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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Truth, Free Will, and Human Dignity

Recently I and a group of friends were in conversation with a priest and the topic of contraception arose. I'm not sure how the question or suggestion was put to him, but some of this group, some of which were his parishioners, suggested he use the pulpit to discuss contraception or promote Natural Family Planning (NFP) classes at his parish.

He became visibly uncomfortable with this suggestion and explained that there were many who were not open to such a teaching and would not be happy. As a result, they, the priests at his parish, have chosen to avoid "controversial" topics.

I have been turning this over in my mind a great deal, and I have been growing more and more offended at the affront to the dignity of the people of this parish this attitude presents. And unfortunately, this shrinking away from moral topics is far too common in America.

Where to begin? This attitude is so wrong on so many levels!

First of all, those who are placed in a position of Church authority, whether as clergy, religious, catechists, etc., have a moral obligation to speak the truth in charity to those they serve. The Good Lord did not place them there to speak on his behalf with the admonition to try not to offend anyone.

The truth is offensive - it is supposed to be so! The Truth makes us uncomfortable. GOOD! Because it is this very discomfort that makes us squirm by holding up an example of whom we are allegedly seeking to conform.

It is not the job of the Church to conform to the immorality of the people; it is the job of the Church to lift the people up to Christ, call them to transcend the depravity of the culture and conform them to be like Jesus Christ!

To withhold the Truth because people may become offended is an outright and active affront to their human dignity, for it deprives them of the God-given use of their free will. So what if they reject the teachings of Jesus Christ? They rejected Him first, they tried to stone him, and they finally beat and crucified him.

I got news for you all....we are all called for such devotion, love, and obedience to the Truth, personified in Jesus Christ. He was not kidding when he told us to "Take up your cross and follow me."

To all priests, religious, and teachers...I IMPLORE you to speak of "controversial" topics to the people to whom you are sent. If I am one of them, then PLEASE OFFEND ME WITH THE TRUTH! Do not allow me to wallow in darkness!

Speaking as an ex-dissident myself, I would not be where I am now if I had not heard the Truth, and it is a sad state of affairs to say I had to find it on TV because there was no one else available who could be bothered with such a sordid affair of reaching through my moral ambiguity to confront me with reality. Thank God that He alone is so faithful, for He did not let me go. Those of you who must speak for him are literally CHARGED with teaching the people! Please overcome your own unwillingness and do your best to restore life to the dead and become a light in the darkness.

I cannot emphasize this enough: let people be offended! They became ticked off at Christ and rejected him in dramatic ways...why should YOU be any different? The servant is not greater than his Master...none of us is greater than Jesus, and we can all expect to offend someone.

In fact, if someone is not offended, then we are not doing our jobs.

I am not advocating in any way that we should go out and beat people over the head. Rather, I am advocating simply presenting the moral teachings of the Church, the same ones found throughout history, in a calm, professional, and confidant manner. It is not our place to reject the Truth on behalf of others. It is our place to allow them, in their free will, to accept or reject it, and it is not the problem of the teacher if the student isn't open to following Christ. Adam and Eve had a choice too, and each one of us is in a position to relive the Garden of Eden. God allowed them to do so and this reality has never changed.

One day we will all be called to account not only for the words we spoke, but for those we did not speak; and woe to the man or woman who was in possession of the Truth of Jesus Christ and chose to remain silent. Our omissions will be fully revealed to us in all their far-reaching consequences, and we will have no defense.

Indeed, there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and this is where prayer must come in; we must look to the example of Jesus there as well, for He chose silence at some points as well.

But it is not proper to choose to ignore the difficult teachings for to do such a thing robs the people who are deserving of the Truth. How can they reject what they do not know or understand?

SPEAK THE TRUTH AND DO NOT WITHHOLD IT! Do not offend the dignity of the people by robbing them of free will. We are all called to be the hands of Christ, and this doesn't always refer to physical work, but to teachings as well...the Truth is placed into our hands. If we do not give it away, we are, in and of ourselves, rejecting God, rejecting the Truth, and rejecting even our own dignity.

Speak the Truth, and do not fear. Speak the Truth, and affirm the dignity of those who hear it. Speak the Truth, and allow the one hearing it to embrace or reject it, for they have the right to do so.

Speak the Truth, and by doing so, you conform yourself to Christ for if they reject you, you may be comforted that He was rejected first.

The Truth and Love are inextricably linked; rejection of one is unfulfillment of the other. Trust God, conform to Christ...and be guided by the Truth.


Unknown said...

I think the Church has still not recovered from Pope Paul VI's birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

Was it not Catherine of Siena, a layperson of the 14th century, who made her mark by lecturing the Popes?

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Cathy of Alex and Cathy of Siena. This will indeed be confusing in my correspondence.

Sanctus Belle said...

"I will come against you shepherds who do not lead my sheep" that's a paraphrase, anyway...I'd be seriously looking at another parish. I'm generally not a cut and run sort of person, but with a blatant admitting of cowardice and malpractice I'd hit the door.

Adoro said...

Sanctus ~ have no fear! It's not my parish, thanks be to God. Our priests condemn contraception and abortion from the pulpit!

But I agree....if it were my parish, I'd hit the door running myself.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: It was not Catherine of Alexandria.

Adoro: Excellent post. I could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

You express my thoughts on the subject even better than I might. Perhaps you have listened to Fr. Corapi express the same. He has preached very strenuously on the subject saying that everyone has the responsibility of saving his/her own souls and also those neighbors. Priests also have the responsibility to save their own souls and that is accomplished by assisting all under their jurisdiction in saving theirs. Then he says most emphatically, "If you think that I am going to jeopardize my soul by not telling you just how you must save yours, you are sadly mistaken. I am going to tell you in no uncertan terms what you need to know, both the positive and the negative to save your souls". He likens that to an electric current, where you need both a positive and negative terminal to create a current. Apropos. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am against a wall on this topic right now. The wall would be the other 2 teachers!!! We have 5 RCIA sessions left and have never adequately covered NFP, etc. We have a planning meeting Saturday but I am working. I emailed Father and said "we must cover this" so he promised me he would do it.

Your post came at the right time as I get so discouraged when the other teachers resist. I want to smack them but I know I can't.

Adoro said...

Dick, thanks for commenting! I love Father Corapi and have heard him speak on this topic, but my post actually arose from recent readings of several John Paul II writings - he goes into great depth with regard to human dignity, free will, conversion, etc.

We must pray for our priests, that they have the courage to stand against the current and save the souls that would prefer to bowl him over in their personal preferences against the Gospel.

Angela ~ breathe! You are doing what you can...just keep praying!

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I couldn't agree more. Also, as a married woman of childbearing age who only recently embraced the Church's teaching on these matters, my first reaction is to feel very sorry for his parishoners. What a horrible shame for them to be denied the beautiful truth about human sexuality. It's not fair to them.

Anonymous said...

First, I'll say I was among the group of friends in conversation with the priest in Adoro's posting. Second, I'll say in defense of this priest and his parish, although he may have said that they have chosen to avoid "controversial" topics at the pulpit, I have heard the priests and deacons at that parish talk about those "controversial" topics in other venues at their church such as in bible studies, seminars, and at other faith formation events.

Also, my understanding of the purpose of the homily at Mass is to explain the Gospel for that day and help us relate it to our lives today. If the gospel of the day does not discuss a controversial topic such as contraception, which was not real widespread in Jesus's time, then how are the priests to discuss it at the pulpit during a homily during an hour-long mass? You may get a gospel or old testament reading once a year that may actually touch on some of the controversial topics of today, so there would be few and far between opportunities to teach them from the pulpit. Unfortunately, at Mass, we don't get readings from the Catechism or Canon Law. Now wouldn't that be something?

One of the other comments on this blog was "What a horrible shame for them to be denied the beautiful truth about human sexuality." In response to this, again I defend the priests here as I believe the church is still reeling from the sex scandals it suffered a few years back. It is understandable, to me anyway, that priests just don't want to go there yet, especially from the pulpit where time can be limited.

However, another of you wrote that everyone has the responsibility of saving their own souls. I recently had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with a priest, not from the parish above, but another in the area, about human sexuality and what the church teaches about it. Now, I initiated this talk with this priest. I had a bunch of questions relating to sexuality that I was just not getting straight answers to from books, doctrine, and others. I set up an appointment and everything so that uninterrupted time was set aside to discuss it. Although some of my questions were embarrassing, I took responsibility for getting them answered by a priest who is one who is in the "know" on the subject. Your everyday parishioner would rather not ask the embarrassing question and live not knowing the truth. My talk with this priest went very well, I was enlightened, and I got the answers I was seeking.

I agree that we must all take responsibility for saving our own souls, but we must make the bold move of asking the tough questions outright and setting aside time to get at the truth. I also agree we must pray for our priests that they do stand up and teach the truth, but also that they find ways in which to do so. But, we also must pray for ourselves that we all take on the responsibility of directing our own growth in faith by boldly asking the tough questions, not blindly accepting just any answer, but going one step further to find the truth. And, we will know the truth when we hear it, God will make sure of that.

Fr. V said...


I love it.

Then there are situations in which priests don't want to speak out on such topics because they don't want to offend because they want to keep the school open or pay for the new boiler. *sigh* As such some vicars are told not to preach on such subjects.

For some reason (and I fall into it also from time to time) we get it onto our thick skulls that numbers are overly important. We want to keep as many people in the pews as possible. For some that means watering down or witholding truth. But woundn't be better to have 200 on fire Catholics fully armed going out into the world than 2,000 luke warm. unenlightened who don't do much to transform the eventheir own homes?

Adoro said...

Graeme ~ Thanks for stopping by, and good comments. Sorry you "walked in" on one of my snarkier posts in awhile!

And just to be very clear, my post is not meant to bash that priest or that parish, but rather to use it to illustrate an attitude I have seen everywhere - thus all the references to "we" because the responsiblity to address this is in "our" hands.

But how does this get into "our" hands if it is not addressed at Mass? You'd be surprised at how easy it is to address life issues in a homily and how often they DO, in fact, relate to the Gospel or the readings of the day. One thing I learned through the talks at RCIA is that there were several opportunities to at least bring up the issue to keep it "around", even if there wasn't an opportunity to expand on it at length. At my parish, our priests, throughout the year, bring up contraception and abortion as well as other issues.

I think "some" priests are "reeling" from the scandals, but we see evidence everywhere of priests who simply use more caution in their dealings with people so as to remain above reproach, but they are not fearful. The fact that the media continually harps on the "scandals" (which harping is COMPLETELY OUT OF PROPORTION TO REALITY ESP. IN COMPARISON TO PUBLIC SCHOOL SEXUAL ABUSE), is a design of the enemy to cause them fear and separate them from their flock - us. The refusal, then, of the priest to discuss the gift of our sexuality out of fear means we need to do a better job of praying for them, and they need to have much better formation in the seminary.

Of course, there is a wonderful gift of Theology of the Body, which is open to everyone and priests are in a great place to be able to use this to promote what human dignity, free will, and sexuality are really about.

I'm really glad you took the initiative to seek out the answers you needed, and you're right...not everyone is willing or comfortable in doing this, so kudos to you! And I'm also glad that, at the parish in question, the difficult topics are addressed in other venues...but it isn't enough. Typically, the people who attend Bible studies and the like are people who are open to hearing the Word of God and are trying to walk in holiness. Yes, they need to hear about the "controversial" stuff, too...we all do, and repeatedly. But more or less, that's preaching to the choir.

The people who most need these teachings are those who show up to fulfill their "Sunday obligation". One way to get them to at least sit up and pay attention is to offend them with the truth they have not wanted to face because we are all so comfortable in not rocking the boat, or trying to keep that boat from being rocked.

But these teachings are freeing, once they are understood.

I've posted on this before, but I am still angry that I never, at any parish I ever attended, was told that contraception is the cause of abortions. Many women are angry that they will spend the rest of their lives wondering if they have flushed their children down the toilet.

Graeme, thanks for encouraging everyone to ask these tough questions...because not only does such an act inform the conscience and aid in true conversion, but if those who are on the other end hear these questions enough they will see the pattern...and they will take courage to speak to EVERYONE about what is clearly on everyone's mind.

Most people reject the Truth because they don't actually know what it is, and too many just don't care to seek it. They need to hear it and even if they reject it, the seeds may grow. That's what happened to me. God is good!

Fr. V. ~ Thanks for bringing up that issue! Personally, I think that Jesus let them walk away rather than water it down, and he did that as an example to all of us. He was consistent, would not infringe upon free will by changing the teaching to satisfy those who were rejecting it. The truth is what it is.

I'm not saying that this is easy, by any means, but I think, in the end, it's not what's easy that counts.

So, have all my prayers. Speak up! :-)

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Can I just step in and say that this has been just a marvelous thread of comments? A breath of fresh air-reasoned discussion. I love it!

Anonymous said...

and, like those who hear a rousing homily, we'll be back. i BELIEVE most would rather hear some hard-hitting conscience-jarring truth than have it watered down.

having said that, it is important to provide a venue where conversion can take place for those who need it. a week-after-week diet of the hard-truth could play so much on the conscience of some that they depart. that we cannot let happen, for if they can only go back into the cold of the world outside, we can lose them.

a lot of love needs to be tempered with hard-truth - flavoring with sugar beats flavoring with vinegar any day - and the main-dish is the same.

the weekly meal can bear a lot of variation and accomplish the necessary nourishment.

Adoro said...

Thank you, Uncle Jim, that's what I was trying to get at! (The "not beating them over the head" mention).

I do not want to chase people away...yet they will leave if they choose to no matter what. That should not stop the priests, or catechists from bringing it up.

I did so this year in RCIA, here and there, as I was able, and our priests do something similar. They keep the topic present, and then every so often give a homily on the subject that covers it more in detail. Always in love.

Some people will still choose to walk away, but it is not the Church they are leaving, for in that case, they have already left.

Lynne said...

Also, my understanding of the purpose of the homily at Mass is to explain the Gospel for that day and help us relate it to our lives today.

Yes, how unfortunate! If you read homilies from the 40's and 50's (can you imagine what Bishop Sheen's homilies were like?!), you'd had to agree that we're no richer for having watered-down homilies.