March 01, 2014
Bigotry, Discrimination, Teaching, and Catholic Thought
A number of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice have recently addressed a variety of issues (e.g., the Arizona RFRA-styled legislative proposal just vetoed by the governor; new articles and editorials in America magazine discussing laws that are “crimes” and the Church’s attitude toward same-sex attraction and sexual activity; religious freedom; the role of government and law in society; etc.) dealing with the pressing questions that provide forums for the presentation of differing views on human sexuality and the legal protection that these views merit or may merit. A subtext pertaining to these issues from a legal perspective is the political idea and ideal of equality and the reality of equality. A further subtext is the role of religion—particularly Catholicism—in these issues and the discussions and debates that surround them.
It is assumed by some participants in the current political and academic debates on these matters concerning human sexuality that any difference in treatment or status between same- and opposite-sex is prima facie unlawful because it is discriminatory. But the notion of discrimination needs to be considered carefully so that it is understood accurately by society in general and by the law in particular. This is where the vocation of teaching and the discipleship based on Catholic thought have a crucial role to play.
The teachings of the Catholic Church condemn discrimination that is unjust (that’s a big modifier that will need more attention somewhere else, perhaps in another posting at this website). Why does the Church use in her teachings this crucial modifier? It would be illogical to condemn all discrimination across the board because human civilization and human nature rely on proper, i.e., just, discrimination. Those of us who are or who have been teachers discriminate in many ways. We discriminate in the evaluation of faculty candidates when we hire some but not others. We discriminate when we make substantive distinctions between and among student papers and final exams. We discriminate when we exercise our role in faculty governance by deciding which proposals before us we accept and which we reject. But these discriminations are not unjust because they are warranted, or should be, by substantive merits or their absence. In spite of some student protests, not all students will receive an A. Despite their aspirations, not all candidates for faculty positions will be offered teaching posts.
Yet, discrimination is not restricted to the world of the academy. Discrimination is exercised legitimately throughout human civilization when people make decisions about what cut of meat they can afford at the super market, or how big of an addition to their home will their budget permit, or how large a contribution, if any, can they make to alma mater. The list of discriminations that are admissible, perhaps even meritorious, goes on and on.
Nonetheless, some participants in the present day disputes concerning human sexuality press the argument that any difference of treatment between same-sex-this and opposite-sex-that is unlawful because some people are being treated differently from others. Therefore, such differing treatment is discriminatory and may very well be based on bigotry.
But this is not so because these claims are untrue.
They are untrue because the objective intellect, not political will and the might that often accompanies the will, comprehending the reality of the nature of the human person, human physiology, and biological differences can demonstrate that there are dispassionate distinctions separating and distinguishing the worlds of same-sex and opposite-sex. It is not bigotry to make this claim. Neither is it religious or other superstition. Rather, it is reality grasped by the objective and impartial intellect that makes and supports the distinction. But in the minds and resulting positions of some, the reasoned distinctions made between same-sex and opposite sex are impermissible because they are, from the outset, “bigoted” or “unlawful” without the need for further comment or justification.
This last point describes a vast element of the political and, therefore, legal world that we inhabit today and the supporting mentalities that faithful Catholics encounter that are forcing a dramatic and perilous change in the law and civilization. Thus, it is the duty of the Catholic teacher who remains true to the faith to point out with reason, with humility, with respect, and with resolve that this that claims about unlawful discrimination based on different treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex are wrong. It may well be that the time for the faithful Catholic teacher to pursue this responsibility is growing short, but the duty remains as long as these overwhelming errors persist. This duty can and should be welcomed where authentic dialogue exists. However, another hallmark of the present age is the attitude that relies largely on the success of one’s position, not because of reasoned argument but because of political clout and little else.
January 30, 2014
The Pope’s Words to Notre Dame and to all Catholic Educators
Today, Pope Francis, S.J., had an audience with a delegation from Notre Dame. Rick, I am sure you are basking in this honor!
The Holy Father offered instructive words intended not only for Notre Dame, but for all persons involved with Catholic higher education. This would surely include legal education and the enterprise which is pursed at the Mirror of Justice. The major theme of the pope’s address is presented in these words of his,
In my Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, hereinafter EG), I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. EG, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!
I have two brief points to make of these words of the pope.
The first is that they have a tremendous bearing on the work and debates that take place here at the Mirror of Justice. After all, the discipline and study of law, certainly within the context of efforts directed at developing Catholic legal theory, involve moral issues; thus, those who pursue legal education from and in a Catholic perspective ought to be concerned about the Church’s moral teachings (including their propagation and defense) and the Church’s freedom to pursue those engagements with civil society that the Church chooses to engage. This responsibility is unambiguous and cannot be compromised—no matter how inconvenient; no matter what pressures may be faced.
The second point is much closer to home for me. While our Holy Father was addressing a distinguished delegation from a highly regarded school founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, I am quite confident that he did not exempt from the application of his exhortation the twenty-eight colleges and universities founded by his (and my) religious order, the Society of Jesus. There is no question that these institutions also have a crucial role in “the uncompromising witness… to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.” It may be that there are some within the Jesuit network of higher education institutions who are willing to compromise on such matters, but I know that there are dedicated, faithful people who view such compromise as a betrayal of one’s duty as a disciple of Christ. Pope Francis is clearly one of them, for he recognizes that the unambiguous witness of the Christian cannot compromise on any matter central to the Catholic faith.
Time will tell to what extent his words and the sentiments they carry are shared within the world of Jesuit higher education.
January 24, 2014
A follow up to “Gay Marriages Confront Catholic School Rules”
I am grateful to Rick’s posting on the issue involving the employment status of Mr. Zmuda at Eastside Catholic in Seattle, WA. I agree with Rick that we will see more and more of these cases in which employees of Catholic institutions manifest their disagreement with fundamental Catholic principles not because of thoughts, or in the case of Eastside Catholic—sexual orientation, but because of actions. Here we can recall the truth that underpins one of the old legal maxims: actions speak louder than words.
Rick’s posting raises the issue of discrimination that some believe has been applied to Mr. Zmuda. But this issue pertaining to discrimination mandates further scrutiny. The question is not whether this man has been discriminated against but, rather, has he been discriminated against unjustly. For example, if Eastside Catholic discharged him on grounds that he did not have the qualifications he claimed on his resume that are required for the post he holds, the ensuing discrimination in terminating his employment would not be unjust but, rather, just. To put this matter more broadly, none of us discriminate against someone who claims to be an excellent barber, doctor, lawyer, plumber, carpenter, etc. if this person does not, in fact, have the training, other credentials necessary, and the competence to perform the services which are claimed to be within the competence of the person when in fact they are not.
When it comes to role modeling the virtuous life of one who wishes to be an example for young people, a Catholic educational institution would not be unjustly discriminating against someone if he or she claimed the virtues but did not, in fact, exercise them in his or her personal life. Thus, Catholic parishes and dioceses have not unjustly discriminated against financial stewards whose employments were terminated when it was discovered that these employees were embezzling funds from the parish or diocese.
I understand Rick’s point about certain privacy matters where a person may not wish his or her sexual orientation, income, tastes in music, preferences in literature, or views on the status of the unborn, and other topics becoming targets of public scrutiny. But marriage and the announcement about it is a public matter because it is a public institution as well as a matter of personal intimacy. When someone announces the fact that one is married (or supports abortion, or is “pro-choice”), this person voluntarily enters the public square and asserts his or her views about issues that concern the common good and the Church’s teachings. By making an announcement about one’s marriage, he or she says something about himself or herself in the context of a public institution. Regarding the institution of marriage, the Church has something to say about this because she has very clear views on this public institution.
The student who is quoted in the Times article mentioned by Rick and who contends that, “It was just shocking that the Catholic Church would turn its back on a teacher for something that didn’t affect his work performance” is wrong. As Rick notes, this is an important question because Mr. Zmuda’s acts do intersect his work. Why?
Mr. Zmuda is teaching by his example, and his teaching is contrary to the Church’s clear teaching on the subject of marriage. If the students do not hear the reasons for why this man was dismissed, might it be due to the fact that first principles of the Catholic faith are being minimized in their importance at Eastside Catholic? Might it be that these teachings and their justifications are being given short shrift at Eastside Catholic? If Eastside Catholic is not doing its job of teaching the faith or doing it well, it is a matter that has an impact on Mr. Zmuda and Eastside Catholic’s work performance because students are led to believe and accept something that they should not be led to believe and accept as true or as proper or as virtuous or as something only involving one’s private life.
As Rick also notes, there may be more of these incidents at both Catholic institutions of education but also other organizations which bear the moniker Catholic. If this is indeed what is to materialize, and I think Rick is correct on his surmise, then let me offer a bit of hope as to one course of action that might be pursued: the incident involving Mr. Zmuda should give all of us concerned about his dismissal the opportunity to better understand how the integrity of the Catholic faith intersects our public institutions including the law. This objective will also assist the faithful to understand more clearly our faith by comprehending what it is that the Church teaches and why she teaches what she does.
January 09, 2014
Objective Reality versus Reification
I should like to thank Kevin Walsh and Marc DeGirolami for their fine presentations yesterday on several pressing issues concerning the legal challenge of the Little Sisters of the Poor to the HHS mandate and related Government demands. There is a great deal of misinformation circulating about the mandate—some of from the media, some of it from prominent persons, and some of it sadly from the Government itself. Thus, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the legal challenge initiated by the Sisters, and I am grateful to Kevin and Marc for their excellent clarifications. Some of the problems with the mandate are to be found in a law of questionable integrity and durability.
Why do I say this? Why do I make these charges?
I go back to the fact that the original legislation was several thousand pages long. I do not think it wise or prudent to enact legislation of such magnitude, especially under pressing time constraints where legislators, their staff members, and the public have a grossly incomplete picture of the the bill and the law it can become. The legislative process, in spite of political compromises and generalities that must be taken into consideration, is still an intellectual process that leads to the development of norms, some of which are enforceable by criminal and civil sanction. The bills that become laws should therefore be understood by those responsible for their making and for the citizenry whose lives will be affected. If this understanding is absent, how can lawyers and judges fairly explain their meaning?
We are still learning much about what the Obamacare statute contains; moreover, it will take still more time to interpret objectively its many provisions, some of which appear to or do conflict with one another. The former speaker of the House was correct on one matter on the eve of the statute’s passage by a slim majority of the House of Representatives—and I do not say this with admiration for the substance of what was said: we just have to pass the bill to know what’s in it. This is a terrible way to make law. What is in the bill should be known by those responsible for its passage before it becomes law and affects, often adversely individuals and the common good.
But Obamacare, which is being legally challenged on a number of fronts, is the law, for the time being—complete with its benefits, its problems, and its sanctions.
As Marc and Kevin have demonstrated, there are sound arguments that demonstrate the laws many Achilles’s heels. With time, more sound arguments will reveal more defects in the statute. As Marc and Kevin have capably illustrated, the Government’s arguments to justify and uphold questionable provisions that are, in turn, supported by influential media voices fail to take stock of the objective meaning of the language of our fundamental law, the Constitution of the United States, and the reality that surrounds the Constitution and the flawed Obamacare legislation.
Today’s first reading for the Mass of the day is taken from the first letter of Saint John. This text from sacred scripture reminds us that there are those who take liberties with the truth that surrounds important matters. Such a liberty compromises, sometimes fatally, the truth of human existence and the norms that should uphold the common good that it designed to protect each and every person’s legitimate interests.
It is clear that the Government and powerful media outlooks have taken such liberties and, furthermore, have tried to block or treat as irrelevant (even as non-existent) opposing views to their positions. Their actions inevitably compromise the truths about the healthcare legislation that confront many people of good will; in addition, the justifications offered by the state and its allies in the media misrepresent what the citizenry have the right and the obligation to know about their laws, their Government, and their general welfare that is adversely affected by this legal beast.
This is where Catholic legal theory and the efforts of those of us who still train the new lawyers who will become legislators, administrators, and judges of our human laws come into play. On this website, in my classrooms, and in the lecture halls around the world where I have spoken, I have emphasized time after time the significance about human intelligence comprehending intelligible reality in order to make, follow, and adjudicate norms that protect and further the common good. This approach to the law, legal education, and what both are about is distant from the efforts of our Government and its confederates in their persistent efforts that will likely, in the long harm, do more harm than the good it was supposed to achieve.
Again, I am grateful to Marc and Kevin for their work to demonstrate the reality of the law and its implications on the lives of many who will suffer under it. The so-called reality of the matter as explained by the state in its defense of this problematic legislation is anything but valid; it is, in fact, a reification of what the state thinks is in the best interest of the common good of the American people but is not.
December 19, 2013
A Seasonal Meditation on Catholic Legal Theory
After an absence from this site of two months, I return today with this brief seasonal meditation. For those who wonder where I have been, it can be said that issues of my health necessitating hospitalization for a time and then time-consuming follow-up have been largely responsible for my absence. But now, here I am. May it also be said that I come to do God’s will.
During my time in the hospital, I had the occasion to think and pray about many things, e.g., the meaning of human life and human endeavors—including my own. A subset of this topic intersects the raison d’être of our website, the Mirror of Justice, viz. the development of Catholic legal theory. Since my hospital discharge, I have reread the contributions of many of my friends who offer their thoughts concerning the essence of our common project on these pages in addition to some of my own. A resolution I adopted in the hospital was this: I must return to the matter of investigating what is Catholic legal theory.
But my resolution and current reflection are influenced by the present liturgical season we celebrate in Christendom, i.e., Advent and preparation for the coming of Christ, who came as God and man to save us from our sins. Does this Christian perspective on the state of humanity have something to do with law? I think it does.
While not all sins are something with which the law is or should be concerned (e.g., did someone snitch a Christmas cookie just as they came out of the oven knowing that the cookie chef has stipulated that no cookie is to be eaten until its proper time?), some are. By sin, I mean recognition by the human person that he or she ought to do something, but intentionally does not; in the alternative, the person should avoid something, but of his or her own volition, plunges into the thing’s execution. Surely the nature of some sins intersects the nature of grave crimes and civil offenses with which the law is concerned. In making this assertion I answer the question: does the law address matters of sin? It certainly can, but the manner in which it does is a subject that falls within the scope of legal theory including that which identifies itself as Catholic.
In addressing how the law should respond to these crimes and civil offenses, some legal theories take a pragmatic approach. Others may follow a utilitarian passage. Still others may be influenced by considering the consequences of what is done and what is avoided. But Catholic legal theory, if it is true to its moniker “Catholic,” must consider and explore the moral dimension—this is the natural moral law at work, an essential component of Catholic thinking. Authentic Catholic legal theory must also rely upon objective reasoning that takes the thinker beyond his or her comfort zones—the subjective, if you will. This type of reasoning relies on the intelligence of the human person to comprehend the world, society, and all their intelligible realities that must be objectively, not subjectively, understood.
But that is not all that there is to the motivating force underlying Catholic legal theory. Surely the consideration of the common good—the good of each in the context of the good of all, the suum cuique—is another vital consideration. All these factors are part of the assembly of the essence of Catholic legal theory. They are not the only considerations, but they are critical ones (others would include the concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity). When these components come together, they should necessarily lead to the avoidance of evil and the doing of that which is good, if I may borrow from the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas.
Much more needs to be said about what I have presented here, but this is a weblog post rather than a treatise. Perhaps one day, we may have a collection of essays that can be published in a volume that is entitled along the lines of: Perspectives on Catholic Legal Theory. But let me suggest one final thought for today, and that is this: these elements of Catholic legal theory which I have cursorily presented here in this post have much to offer society in general, particularly in avoiding the traps of the manifestations of totalitarian democracy—as foretold by people like Jacob Talmon and Christopher Dawson—which seem to be extant in the political and legal fabric of the present day. If one doubts this thesis, we need to re-read the recent contributions of many of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice. But these elements of Catholic legal theory also have something to do with Christ who came to save us from our sins, especially those sins that are also of concern to the law which is and must be a servant, not the master, of the human family and each of its members.
In short, Catholic legal theory has something to offer all persons and their societies that concern salvation in this world. But Catholic legal theory also has something to offer those persons who are equally concerned about the world that is to come.
October 07, 2013
On Coherence and Confusion
Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly known as Our Lady of Victory. The memorial commemorates the victory of the Holy League against the Ottoman Empire on this date in 1571. The Christian victory over the superior Ottoman forces was an important milestone in preserving, at least for a while, the Christian identity of Europe. Today the Board of Trustees of Loyola Marymount University (LMU) may vote on the whether the university’s health coverage for staff and faculty maintains or jettisons elective abortion coverage. This vote is a different milestone which will substantively affect the Catholic identity of LMU.
Some within the temporal media have chimed in the matter of LMU’s crossroads. For example, yesterday, October 6, 2013, The New York Times in an article by Ian Lovett, entitled “Abortion Vote Exposes Rift at a Catholic University,” begins by mentioning that not three weeks have passed since Pope Francis asserted that the Church is obsessed with abortion, but the author cites the pope with his words, “We have to find a new balance.” The New York Times did not mention that within hours of his La Civiltà Cattolica interview being published and from which these words were taken, the Holy Father addressed the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and discussed the matter of abortion in greater depth. If one were truly interested in what Pope Francis has to say about abortion, I would think it relevant to consider in coherent fashion his statements on this, or any, subject so that a brief, perhaps casual remark could be put into its proper context.
In remarks of September 20, Pope Francis exhorted the members of the Catholic Medical Associations to be witnesses and diffusers of the culture of life. Well, this same exhortation should apply to any institution that uses the moniker “Catholic.” As the pope explained, being Catholic entails a great responsibility, in accordance with the Christian vocation to culture, to remind others of the transcendent dimension of human life that bears the divine imprint of God’s creative work. In order not to leave any ambiguity in the meaning of his words, Pope Francis further asserted that, “Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.”
Coherent explanation is important to the law as it is to presentation of news and opinion. In the law, a segment of the law ought not to be read and applied out of the context of the rest of the same law or laws that relate to the same subject matter under in pari materia. But coherence is also important to informing the public of important matters of general concern that affect the common good, and the issue of abortion is one of these matters. To suggest, as The New York Times does, that matters of “academic freedom” and “social justice” are at stake if the Trustees of LMU discard elective abortion coverage from the health care plan is incoherent and confuses this important decision that goes to the soul of what LMU is and is not. Regarding academic freedom, there is little attention paid to the freedom of LMU to remain true to its Catholic nature. It seems that only the freedom of those who are not faithful Catholics is worth protecting. When it comes to the matter of “social justice,” does “social justice” demand the continuance of the snuffing out of innocent human life? Since 1973, there have been over fifty million abortions attributed to the United States. This is for me, and I am sure for others, a genuine concern about social justice, but this factor is also relegated to important facts not worth mentioning by some in the temporal media.
If today’s vote is a “symbolic battle for the university’s soul” as The New York Times suggests about the LMU vote, then perhaps Our Lady of Victory will bless her faithful sons and daughters at LMU with the wisdom necessary to confront the challenges of this struggle which are more than symbolic.
October 05, 2013
So What Is Papa Bergoglio Really Saying
Once again another Pope Francis interview hits the temporal media with the La Repubblica interview written by Eugenio Scalfari, a well educated man who left the Church but desires to engage the Holy Father. It is clear from the La Repubblica publication that the Pope's comments were not recorded digitally or in notes but in a mental reconstruction by Senor Scalfari. Once again, the temporal press is taking elements of the interview out of a much deeper context so their selective emphases distort what the Pope actually said, some of which has a bearing on juridical and ecclesial issues, particularly the social teachings of the Church which are of interest to many in the Mirror of Justice community.
The United States Assistancy has an interesting publication called the "Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits." The current issue, which came out today, has the first of a two-part publication of some of Father Bergoglio's writings as Jesuit Provincial and formator. These writings are translated and edited by Father Philip Endean, SJ of the British Province. Philip and I are friends even though we don't always agree on certain points. But agreement on everything is not essential to authentic friendship. Father Endean has done an important service in this translation project by showing what underpins the contemporary expressions of Pope Francis that are hitting the press today. I have just read the first installment of the translations of some of the early Bergoglio writings, and the contrast on some matters between Father Ratzinger and Father Bergoglio appear from time to time. But what demonstrates a union of the minds of this two men who became the Vicar of Christ is their mutual concern about sin, salvation, and elitism or self-referentialism.
The Assistancy has kindly made Father Endean's most helpful work available HERE . I am confident that readers will find Father Bergoglio's past words informative and indicative of who he is and where he's going.
September 28, 2013
The Law, Rules, and Salvation
A few days ago I suggested that I would return to a brief comment on Pope Francis's recent interview on which others here at the Mirror of Justice have previously commented. I think that the pope's words have a bearing on the law as it is a system of rules or precepts. Interestingly, some commentators have focused on what the pope called "small-minded rules," but then not all rules, not all laws--be they of God or of Man--are small-minded. The pope also reminded priests of the need to offer in their homilies the need to address what he calls "the first proclamation": salvation. In view of these points, here is a homily for this weekend that brings together particular messages from sacred scripture and the pope's words:
Amos 6:1, 4-7
Wasting, self-indulgence, and complacency—while not necessarily evil—are not good attributes for any person to pursue. This is something about which the prophet Amos reminds us. This is one way to the road to sin, and sin exiles as from God as the prophet further suggests. In sin, we fall from God’s grace because we become absorbed in our own interests that may not be the things of God. Sin leads to a fall, a fall that damages the soul because we engineer a chasm between ourselves and the God of mercy and forgiveness. Yet there is still hope…
I was reminded of the significance of the fall and of hope on Friday morning as I was attempting to cross Michigan Avenue near the Chicago Water Tower. Intent on reaching the pedestrian light before it was too late, I did not realize that my left foot caught on the uneven pavement, and I was destined for a bruising fall. Here I was a sinner whose mind was on other matters but falling once again; yet, I was pulled from a more painful experience by three kind souls who were attentive enough to realize a fellow pilgrim in distress. The fall was broken by the hope displayed by those who came to my aid and helped save me from more serious consequences.
This episode of a modest form of a kind of salvation history recalls Saint Luke’s account of the rich man Dives and the chasm he established between himself, Lazarus, and Abraham. Dives was not intentionally cruel to the poor Lazarus or to anyone else. He simply did not see anyone else, including God. Lazarus is not real to the rich man because of the self-indulgence with which Dives surrounded himself. His whole life centers on himself.
The world of Dives can be summarized in this fashion: It is all about ME! The great chasm, the separation, is self-inflicted by Dives. He does not quite get the picture: no one forced him to do this. He chose this path himself. Abraham reminds Dives of this. Then Dives begins to wonder and worry about his five brothers—will they share the fate of Dives? It seems that Abraham is callous to Dives request to help the brothers. But this is not correct, for Abraham is telling Dives that they have had and continue to have warnings about the proper way to live one’s life in this world. All they must do is pay attention.
Hence the reference to Moses and the prophets: those who are inclined to sin nonetheless have warnings. All they need to do is pay attention to them, but do they? Will they? The answers to these questions depend on their openness to the God’s mercy and forgiveness. But first they must realize that they alone are causing themselves to sin. This realization was at the very core of Pope Francis’s candid interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro a fellow Jesuit. Pope Francis returned to the reality of his own sinfulness.
But unlike Dives, Francis turns to the mercy and patience of God to receive what the pope calls the “spirit of penance.” Pope Francis, unlike Dives, realizes that even for the sinner—one who acknowledges his intentional wrongdoing before God and man—is the recipient of salvation.
Unlike Dives who was self-centered, Francis has shown the way that Christ, the One who came to save us from our sins, is and must be at the center of human existence.
What gets the human person back on track to God by turning from self-indulgence is thinking with God and His Church—God’s holy people. Francis warns that this is not thinking with the misguided populism that often captures the minds of those who live in the present moment; rather, it is thinking and acting in accord with those who seek the path to greater holiness and, therefore, proximity to God in their lives.
Francis’s words about “small-minded rules” have been misinterpreted and misappropriated. These “rules” have been confused with fundamental teachings of the Christian faith that are inextricably tied to human salvation. We need to be mindful that first and foremost Christ has come to save us from our sins and sinful tendencies. What leads us to this realization is not “small minded” in any fashion. To intensify the significance of the centrality of this principle of faith, Francis spoke of the importance of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Our good confession must be handled by a good confessor—not one who is too rigorist and not one who is too lax. With exuberant rigor, we may miss the mercy of God; with laxity, we may miss the fact that we have sinned and, like the woman in John’s Gospel who had sinned, that we are asked by God, through the confessor, to go and sin no more. The sacrament is not designed to condemn; rather, the sacrament was established to reform so that we sin less and less and seek authentic holiness more and more.
As Pope Francis properly noted, the sacrament of confession is not a “torture chamber” but a place that incubates and intensifies holiness. When we realize that our free will is better suited to directing ourselves to what we ought to do rather than to what we want to do, the mercy of God to absolve us from any defiance we have committed becomes all the more clear. The chasms we have generated by sin become crossable by the grace of God and His tender mercy. But when we ignore God’s mercy and beckoning to Him, we become like Dives separated from God and His holy people by the deepening chasm of sin. But the gulf can be forded when we acknowledge the wrongdoing that seemed at one time so attractive and excusable.
This is the message of salvation that Christ brought into this world; this is the reality of God’s self-gift and His suffering for our sins. All that is needed for the salvation to become complete is the redirection of our human will to embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness and to sin no more. But even if we cannot absolutely guarantee that we will sin nor more, may we at least seek to sin no more by not forgetting to ask God’s help to thwart whatever temptations come our way!
All that is needed is faith and adherence to what God asks. With that as our disposition: God will surely help us with the rest. For as the Psalmist reminds us: blessed are those who keep the faith, who hope in God, and who exercise caritas. Then will God’s protection and salvation be at hand!
September 23, 2013
On Universals and Particulars
First of all, I should like to thank Lisa for her kind, generous words in her recent posting “International Perspectives on Family” regarding last week’s conference in Rome that celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Charter of the Rights of the Family (the Charter).
As one of the key presenters of a formal paper (yes, Lisa, I think they will be published—but anyone wishing to see my final draft can request a PDF copy from me), I had to think long and hard about how a major document of the Church intersects not only domestic law principles but international law principles as well.
In doing so I reached a conclusion that I have arrived at probably thousands of times before that there is a connection between human law made by states and natural law reasoning. This became evident once again when I saw parallels between the laws of many national legal systems, several international texts, and the Charter.
The essence of the parallels is how human intelligence that thinks objectively (beyond its comfort zone, if you will) in comprehending the intelligible reality of specific matters can develop normative principles (laws) that are fitting and just not only for a particular place but for all places and all peoples. This claim reveals the truth about the basic structure and substantive content of the Charter.
I think this realization also reflects a further truth about law in general. While different legal cultures need to respond to the issues that are pressing upon that culture, there are, nonetheless matters which are of concern for all people and that necessitate universal norms. The Charter and its substantive content demonstrate this, as do the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several important international human rights instruments of the latter half of the 20th century. All of these texts rely to a large extent upon the objectivity of natural law reasoning.
Here is where an important element needs to be introduced about the Catholic take on law. Like Lisa, I saw at this conference members of the faithful from virtually every continent who, in spite of their particular concerns back home, largely agree on the need for universal principles designed to promote and protect the fundamental unit of society—the natural family. In this context I reflected on how often I have heard some American Catholics who are, when all is said, very kind and decent people, nonetheless claim that the American (i.e., USA) church is very different from all others because of the uniqueness of the polity in which we live. Well, in some ways, this can be said of all the local churches around the world including those of the several hundred dioceses of the United States. But still, in spite of these differences, there is a need to acknowledge through the application of objective reason that these local and particular differences cannot and must not interfere with the universality of fundamental Church teachings which are of significance to all persons regardless of where they are in the world. The truth of this claim became all the more clear as the conference of which Lisa and I were a part reached its conclusion on midday Saturday.
Again, I extend to Lisa my profound gratitude for her thoughtful words, and I look forward to the publication of the several formal papers delivered at this conference.
On a seemingly different but not unrelated matter, I hope to offer my reflections on Pope Francis’s interview of last week. It was interesting for me, at last week’s conference, to see how others around the world comprehend the pope’s lengthy interview, and how it has been perceived by influential members of our American culture. Again, I hope to tackle this chore soon and to contribute to the thread begun by Rick, given our dedicated purpose of developing Catholic legal theory.
September 07, 2013
The Use of Force: Fasting and Prayer
Pope Francis issued a letter on September 4 addressed to President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation who is hosting the G20 that has gathered at St. Petersburg for their periodic summit. [the letter is HERE]
The Holy Father follows the efforts of his predecessors of modern times beginning with Benedict XV (who was the Roman Pontiff during the First World War) who have exhorted the pursuit of peaceful means of resolving disputes—even disputes commenced by tyrants. It is important to recognize the international juridical elements of their pleas and how these Vicars of Christ, including Francis, emphasize uniform elements in their respective requests and pleas geared to avoiding the use of force. Their counsel brings a different dimension to the so-called Just War theory.
Interestingly, Pope Francis begins with a short discussion about economic issues, but as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphasized in a number of their respective annual World Day of Peace messages, economic issues have a direct role in the stabilization of peace or its disruption.
A second important element—a point emphasized by both Benedict XV and Pius XII in their respective interventions during the two world wars—is to search for and use peaceful means for resolving disputes, for they have a far better hope of maintaining a just peace than does the use of force.
A third point follows: Francis, like his predecessors, is not naïve about the use of force and its existence and practice in the contemporary age. Therefore, if force is regrettably used, all efforts must be exercised to ensure that those adversely affected by any use of force or military conflict be protected with the necessary humanitarian aid so those who are the victims of the use of this force will suffer minimally, if at all.
In the meantime, those of us who are able to do so are encouraged to fast and pray for the wisdom of God which is the most effective means of resolving disputes and of promoting a lasting reconciliation.