21 March 2010

The Gospel of Life and Health Care Reform

Here is the homily I preached at St. Mary's, Greenville on 21 March 2010, the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

On 25 March 1995, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life. Today, four days before the fifteenth anniversary of that glorious defense of the Gospel of Life, the Congress of the United States, led to this moment by the President of the United States, is poised to enshrine in American law a savage assault on human life and the freedom of conscience of those pledged to help heal the sick. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and the tyranny of abortion is about to be enshrined under the guise of health care reform as a public entitlement which will be paid for by public funds collected from every tax payer and from which, in due course, no doctor, nurse, hospital, or clinic will be permitted to withdraw on a conscientious objection. This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by self-described Catholics.

It must be said that the general effort to change the ways in which we Americans pay for our health care is a prudential matter about which reasonable people are free to disagree in good conscience. Passionate arguments have been advanced in this debate by partisans of every viewpoint, and in most of these arguments no absolute moral truths have been at stake. But there is one absolute moral truth at stake now, and it is this: Abortion is a crime against God and man which no human law can legitimize. And as John Paul the Great taught us in Evangelium Vitae, not only is there no obligation to obey such laws; there is, instead, a grave and clear obligation to oppose such laws by conscientious objection and, when necessary, civil disobedience.

In these last days of this national debate, some voices have been raised by those who identity themselves as Catholic to say that the bill which will be voted on today does not provide funds for abortion, but that is simply false. Our Bishop Robert wrote to every priest of the diocese on Friday to say that “It is evident the current health care legislation before the House of Representatives violates the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church in several areas. As pastors of souls we have an obligation to form our people to understand the end can never justify the means. The lives of the innocent unborn cannot be sacrificed so that health insurance can be extended to some who do not have it.” Then in a companion letter addressed to all the faithful of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Guglielmone asks all of us to oppose this legislation “because it will allow for federal funding of abortion and will not provide conscience protection for health care professionals and health care institutions.” The bishop then adds that “Unfortunately, some organizations and individuals have decided that it is better to pass something to help a few. We can never allow evil to be done for own personal gain or for the benefit of some. Abortion should not be a part of health care reform, nor financed with tax dollars.”

Sadly, despite the clear and constant teaching on this point by our bishop and the entire United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have been declarations in support of the present legislation by organizations calling themselves Catholic. The Catholic Health Association supported the bill, as did a left wing lobbying group of nuns called Network. And perhaps most disappointing for us locally, so did the Bon Secours Health System which owns and operates St. Francis Hospital here in Greenville.

The approach advocated by these groups, namely, to accept an evil that good may come of it, is the devil’s bargain, and it will inevitably ensnare everyone who accepts that bargain in material cooperation with evil. This means that even those who do not endorse abortion will be bound up with the actual performance of abortions in some way, and now the entire nation will be bound by law to pay for abortions. But my friends, abortion is not health care; it is murder most foul. And for us to look away from this abomination would entail our own cooperation with evil.

At the risk of raising eyebrows or worse, I must pause here to say that no one in this congregation should be surprised by these developments. In November 2008 I wrote to you that the election of Barack Obama ended “a political process that started two years ago and revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a ‘Culture War,’ by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards as a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state. Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.”

At the time I wrote that column, my words were regarded by many as extreme, but here we are, a year and half later, poised at the brink of tyranny. Now even those who oppose abortion may say, Tyranny? Really, Father, isn’t that a bit over the top? No; not in the least. When moral relativism is made a legal absolute even by a legal and democratic process, then basic human rights will be violated by the state in the name of tolerance. We have seen this in recent years in Massachusetts where the Catholic Church was forced out of coordinating the adoption of children because we will not place them with homosexual couples and in Washington, DC where Catholic Charities can no longer offer health insurance to spouses of its employees because we would otherwise be forced to do the same for domestic partners living in what we know to be a state of sin. These are examples of what Joseph Ratzinger called the dictatorship of relativism in the homily he preached just before the conclave that elected him to be Benedict XVI, and now this dictatorship has come to the Republic founded on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed every man with the natural right to life as the ground of living in liberty and pursuing happiness. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by Catholics. Or, to put the matter more sharply, by those who call themselves Catholics.

So, what are we to do?

First, we must resist unjust laws and fight the dictatorship of relativism with every means at our disposal. If you have ever considered a politician’s position on abortion to be a minor matter in deciding on how to vote, I hope you now understand the folly of that position. Direct political action, constant vigilance against the growth of the dictatorship of relativism, civil disobedience, and a valiant defense of the Gospel of Life are all required of us now that a grave injustice will be enshrined in law.

Second, we must call things by their true and proper names. For example, where abortion is concerned, there is no such thing as being pro-choice. When the thing being chosen is murder, there is only pro-life and pro-death. I set before you today life and death. Choose life! that you and your children may live. And to take another example, the Bon Secours Health System has now laid bare the terrible truth that St. Francis Hospital is a Catholic institution in name only. You may continue to need their services for medical reasons, but please do not make the mistake of supporting that institution simply because there is a crucifix on the wall. There is no essential difference between a secular hospital and a theoretically Catholic hospital when the latter does what the Bon Secours System has done: namely, accept and endorse material cooperation with evil against the teaching of the Bishops of the Catholic Church.

Third, we must commit ourselves with new energy and fervor to living as evangelical Catholics through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. This is the only way to expose the false catholicisms which are helping to destroy our nation by building lies into laws. A good way to begin the long campaign which has now been forced upon us is to read John Paul’s masterful encyclical, Evangelium Vitae or the Gospel of Life. You can find the English text in five seconds on the internet, and it is well worth a careful study. John Paul the Great, a man who saw with his own eyes the terrible consequences of a tyranny which denies the essential humanity of an entire class of persons, opens his letter with these words:

“The Gospel of Life is at the heart of the message of Jesus. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture. 

“At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11). The source of this ‘great joy’ is the Birth of the Savior; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. John 16:21).

“The Church knows that this Gospel of Life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person -- believer and non-believer alike -- because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light  of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the human heart (cf. Romans 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.” (EV 1).

Listen again to that last sentence: Upon the recognition of this right, the right to life, every human and political community is founded. And now the Congress and President of the United States of America are preparing, in the name of extending health care in our nation, to embrace a refutation of the very right to exist of unborn children. My friends, this cannot stand, and while it stands we cannot cooperate in any way with the slaughter of the innocents. Such resistance may cost us dearly, but this is not the first time in the history of the world that following the Lord Jesus has been costly. Hear the Apostle Paul, Teacher of the Nations, in this morning’s Second Lesson:

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!