29 October 2010

The silence of the wolves. . .

30th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Rules, regulations, laws are all attempts to express the most basic principles of a civilization. Traffic laws are meant to embody the need for everyone to drive safely. Food safety laws express a common concern that we are not killed by what we eat and drink. If a traffic law required a driver to speed through a school zone, or a food safety law required soda makers to dose their drinks with poison, we would all agree that these laws violate the fundamental principles they were created to express. In the Church, we have canon law, rubrics for liturgical celebrations, moral precepts, and dogmatic definitions—all designed to express the first commandment of Christ to his disciples: love God, neighbor, and self with the whole of one's body, mind, spirit, and strength. None of the Church's rules or regs mean a thing if they fail to help us follow the law of love. For example, Jesus confronts the scholars and Pharisees with a chance to condemn him when he heals a man on the Sabbath. When asked if he should break the Sabbath law by curing the man, the scholars and Pharisees remain silent. Rather than protest or argue, they simply keep their mouths shut, choosing instead to watch and wait to see what Jesus will do.

What does Jesus do? He responds to their uncaring silence with a miracle. He heals the man and asks, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” Again, the scholars and Pharisees remain silent, “unable to answer his question.” Why are they unable or unwilling to answer? It never seems to have been a problem for them in the past! If they were to admit that they would rescue their sons or their oxen on the Sabbath, then they would be admitting to the possibility that the Sabbath laws against work are not absolute. If they were to admit that they would leave their sons or their oxen to die, then they would be revealed to be cold-hearted legalists. The first choice makes them lawbreakers. The second choice makes them moral monsters. That they seem to understand these choices is a sign of hope that they not wholly lost to love, not wholly given over to the brutality of bureaucratic minutiae.

The freedom we enjoy as children of God is the freedom of those who know and understand that we were created by divine love and re-created by that love incarnated as one who walks among us as one of us. Christ came to us as the Word made flesh not the Law made flesh. He came to us as the first principle and culmination of his Father's plan for all creation: to bring us back to the One who is Love. No law or regulation or dogma can supersede its fundamental intent, its ultimate purpose. The fundamental intent, the ultimate purpose of Christ's life, death, and resurrection is our salvation. If we must heal on the Sabbath in order to give witness to God's love, then we heal on the Sabbath. We are slaves to divine love and obedience to this master is our salvation.

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  1. I agree with all you say, but your last four sentences make me uneasy. How to express - and even think - this without drifting towards situational ethics?

    Once there, we know that liberal moralists can provide specious but convincing justifications for abortion and euthanasia in hard cases.

  2. Left...situational ethicists have already distorted the Church's clear teaching on abortion, etc. to suit their agenda. If anyone thinks that abortion, euthanasia, etc. are acts of love, then there's pretty much no hope for them anyway.

  3. Why there's no more podcast homilies, Fr.?

  4. MFT, I consistently forget to bring my recorder! Maybe I should figure out a way to hang it on my rosary???

    Promise to do better...

  5. Terry Carroll8:03 AM

    I am with Left-Footer in my concerns. The intrinsic evil of abortion and euthanasia are more clear cut than what many would consider "murkier" ethical waters, such as birth control practices, or divorce, etc.

    I was once enamored of what someone called "the principle of theological decency," i.e., "God is at least as decent a person as you or I." This "principle" could be used, much like "situation ethics," to project our own sense of "decency" on to God and justify almost anything by appeal to "a decent person wouldn't act like that," and, "since God is at least as decent as you or I (since we are made in God's image and likeness), God would most likely act and judge more like us than not."

    This "principle" invites us to be the measure of divine mercy and love. That may be okay for canonized Saints (who could say, like St. Augustine, "love God and do what you want"), but it is imprudent advice for "the likes of me." It is way too easy to rationalize for my own benefit.

    Given the virtually absent catechesis on matters of faith and morals in the Catholic Church today, I think we do a disservice when we fail to emphasize the importance, and wisdom, of traditional moral precepts. Strictures against birth control, divorce, abortion and euthanasia are not just "rules" or "laws." They are embodiments of divine wisdom which we need to understand, clearly, as binding on the conscience, and why.

    Man was, indeed, made for the sabbath, not the sabbath for man. But the First Commandment requiring worship of God is not violated by a "common sense" breach in the same way that murder violates the Fifth Commandment. The intrinsic evil of killing an unborn child admits of no "common sense" or "compassionate" exceptions; missing Mass on Sunday does.

    I don't mean this as criticism of your homily. It's just an excuse for me to reflect out loud! There is, and has been, obviously, such a thing as "legalism," and we are right to teach as Jesus taught. It's just that this teaching presumes a more solid catechetical foundation than is too often the case. We need to hear, today, more about why the Church teaches as She does (even THAT She teaches as She does) than about how and when exceptions to this teaching might be justified.

  6. OK, Fr.

    But even if you're not able to record them, it would be great if you could post "text-only" Sunday homilies.