Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Light of the Nations - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in OT (A)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

What is this light? It is a two-fold light: on the one hand it is the natural light of reason, of logos (Logic); on the other hand, it is the divine light of Christ, who is also called the Logos.

This light is given to the Church, to us, who in turn is—as the Second Vatican Council put it—the Lumen Gentium: the “Light of the Nations.” Because this light of Christ is given to us, Jesus in His great Sermon on the Mount said: “You are the light of the world” and that we must not hide that light “under a bushel basket” (Mt 5:14).

Yet, it is a struggle to let the light of Christ and of natural reason shine in the world today. Let’s talk about that.

The Light of the Nations

In our American culture, one of the reasons why we sometimes shy away from talking about Church teaching in the Public Square is because there is an exaggerated idea of what “Separation of Church and State” really means. Most people think it is absolute—that is, that the Church may not say anything or have any impact on politics. But, as we saw in the inauguration exercises on this Friday last, the separation of Church and State is not absolute: we head the name of God almighty being invoked; we saw prayers being offered in public; we listened as Sacred Scripture was read aloud. This wasn’t simply because a Republican was being sworn in, either. Those who know their history will know that Democratic presidents have also invoked the name of the Lord and His blessings. So, we must not be afraid of the “Separation of Church and State.” It is not absolute. We can shine the light of Christ in this land.

Another reason that Catholics sometimes struggle to let their light shine is from a well-intentioned heart that doesn’t want to offend others or to “impose our morality.” I understand that: we want people to be able to choose for themselves. But what parent, if they saw their child about to place its hand on the hot stove, would simply remain quiet? What parent would say “I’m personally opposed to my child placing its hand on the stove, but if it really wants to, then who am I to say otherwise?” We would all say something! Pontius Pilate was personally opposed to crucifying prophets and what did his silence bring? Many Southerners were personally opposed to slavery and what did their silence bring?

This arrives at a crucial point: many Catholics don’t think they have the moral authority to speak objectively about what society at large is to do or not do. Who are we to say? But that’s precisely what Jesus has given us the authority to speak about; the Church’s voice is not one among many, but is truly the Mother for our world

And here is another crucial point: the laws of Christ and His Church are not simply prohibitive and restrictive—they are liberating. Take, for example, the 7th and 10th commandments: “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.” What would our culture look like if we disregarded these? Our culture already kind of does: there is rampant envy; keeping up with the Jones’; fraud; stealing—we have become enslaved to the pursuit of comforts and goods. And are people joyful when they are envious? Is the possession-enslaved culture joyful?

Our culture needs the light of the Church. In a way, she has a right to it. When Jesus chose the Apostles, He commissioned them as ambassadors of His Kingdom—a Kingdom with laws and citizens just like our own—and commanded that they “Go… and teach all nations…” To bring His light. For, where the light of Christ is, there is freedom. And where there is freedom, there is joy!

We must never be afraid or ashamed to speak authoritatively about morals in our culture, brothers and sisters. This light that we have is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—and our world needs it!

The Light of Reason and the Magical Scissors

And not only does it need the Light of Christ in the Church, it also needs a restoration of the Light of Reason.

You have seen the recent protests and the barbaric expressions of anger. We have seen the Woman’s March saying that an essential part of a woman’s right is the right to kill a child. I have had many conversations with people who support such things and they fall into two camps: the emotional and the rational. The emotional cannot be reasoned with. Thankfully, the rational are still open to dialogue. To them, I asked why: why can we kill innocent humans?

The underlying argument for most is that becoming human and having the right to life comes as a “gradual process”—in other words, only as a human develops does it receive the full right to life. A not-yet-fully developed human, like that in the womb, as it is not fully developed, does not yet have those full rights. The underlying argument speaks of it as a gradual process and not as “sudden” because, if it were sudden, then the sudden change must either be at conception or at birth. And it is hard for them to argue that the change for rights comes suddenly at birth because we can easily point out that at T-minus 30 seconds before birth and T-plus 30 seconds after birth, the only change in the “thing” is that a scissors has cut it from its mother. So…. does the scissors have a magical power that suddenly gives the right to life?

So they say that we gradually become a human and therefore gradually have the right to life.

To which I respond: so when does that fullness happen? Surely it doesn’t happen in infancy, right, because the infant is not fully developed. So… we can kill infants then, right?

Or what about teenagers? Let’s be honest: they aren’t fully developed; what with their disproportionately long legs and arms, rollercoaster hormones, and ability to sleep for 14 hours at a time, I wonder whether they are more mutant than human. They aren’t fully developed—so they don’t fully have the right to life either, right? So we can kill them, too, right?

So, when does it happen? When does a person fully have the right to life? Is it age 33? Is that when we have the most right to life?

And what happens when we “grow old” and start to “lose it”? Are we becoming less human? And, because of that, do we have less a right to life? Should the elderly be able to be killed? And not just the elderly, but can’t we euthanize any adult that has “lost it”? Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, wanted to kill the mentally disabled, calling them the most urgent problem of her day.

So where is the line to be drawn? And who gets to draw that line? And why does that person get to draw it?

Some have an answer to that. I’ll come back to that.

In full disclosure, our culture draws the line wherever it wants because then it can do whatever it wants.

But…. saying that we are killing a human being is inconvenient. After all, it’s hard to kill people we know as people—people that we know are innocent. (We would have to have a pretty hard heart to do that). So the culture has to dehumanize them. (This is why pro-choice lobbyists and lawmakers absolutely hate it when pro-lifers show sonograms of babies doing baby things in the womb. It humanizes them. See last year's Dorito's Baby SuperBowl commercial. Drove them nuts!).

So, dehumanize babies. Or infants. Or elderly. Or Jews. Pick any group you want. Or individual. Pick a President-- Trump or Obama-- or their followers. None are fully human. So.... eventually it can be justified that any of them can be killed.

Much, much more can be said here, but I’ve found that in order to abort the young or the old, a person must have to abort his intellect first. To hold on to euthanasia and abortion and any kind of killing of innocent human life requires not only a person to plug their ears when the Church speaks, but to blind themselves to the light of reason. (Admittedly, this is the primary reason why I am very concerned about the wave of emotionalism and group-think that is plaguing our land).

Peter Kreeft’s Deer Hunting Analogy

I said that some have an answer to my question about where the line should be drawn. They say, “Well, we don’t know either way. We just don’t know. So you can’t be so black-and-white. Because of that and because of the situation of the mother, we need to let them abort.”

Two things. First: notice that the pro-choice person is saying “The mom has no choice but to abort.” So, if she has no choice, then how is that a choice? Abortion, de facto, admits a hopelessness. And that’s a dark, dark landscape. Catholics admit and indeed must continue to cultivate a much brighter and hopeful option.

Second: notice the logic: “We don’t know… therefore, we need to let them abort.”

Peter Kreeft has a great answer to this. It’s his deer hunting analogy. It goes like this:

Say you and your buddy are out hunting deer. And while you are out there, a bush moves. And you see a brown shoulder like a deer. Do you shoot? … Now, you remember that your friend was wearing a brown coat. (You had laughed at him for this. Hunters wear orange, after all, but here he is, wearing brown). So, wait: maybe it’s him. Maybe he’s that brown shoulder in the bush. Do you shoot?  …  Of course you don’t shoot! You don’t shoot precisely because you don’t know. When you don’t know, you don’t shoot. The hunter’s principle, like the moral principle, is that we are to always take the safer course. Likewise, then, a person who claims that they don’t know when a human life begins, precisely because they don’t know, shouldn’t abort.

President Trump and the Inadequacy of a Purely Political Solution

A final thought: I know that there is some talk that the recent change in the Executive Branch of our government will bring about a change in the legality of abortion. If President Trump finds a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade, that would be wonderful. But it still would not alter the reality that we would need to change minds and hearts. If minds and hearts do not receive the light of reason and the light of the Church, then those hearts and minds will continue to walk in darkness—and they will elect political leaders that will change the laws back again.

This is why the separation of Church and State cannot be absolute and why the Church will always speak on matters of law: because the issue of the right to life (and others like it) does not and indeed cannot have a purely political solution. The solution will ultimately require conversion, repentance, open arms to receive them all, and the light of grace to accompany the effort.

This grace and its challenge to change minds and hearts falls to us. That’s part of being a citizen in God’s kingdom, a kingdom meant for all—hence the name “Catholic” which means “universal.” Jesus has given us the light. We must not hide this light under any of the bushel baskets I have mentioned above. This is not a political thing; this is not a personal thing. This is a light “Lumen Gentium”—for all the nations.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

That light is supposed to be us.

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