Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rendering unto Caesar and Religious Liberty

Our Catholic Faith has never been one that looked to run away from the world into its own ghetto.  From our very start, we have sought to engage the world in a positive way that helps to lift up the culture towards positive ends.  Over the centuries, Catholics have been responsible for the creation of the university system, developed the idea of the hospital, of hospice, and attended to the health care of those around us as  matter of our Catholic principles rooted in the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.  From these same principles we took care of our own and reached out a helping hand towards any and all in need.  In this country, long before the federal government got involved, we had associations such as the Knights of Columbus, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic Worker movement, numerous hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities to answer the needs of health, welfare, and education.  We always strive to do these in line with our Catholic principles.   This isn’t to say there hasn’t been neglect, abuse, or other human malignancies that have crept in from time to time, but the Catholic Church still remains the most charitable organization in this country and world.  We have been long looking out for the welfare, education, and health of people long before this country ever existed.
    We have succeeded in these things because we have never as a matter of policy ignored the Gospel and sought the destruction of human life as a way of helping attend to the welfare of others.  The Catholic Church has always valued the sanctity and dignity of life and never has seen its conception as a disease to be prevented and cured.  There has been great distress in the Catholic faithful because for the first time in American history, Catholics are being told that they must  violate their consciences and run over their long held beliefs about life as a matter of government policy.  A few weeks back, the Department of Health and Human Services (definitely a Johnnie come lately in the welfare and health business as by comparison to the Catholic ministries) demanded that Catholic Institutions  provide contraception (including abortion inducing pills) and sterilization coverage in their health plans for their employees, whether the employee or employer wanted it or not.
     A few weeks later an ‘accommodation’  was made for Catholic and other religious institutions to opt out, but their insurers still had to provide the ‘benefit’ free of charge.  This is a shell game.  Such insurance will still be paid for by the institutions as before.  Nothing changed.  Since the Catholic Church offers benefits to its employees like any other employer, the employee pays for part of the insurance premium and the employer pays as well.  These premiums paid by us in health care, education, and charitable services will go in part for ’benefits’ that the Church has always held objectionable.  The insurers will have no choice but to charge as they are not non-for-profit and the federal government is making it obligatory to do so.
    So what do we do?  As Catholics we neither return such behavior with like behavior, but neither do we shrink down.  Jesus, Himself, confronted evil by standing up to it non-violently and not allowing it to take His ground.  No one sane is asking for a violent uprising against this administration or any of its officials.  We are not looking for hatred nor revenge to be a motivating factor.   Nonetheless, the officials of the Church in this country have made it clear that they have absolutely no intent to give in nor abide by this decision. 
    No doubt, some will pull out the old ’Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God’s’ as a way of surrendering one’s   moral positions or duties in the public realm.  This passage never gives permission for us to shrink away from evil nor to be complicit with it! Caesar has no right to what is God’s!  When the founders of this country wrote its Constitution and subsequent Amendments, they enshrined the idea of religion being independent from the machinations of the state.  So many times we believe that the 1st Amendment is there to protect the state from the Church.  If one is to read the actual documents of our founders, the opposite is true.  The 1st Amendment doesn’t merely prohibit the institution of a state religion or Church to which everyone must belong in order to participate in the public life, it prohibits the government from the interference of the  free practice of religion.  The state cannot dictate to the churches either what they will believe or how they practice those beliefs.  In short, it not constitutional for the state to demand that any religion violate its own morality to appease the state.  Caesar does not dictate to God how He will guide His people. 
    The Catholic Church is not asking that the state outlaw the use of sterilization and contraception to appease Catholic belief; it is not asking that secular institutions be mandated to forbid such things.  Granted we hope that by our practice of faith and its fruits, those who are not of our faith might choose wisely and morally, we are only asking that we not be told how we are to live and express our faith officially as Catholics.  This is a reasonable request and a request that the writers of our Constitution and subsequent Amendments enshrined as central to the republic.  If we are true to both our faith and to our American heritage, we will stand non-violently but pointedly against such decrees.  Thankfully, in this country, we are given the ability through our elected representatives to vent our concerns and act on our behalf.  These should be utilized in the form of telling our congressman and senators what our concerns are.  We are also given the equalizer of the ballot to vote out of office those who will be complicit in the deprivation of our religious liberties.
    As Catholics, our first option is to convince and win over those who would deprive us of the free practice of our faith.  We see such defenses offered by St. Paul, St Justin Martyr, and the many apologists that the Church has had through her 2000 year history to win over rather than destroy those who disagree with us.  That is why we don’t blow things up when offended, nor destroy property, nor malign those who do not agree with us with personal animus.  Our lot is the lot of Christ who stood against His opposition non-violently.  The way of Christ in securing the Kingdom of God against those who would suppress it is the only way that has ever worked in both rising up against those who would suppress our freedom of religion and our right to follow our truly informed conscience.  We are never to be in the business of collection of enemies, but in the spreading of the healing message of Christ to all.  Let approach this present crisis in the person and dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ; not running away, not being aggressive, but by following Jesus’ non-violent courage by standing tall for that which is good and holy.