Wednesday, June 02, 2010

"We are not the Church Impotent"

Fri, June 4, 6-7 pm at the Newman Center: Holy Hour for the men to be ordained priests of Washington and for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Please join us!!
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The following are excerpts from a potent commencement address given by Dr. Charles E. Rice, Professor Emeritus, Notre Dame Law School, at Christendom College on May 17, 2010:


…Remember that Truth, with a capital T, "is a person, Jesus Christ."[6] And Christ is not some lawyer, CEO or community organizer. He is God. Cardinal Avery Dulles described three foundational principles: "that there is a God, that he has made a full and final revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and that the Catholic Church is the authorized custodian and teacher of this body of revealed truth."[7] The Catholic faith is not a set of doctrines. It is a lived encounter with Christ, who lives in, and teaches through, the Church.[8]

The Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, is a great gift, not only for Catholics but for others to whose conscience it appeals "on the basis of reason and natural law."[9] The forces of evil concentrate their fire on the Vicar of Christ, who is the authoritative interpreter of the moral law. We must respond with loyal defense of him and of the Church. We are not, to borrow Fr. Euteneuer's phrase, the Church Impotent. We are part of the Church Militant. Our job is to fight for the Truth. Don't be conned by their lies:

1). The first lie is secularism: There is no God or he is unknowable. They say that is what the First Amendment means, but that, too, is a lie. On September 24-25, 1789, the First Congress approved the First Amendment and called on the President to proclaim a day of "thanksgiving and prayer... acknowledging... the many ... favors of Almighty God."[10] President Washington proclaimed that day of prayer. The First Amendment required neutrality on the part of the federal government among religious sects while recognizing the power of the state and federal governments to affirm the existence of God. The Supreme Court has now imposed a duty on all governments to maintain an impossible neutrality between theism and non-theism. The words "under God," according to Justice William Brennan's still accurate description of the Court's approach, may remain in the Pledge of Allegiance only because they "no longer have a religious purpose or meaning." Instead they "may merely recognize the historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded 'under God.'" [11]

At all levels of government, the suspension of judgment on the existence of God has evolved into an establishment of secularism. Today, affirmations of God are considered non-rational, and are generally excluded from the public discourse which is shaped by utility and power rather than right or wrong.

The existence of God is not self-evident. But it is unreasonable, even stupid, not to believe in God, an eternal being that had no beginning and always existed. The alternative is that there was a time when there was absolutely nothing. But that makes no sense. St. Thomas Aquinas said, "if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd."[12] As Julie Andrews put it in The Sound of Music, "Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could."

The only basis for transcendent rights against the State is the creation of the immortal person in the image and likeness of God. Every state that has ever existed, or ever will exist, has gone out of business or will go out of business. Every human being that has ever been conceived will live forever. That is why you have transcendent rights against the State. The person does not exist for the State. The State exists for the person. And for the family.

2). The second lie of Satan is relativism. To say that all things are relative is absurd, for that statement itself must be relative. The jurisprudence of relativism is some form of legal positivism, which asserts that there is no higher law that limits what human law can do. A law of any content is valid if it is enacted pursuant to prescribed procedure and is effective. Hans Kelsen, the leading legal positivist of the 20th century, said that Auschwitz and the Soviet Gulags were valid law. He could not criticize them as unjust because justice, he said, is "an irrational ideal."[13] Kelsen claimed that relativism is the philosophy of democracy. John Paul II said relativism leads instead to totalitarianism: "If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to ... impose his own interests ... with no regard for the rights of others."[14]

In your personal and professional lives you will be pressured to be a relativist, to lie, cheat or steal. As John Paul put it, the negative prohibitions of the Commandments, which are a specification of the natural law, "allow no exceptions."[15] But you will pay a price for your fidelity.

Let me tell you a story. Captain James Mulligan, of the United States Navy, spent seven years, half of them in solitary confinement, in the Hanoi Hilton after his plane was shot down in 1966. He was a cell-mate for a time of later Senator Jeremiah Denton. He, as were the others, was tortured severely and often to try to make him betray his fellow prisoners and his country. Captain Mulligan put his reliance on prayer, especially the Rosary. Under torture, he laid it on the line in a prayer he composed that we ought to make our own: "Lord, give me the strength and the guts to see this thing through to the end, one way or another. No one else knows, Lord, but you and I know, and that's all that's necessary. You suffered for your beliefs, and I must suffer for mine. Right is right if no one's right; wrong is wrong if everyone's wrong."[16] That is the answer to relativism.

3). The third lie you will confront is individualism. Social contract theories denied the social nature of man. They postulated a state of nature in which each person was an autonomous, isolated individual with no relation to others unless he consents. That is the origin of pro-choice as we know it today. Planned Parenthood didn't think it up. The mother has no relation to her unborn child unless she consents. The husband and wife have no continuing relation unless they continue to consent. And so on. The autonomous individual is his own god. Conscience is not a judgment about the objective rightness or wrongness of an act. It is the individual's unfettered decision as to what he wills to do. Whatever he chooses is, for him, the right thing to do. That is portrayed as the way to freedom. But "authentic freedom" cannot be separated from the truth.[17]

You are "free" to choose to put sand in the gas tank of your car. But you will no longer be free to drive your car because you have violated the truth of the nature of your car. You are "free" to choose to lie, to fornicate, etc., but you will diminish yourself because you have violated the truth of your nature. You have chosen the moral equivalent of putting sand in your gas tank. And there is one thing the autonomous individual of liberal mythology can never do. He can never put himself out of existence. He is going to live forever and will spend eternity someplace. Where, is up to him.

It is time for us to shed our inferiority complex. We allow ourselves to be conned into thinking that the smart guys are the academics who think that something can come from nothing, who are sure that they can't be sure of anything and who think that freedom means, without limit, the power and right to do whatever they want. This culture has lost not only its faith but also its mind. They need to hear the truth, especially about the right to life.

But there we have a problem. Our prolife efforts are compromised by our timidity on contraception. The Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 was the first time that any Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. The Magisterium teaches the truth, that contraception is wrong, first, because it deliberately separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex; second, by so changing the nature of the conjugal act, the man and woman make themselves, rather than God, the arbiters of whether and when life shall begin; and third, contraception frustrates the total mutual self-donation that ought to characterize the conjugal act. If man makes himself the arbiter of whether and when life shall begin, he will make himself the arbiter of when it shall end as in abortion and euthanasia. John Paul II described abortion and contraception as "fruits of the same tree."[18] If it is man's decision whether sex will have any relation to reproduction, why can't Freddy and Harry get a marriage license? In 2004, Pastor Donald Sensing of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN, wrote that opponents of same-sex marriage are "a little late. The walls of traditional marriage were breached 40 years ago" with the general acceptance of the contraceptive pill.[19]

God has chosen to depend on human cooperation for the creation of new citizens for the kingdom of heaven. The contracepting couple alter the conjugal act to prevent that creation. What they say to God is something like this: "For all we know, God, it may be your will that from this act of ours a new human person will come into existence who will live forever. For all we know, that may be your will. And we won't let you do it." That is awesome. "Contraception," said John Paul II, "is so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God."[20]

Catholics practice contraception at the same rate as everyone else. One reason is that they have not been adequately informed. Many Catholic churches and schools are closing or consolidating for lack of parishioners and students. A fair response would be respectfully to say: "Most Reverend Bishop (or Father), you would not have this problem if you and your predecessors had been doing your job, over the past four decades and still today, of educating your people about the evil of contraception and about the entire positive teaching of the Church on marriage and the gift of life." Christendom graduates know the score on this. Don't be afraid to live it. And teach it, by word and example…

4 comments:

Liesl said...

What a great commencement address!

Anonymous said...

Liesl - Are you named after the girl named Liesl in "The Sound of Music"?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Rice was brave to give this address. He expressed controversial principles that only a minority of Catholics believe in. I'm willing to bet that there were no more than 10 people in the audience who agreed with him and that many of them walked away claiming that he soured their graduation ceremony with antequated, sexist views. He stood his ground, and the ground of the Catholic Church rather than speaking only about insignificant or popularly held views. And at a University that gave Obama an honorary degree last year and has largely lost its Catholic identity.

Matt Shoemaker said...

Anon 2- I'm confused. Dr. Rice, although he is a professor at Notre Dame, gave that speech at Christendom College. You're right though, although a lot of Catholics themselves would disagree with what Dr. Rice said- his standing up and defending the truth is laudable and something worth emulating. It's unfortunate that people write off the Church's wisdom and love by saying that it's 'antiquated and sexist' but hopefully with people like Dr. Rice who can defend the faith so articulately, the Truth will change hearts and minds.