2nd Week OT (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
By necessity—for the sake of good order and the flourishing of justice—our lives are shaped and guided by laws both natural and man-made. There are limits set by the natural order that define us as human. We cannot violate these limits and remain rational animals. No amount of government intervention, no number of rules or regulations, no army or police force can require us to set ourselves against the laws of nature. Even the attempt is unnatural. The laws we make as social creatures often have less to do with our natural means and ends than they do with our need to express what we perceive to be right and wrong behavior in the community. Sometimes, perhaps more than we are willing to admit, man-made law fails to conform to the natural law, and we are confronted with the possibility of protesting with acts of civil disobedience. A recent example of this emerged in the U.S. With the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. A group of leading Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Orthodox church leaders signed this statement , callinig on Christians in the U.S. to stand against the culture of death and prepare themselves for civil disobedience against attempts to further violate the dignity of the human person by the government expansion of abortion rights, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, and the invention of same-sex marriage. These leaders ask Christians to be ready and willing to fight a war against the legal notion that the Pharisees assume when they accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath: man serves the law. Jesus' retort sets the bar higher: no, the law serves man.
Few of us get out of bed in the morning thinking of ways to commit criminal acts. It's safe to say that most of us never give it much thought at all. We are law-abiding citizens here in Italy and in our own countries. We do not seek out opportunities to cause trouble nor do we do out of our way to look for unjust laws. So long as we are left alone to study, pray, enjoy our basic freedoms, and flourish as children of God, we are happy to go along with whatever parliament or Congress orders. As governments grow bolder and bolder in their attempts to infringe on basic human rights through legislation that violates the natural law, our peace with the legal status quo grows more and more uneasy. It may not be inevitable that we find ourselves in jail for civil disobedience but it seems that the chances grow with every time parliament meets. How do we respond?
Yesterday, in the U.S., Americans remembered Martin Luther King. In 1963, from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he reminded the Church of her successful witness and current failure: “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . .Small in number, they were big in commitment. . .By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. . .Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
Being just is easy in the absence of challenge. Doing justice in the face of government sanctioned oppression—especially the oppression of our religious freedoms—is difficult at best, impossible if we surrender. Our fight will not be against local politicians but with a universal lie: man serves the law. When the time comes, remember Jesus standing in the field, teaching the Pharisees: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” And if he is lord even of the Sabbath, how much more is he our Lord as well?
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