25th Sunday in OT (A)
Sacred Heart-St. Louis Parish, Gervais, Oregon
September 21, 2008
Fr. John Cihak, S.T.D.
It seems that now most of the harvests are in. Since this is my second summer as pastor here in French Prairie, I am beginning to learn the order of the crops. Something that has impressed me about the harvest is the beautiful technology that is the combine. As I understand it, a combine has a series of sieves, the first of which eliminates the largest and most obvious refuse, kicking the chaff back onto the field for baling. The rest goes through the other sieves until you have mostly seed. Now I also understand that even after combining the seed still needs to be taken to a plant and cleaned until there is a certain percentage of pure seed. The combine is truly a marvelous, though expensive, invention. (I’m also amazed at the sheer amount of cash that goes into farming. One farmer recently told me that during harvest has was spending $1,000/day in diesel fuel!) Well the harvest season is over, yet we find ourselves in the midst of another season, an election season. This is a season where we find people yelling at their televisions and it’s not some sporting event. In this election season, I think the image of the combine can help us sift through the issues and candidates of the complex political field, to help separate out the issues and candidates in order to produce good seed.
Today St. Paul tells us, “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In everything we think, say and do, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – in how we live, how we spend our money, how we raise our children, and how we vote. We are about to cast our vote for a new president. As Catholics, our allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Church is always first, yet because we love our country, we seek to enflesh His law in the laws of our country. Such a task reveals the heart of a true patriot – that our republic, this great experiment in democracy, would be enbued with the truth of natural law revealed through human reason and the revealed law revealed through faith.
The first thing we should be doing for the election is engaging in the necessary spiritual work. In other words, this is a season where we Catholics should be praying and fasting for the good of our nation. We can accomplish no good deed without the help of divine grace, and prayer and fasting help to open up channels of grace in the world. We Catholics can obtain many graces for the good of our country. Because we live in a democratic republic, our vote is also important. It may not seem like much, one vote among so many millions, but it is our exercise of political power and it is a sacred duty – not one to be taken lightly. This exercise of political power is not for ourselves or for special interest groups, but for what is objectively good for our country. Therefore, we don’t vote according to our pocketbooks, and we don’t vote simply based on party affiliation. We vote according to the Truth as thinking human beings who follow the dictates of reason (natural law) and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (revealed law).
As thinking Catholics we approach a political scene which does not completely reflect the Catholic position. Moreoever, two very prominent Senators who identify themselves as Catholics have greatly misrepresented the Church’s teaching in the media. And the bishops of the United States have responded to these misrepresentations in a statement by Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop Lori of Bridgeport. The Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, has also published an open letter in many secular newspapers across the nation to one of those senators calling him to task for his position on abortion. How are we to navigate through the issues in voting for a new president, and how as your pastor can I help to clarify some of the political issues? Well, I think the image of a combine helps us. Through human reason, we can set up some “sieves of logic” which can filter the issues and candidates, and help to identify a candidate who most closely resembles the truth of the natural law and our Catholic faith for this would be what is objectively good for our country. There are two basic sieves, or categories, of issues. Not every issue holds the same weight as others.
The first sieve screens the candidates on issues having to do with life itself; the second sieve screens the candidate on issues having to do with the quality of life. The first and most important category contains those issues having to do with life itself: that human life has an inherent dignity given by God from the moment of conception until natural death and would receive equal protection under the law. We cannot begin to talk about the quality of human life until we have first established life itself. To disregard the issues regarding life itself and to go directly to issues concerning the quality of life doesn’t make any logical sense. It is also important to remember that the issues that form the filter of the first sieve come to us from the natural law and are reinforced in the revealed law. In other words, we can know the truth of these matters through our human reason. It doesn’t matter whether we are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, humanist or even atheist. If we exercise our rational capacity, we can come to know these non-negotiable issues having to do with life itself, and in the current political scene they are five: 1) Abortion; 2) Euthanasia; 3) Embryonic Stem Cell Research; 4) Human Cloning and 5) Homosexual “Marriage”. Why are they non-negotiable? Because they involve intrinsically evil acts that are never, under any circumstances permissible.
So the issue of abortion is part of the mesh of that first sieve. Abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent human life. In this country on average, more than 4,000 children are killed everyday by abortion. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I must tell you that even Hitler and Stalin cannot claim such numbers. Just to give you an idea, every day more children are killed in this country than in the 5-year war we’ve had in Iraq, as terrible as it is (about 4,200 US lives lost to date). War is always terrible, and I think most everyone believes we should be seeking a way to end it as justly and safely as possible. I have a stake in the war myself. I have a friend who just finished his third tour in Iraq; I know of another who in his first tour was clearing mines for a civilian area and things went terribly wrong. He never came home. War is terrible, but sometimes it can be justifiable, especially to stop on unjust aggressor. Abortion, euthanasia and the destruction of innocent children in the name of research (embryonic stem cell research) is never justifiable. Without the first category of life itself, we cannot guarantee any of the issues having to do with the quality of life. That first sieve must clear out the obvious stuff before reaching the second sieve. Life must first exist and receive protection by the law before any other rights are guaranteed.
The second sieve has to do with issue of the quality of human life, sometimes called “social justice issues” (although we should recognize that the right to life is the first right and issue in “social justice”). Once there is human life, then we talk about the important issues that help human life to flourish. These are important issues like immigration, health care, education, employment, fair trade, economic exploitation, the environment and other similar issues. Notice, however, that they have to do with the quality of human life. They flow from the first category; they presume that life already exists and is protected. Logically these issues cannot supercede the issues of the first sieve. As a thinking human being and as a thinking believer, these are the two logical sieves to help us sort through the issues as a thinking person and as a follower of Jesus Christ. With these sieves we can help to identify the candidate that most closely resembles the truth of the natural law and the revealed law among the available choices.
The USCCB has issued voting guidelines in a document called Faithful Citizenship which is available online, and will be provided in the back of church. Like any document, it is open to interpretation. Recently the other bishop in Oregon, Bishop Robert Vasa, gave a talk at the national Catholic Leadership Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which he clarified two important aspects of Faithful Citizenship. He noted that according to the document, a pro-abortion stance would disqualify candidates from consideration by faithful Catholics. He said, “When we were working on the document ‘Faithful Citizenship’, and the issue of whether or not a person’s adamant pro-abortion position was a disqualifying condition, the general sense was ‘yes that is a disqualifying condition’.” However, during the discussions mention was made of the letter written to the US Bishops by then Cardinal Ratzinger just prior his elevation to the pontificate which noted that Catholics may in good conscience vote for a politician who supports abortion in the presence of “proportionate reasons”. Bishop Vasa explained the notion of proportionate reasons. He says, “The conditions under which an individual may be able to vote for a pro-abortion candidate would apply only if all the candidates are equally pro-abortion.” He added: “And then you begin to screen for the other issues and make a conscientious decision to vote for this pro-abortion candidate because his positions on these other issues are more in keeping with good Catholic values.” In that case, he said, “It doesn’t mean that you in any way support or endorse a pro-abortion position but you take a look in that context at the lesser of two evils.” Notice, however, how a “proportionate reason” works. It only comes into play if the candidates are equally pro-abortion.
But what about the relationship between abortion and another important issue like the war in Iraq? Let us reason it through with Bishop Vasa. “If we had a candidate in favor of a war in Iraq in which we decimate the entire population and we kill as many civilians to impose as much terror on everybody as possible, if that was in opposition to a pro-abortion person then we would have a real conflict of conscience. Why? Because you would have a direct and intentional killing of innocent persons on one hand and the direct and intentional killing of persons on the other hand. But we do not have that issue with capital punishment, and we don’t have that issue with the war in Iraq. In this election we do not have candidates with equally pro-abortion positions.”
Through this logic, the logic of reason and the logic of faith, the first sieve would eliminate pro-abortion candidates from our consideration. Their position would not make it through the first sieve because these non-negotiable issues have to do with intrinsically evil acts. Abortion is always the direct killing of innocent human life. It is the defining issue for a rational person who understands the natural law; it is the defining issue for a Catholic who knows Jesus Christ and His revealed law. Certain acts and political positions are always wrong, and no one may deliberately vote in favor of them. Those with a direct vote (legislators) may not support these evils in legislation or programs. Those who elect politicians (citizens) indirectly support these evils if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them. Abortion is the taking of innocent human life, and to support that and to vote for those who support it and promote it means that one takes at least indirect responsibility in the deaths of those children.
Back in the last election in 2004, our own Archbishop Vlazny also clarified the issue of pro-abortion candidates and the reception of Holy Communion. He writes, “Let me say this. Catholics who publicly disagree with serious church teaching on such matters as abortion or same sex marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion. These women and men need to understand that what the reception of a sacrament means in the life of the church. The reception of Holy Communion is a sign that a person not only seeks union with God but also desires to live in communion with the church. Such communion is clearly violated when one publicly opposes serious church teaching. Reception of Holy Communion by such public dissenters betrays a blatant disregard for the serious meaning and purpose of the reception of the Eucharist.” If you are struggling with these words, pray for illumination; pray for conversion.
So we have our two basic “sieves of logic” to help us sort through this election and every election. We are rational persons who can know and follow the natural law, and we are Catholics who know, love and strive to follow the Lord Jesus. We have our rational combine to cut through and sort the political landscape. Jesus tells us today that it doesn’t matter whether we come to the harvest at the very beginning or in the twilight of the day. He wants us working there nonetheless, and will reward us with the “daily wage” he longs to give us, eternal life.
I think we now live in a time when we have to choose. We have to choose between being a Catholic in communion with Christ and His Church and supporting a pro-abortion position. This I know is difficult for some people because some Catholics have never before been explicitly asked to choose. But now we have to choose between those two. We cannot adhere to both. St. Paul tells us that there is nothing in common between Christ and Belial. Now the request that we choose is an invitation to conversion. I don’t know about you, but the pro-choice position will not bring me to heaven. Jesus Christ will bring me to heaven. When we go to vote in November, I would ask that you think of final judgment that will determine our eternal destiny. We will be judged according to our deeds in this life. How do I want to stand before God and the millions of little children in His arms? I know when push comes to shove, I want to be where Jesus Christ is because for me “For me life is Christ.”
Cihak, John, excerpts from a previously preached homily at St. John the Baptist,
Milwaukie (23 May 23 2004).
Vasa, Bishop Robert. http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08091203.html
Vlazny, Archbishop John, “Public Dissenters Should Themselves Refrain from
Communion,” Letter of May 6, 2004 [email@example.com].
Vlazny, Archbishop John, “Political responsibility among Catholics”, Catholic
Sentinel, 15 August 2008 (http://www.sentinel.org/node/9327).