to non-believers, to those “in the world.” He uses his training in Greek philosophy and his civilized Roman upbringing to appeal to such an audience. And yet his reasoning is fueled by a passionate, tender love of Christ – how often do we hear him address his letters to “beloved” or “brethren?” And it is through Paul we have the ultimate words on love in his letter to the Corinthians. You don’t have to read far into any of his letters to feel his passion, love, and strength – or to see how he suffered and sacrificed for others to manifest this love.
In the midst of the world, he entered into the reality of “the other” that he might understand them, and thus communicate the presence of God and His love through that bond of understanding. He became “all things to all men.”
“ Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)
So where is the discord? In some of the discussion of the HHS mandate and other religious freedom issues, rather than Paul’s passionate love for Christ and his confidence born of freedom, I have noticed in some Christian media a constrained sense of fear. There is a stiff attitude of defensiveness that comes not from a place of confidence and childlike faith, but from a place of anxiety, as when one is afraid of losing that which is precious. This defensiveness is set up firmly against an “other,” in the sense of an “us and them.” Fear fuels that “other” mentality.
Defensiveness and making an enemy of the “other” is a natural reaction when we sense a threat – natural as in part of our biological, God-given nature. But as Christians, we must not allow our nature to be the driving force, but rather follow the example of Paul by going outside of ourselves and our own understanding for the sake of the other and the gospel. We must do the hard work of honestly observing our actions in the light of God’s grace that we may transcend our nature, that we may transcend fear to reach love and reach beyond a separate “them” to a “beloved.”
So that’s my first humble point for reflection – with such a contentious issue, let us examine our motives and our actions in the light of love. We must seek to understand why the world is as it is, why people who don’t agree with us don’t agree with us. And we must do so in freedom and love, not fear.
Reflection Point 2 – Reason & Faith
That being said, this second point of reflection is more of a question. I’ve always appreciated the emphasis Catholicism puts on Reason, that we have a “reasonable” faith in the sense that one can make a case for it, as CS Lewis does in Mere Christianity. We can furthermore draw from our understanding of Natural Law to see how creation, the human person and our faith are all inherently, organically connected.
Thus I have long thought that if I could only find the right secular and scientific language to use, I could help someone who doesn’t believe in God to understand why I’m not okay with things like abortion. But these past few months have brought me many doubts.
Perhaps to understand the organic connection between our creed and the way we live out that Creed, and all that which it entails for morality and how we relate to the world, we need grace. Perhaps that connection which seems to me to flow so logically and reasonably from our creed is in fact inscrutable without grace.
Perhaps without grace, we would also not be able to embrace, understand, or be empathetic towards Catholic moral teaching, because grace opens our hearts to that organic inner connection. In fewer words, do you have to be open to the existence of God to concede any validity to Catholic moral teaching? Or can one be an atheist, but building on science and reason, reach similar conclusions as the Church? I don’t know.
My last humble offering is this. In addition to making a renewed, intentional effort to act out of love rather than fear, and to seek to understand rather than demonize the other, perhaps we should also meditate upon this organic connection between our creed and how well we live it. Perhaps the world would understand more fully if they saw every Christian living out this organic connection between faith and daily life.
Are we afraid? We need not be. Do we act out of love? We are called to. Do we frequently stop to scrutinize before the Lord how well we communicate His love to the world, how much we let it inform the way we live – while not being of the world? My humble conclusion, in the light of Paul’s example, is that perhaps such frequent reflection, on all our parts, would help our case.
For further reading
I’d like to give a shout out to two sources. John H. Garvey, Esq., President of The Catholic University of America, wrote a thought-provoking piece on these issues in his address to the Bishops, “Religious Freedom and the Love of God.” Also, as a good legal source for understanding these issues, I’d like to also give a shout out to a devout Catholic lawyer and good friend of mine, Michael Scaperlanda, professor of Law at OU, who blogs about the legal side of these issues at Mirror Of Justice.