Francis Cardinal Stafford said of the Church’s future under the incoming Obama administration that, “Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.” The past two weeks have proven those words to be prophetic. Using newly acquired powers from the passage of Obamacare, the president ordered all insurance companies to provide free abortion inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. The new regulation came with a “religious exemption” so narrowly tailored that Fr. Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA said that the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself would not qualify. After an initial apoplectic response from all quarters of the Catholic world the president provided a “compromise” plan that would allow religious entities to not pay for the new anti-life coverage, the cost of which would be covered by the insurance companies.
I think St. Thomas Aquinas would have endorsed Cardinal Stafford’s dark forebodings since the idea of habit is at the heart of the Angelic Doctor’s own moral philosophy. Habits are not made over night but rather are forged over time through repeated choices. Before his election, Obama had compiled perhaps the most pro-abortion record of any national politician...ever. At times outdoing even Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer. At the state level he opposed any assistance or protection to the unborn and even took a stand against a bill protecting infants born alive after a botched abortion. In the absence of a radical conversion, St. Thomas would give us little reason to expect anything other than the current course of action.
But what would St. Thomas say to us about the way forward? Above all else, he was a man of faith and only armed with the shield of faith can we hope to endure. The gift of faith first of all gives us certainty about the rightness of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and the gift of sexuality. But the faith of the Church also teaches us that it is the bishops who rightfully shepherd Christ’s flock and every effort must be made to support them. As of this moment nearly every single bishop in the United States has condemned the administration’s action. We as faithful members of the Church must do everything we can to support their efforts through fasting, prayer, and preaching.
Finally, I think St. Thomas would urge us to have hope. This supernatural gift concerns not only our eventual happiness in heaven but all the divine assistance necessary in this life to get there. It is that grace which has seen Holy Mother Church through twenty centuries of poverty and wealth, persecution and power, corruption and renewal. As a recent article in Business Insider pointed out, “the Catholic Church is the world's biggest and oldest organization. It has buried all of the greatest empires known to man, from the Romans to the Soviets.” St. Paul asked the Christians in Rome directly, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) May God in His mercy never let us forget that Gethsemane was a stopping point on the road to the Resurrection.
Much more could be said on the subject but re-inventing the wheel takes time, so here are some cogent articles:
- Bishop William Lori, the new head of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, skewered the administration’s “compromise” during testimony before the US Congress as meaningless semantics with his deft and rather humorous “Parable of the Kosher Deli.”
- Noted Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw made the same point on his personal blog.
- George Weigel described the maneuver as soft-totalitarianism that displays contempt for any social institution not directly controlled by the state alongside a dangerous defining-down of religious liberty to “freedom of worship.” This freedom is essentially a privacy right to gather on Sunday morning, not the traditionally more robust version that allows religion to bring its voice and influence to bear on the public sphere. In another article he touched on the sexually libertine intentions at the heart of the mandate.
- Business Insider had this interesting piece arguing that it was time to admit that the Church had some intelligent things to say on the sex-love-babies-contraception front and that she was due for a listening to.