Thursday, 27 September 2012

The call to overcome fear and silence

The Knights of St Columba have organised a Chain of Prayer with a pro-life and pro-family intention. Yesterday, the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian I celebrated a sung English Mass at Blackfen in response to a request for Mass from the local Council of the KSC. Here is my sermon:

Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10.32)

In God’s providence, the day for our Mass for the Knights of St Columba chain of Prayer is the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian. They are the patron saints of doctors, who are also involved with promoting the sanctity of human life so ask them this evening to divert their prayers also to politicians for whom we are praying.

In the “Chain of Prayer”, our intention is:
“that our politicians heed the message of faith to uphold human life from conception to the grave and defend the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Unlike the early Christians of the time of St Cosmas and Damian, we are free to express our views in the public square. In our own time, in Pakistan, North Korea and many other states, Christians are persecuted for professing their faith. We must not only cherish our freedom, we must use it. The intention of the chain of prayer identifies two crucial questions on which we have the duty to speak out.

Perhaps the sanctity of life seems an obvious truth. We have no right to kill an unborn child, or to experiment on, and then kill human embryos, or to discard them as by-products in the laboratory production of children.

Still, we need to examine our own consciences. The penny catechism gives a good summary of the ways in which we might cause or share in the guild of another’s sin:
1. By counsel.
2. By command.
3. By consent.
4. By provocation.
5. By praise or flattery.
6. By concealment.
7. By being a partner in the sin.
8. By silence.
9. By defending the ill done.
Many of these may not apply to us, but Catholics have certainly in some cases consented to the sin of others in taking human life, or remained silent, or defended the ill done because it is a “special case.” Some of the bitterest opposition to Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life comes from those who are part of a “condoning generation” who have in the past co-operated in one way or another with abortion or euthanasia, thinking that it was all right in a particular case.

Blessed Pope John Paul’s invitation to women who have had an abortion applies equally to those who have in some way condoned abortion:
Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.[1]
The Holy Father went on to invite such women to become promoters of a new way of looking at life. That applies to anyone who has compromised in the past, and indeed to all of us who have failed to speak out with sufficient courage. We are all called to conversion in recognising the absolute and inviolable sanctity of the life of the smallest and weakest members of our society.

We also face today the redefinition of marriage. The teaching of the Church, affirming the natural law, was set out clearly by Pope Paul VI in his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. Quoting the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, the Pope said:
“Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”[2]
In consequence, he reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, shared by most other Christians until early in the 20th century, that contraception, sterilisation and abortion were unlawful means of birth control.

Pope Paul’s teaching was widely rejecting by people within the Church, both in principle and in practice. Today we can see the wisdom of his warning of the consequences of the widespread availability of contraception. It would, he said:
"open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law."[3]
In 1968 it would have been considered extremist scaremongering if you had said that another consequence of breaking the link between the use of the marriage act and procreation would be that countries across the West would within fifty years be proposing legislation for same sex marriage.

In this matter it is now perilous for us even to speak. I therefore like to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that if I am arrested, it will be for giving the teaching of the Church and not my personal opinion:
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."[4]
The Catechism teaches us to act with compassion and sensitivity towards people with same sex attraction. In other words, it recognises that this inclination is itself problematic; it uses the expression “objectively disordered” carefully to avoid the implication that an inclination to same sex attraction is itself the fault of the individual, whilst at the same time indicating clearly that it is not a good.

Politically, in the public square, we need to focus on the damage that the redefinition of marriage will do to society as well as the probably consequence of further coercion of Christians to act against their conscience.

Fear and silence now stalk the UK on this matter. People are afraid even to speak. Politicians and the press who only a few years ago would have derided the idea of same sex marriage in terms that we would regard as lacking in compassion and sensitivity, now fall over each other to support the idea. In such a moral climate we must uphold the teaching of the natural law, of St Paul, of the Catholic Church, and of all Christians until recently that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman created by God for the purpose of mutual love and the procreation of children.

I have one criticism of the wording of the “Chain of Prayer.” We are not asking politicians only to heed a “message of faith” but in fact a message of the natural moral order for the good of society.

We must ask Our Blessed Lady to pray for us, especially that we have the wisdom to act in the way that will best convince people of the truth. But we must, as men, stand up with courage for the sake of those who are corrupted by the “general lowering of moral standards” of which Pope Paul spoke. For this we need to ask the Holy Spirit once more for that gift He gave us at the sacrament of Confirmation, the gratia ad robur, grace for strengthening us to bear witness to the truth. Saints Cosmas and Damian did so at the cost of their lives. It was the same grace of the Holy Spirit that strengthened them.

Come O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful.

[1] Evangelium Vitae n.99
[2] Humanae Vitae n.9. Gaudium et Spes n.50
[3] Humanae Vitae n.17
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church n.2358
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