Sometimes, in our life journey, the path we choose crosses the path of another person who has a positive influence on our life. Then there are times when we are truly blessed and God sends someone into our path that changes the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we live. We meet these people at all stages of life; when we are children, as teenagers, and even as adults. A big part of who we become depends on the people we choose to surround ourselves with at these various stages in our life.
Jim Perkins was one of those people that God sent into our path. His positive attitude, his persistent smile, his warm heart, and his immeasurable love for his family, gave us a glimpse of what God had in mind when he made human beings in His image. There is no doubt that God placed Jim in our lives to make an impact that would last for eternity.
I will never forget the influence Jim has had on my life, or the impact of his faith, hope and charity on his fellow human beings. Jim was an exemplary example of Christian love in our parish, our community, and in our lives. We are all better people for having known him.
Rest In Peace, Jim.
I am a Catholic, which means I am an integral part of the universal Church founded by Jesus Christ himself. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus assigned authority of His Church, on earth, to Peter and since that day, the Catholic Church has an unbroken line of apostolic succession from the rock of the Church, Peter, through two thousand years of history to our current pope, Pope Francis. The Catholic Church is the universal Church, in fact, the very definition of “Catholic” is universal.
What do I believe?
As a Catholic, I believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church founded by Jesus Christ. I also believe everything the Catholic Church is founded upon, including all of the dogmas and teachings of the Church. I believe when I receive Holy Communion I am receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And finally, I believe my faith is universal, encompassing all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I will ever be.
I believe when I say “Amen” before receiving the Eucharist (Holy Communion) I am making a re-affirmation of my faith, telling God that I do indeed agree wholeheartedly with everything contained in Sacred Scripture, with everything the Catholic Church stands for and represents, and with everything His Church has taught, or will teach. If, for some reason, I find myself questioning or doubting Church dogmas or teachings, I pray for more understanding. I study Sacred Scripture, I delve into the teachings of the Church fathers, and I review two thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. For it is through these three things, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Magisterium (or the teaching authority of the Church), that I can find the answers I may be looking for.
In John, chapter 6, Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life (v.48), that He is the living bread and whoever eats this bread will live forever (v.51). He then takes it a step further and says that the bread He will give is His flesh for the life of the world (v.51). He continues by telling the disciples that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and will be raised up on the last day (v.54). Many disciples questioned this discourse because it was so shocking to them (v.60), and they returned to their former way of life because they could not accept this idea (v.66). The fact that many disciples turned away is important, because it indicates that Jesus was not merely talking about symbolism or a representation of his flesh and blood. He was speaking about His true Body and His true Blood, else no one would have been shocked and walked away. You really need to read John 6, in its entirety, to get the full picture.
Faith is a gift from God, and like any other gift we can choose to open it and enjoy it or we can ignore it, leaving it wrapped and untouched for all time. Faith opens the eyes of our hearts and leads us to a desire to understand the One in whom we have faith. In order to live and grow in my Catholic faith, I must nourish it by reading Scripture and remaining close to God. If I turn my back on God, or stop reading His Word, I risk losing my faith completely and falling away from God. Therefore, my faith is universal. It encompasses all that I am, all that I have been on my spiritual journey, and all that I will ever be as I grow closer to God.
Why do I believe it?
I am Catholic simply because I believe, without a doubt, that Catholicism is true. I believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church divinely established by Jesus Christ himself when He told Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” As a Catholic Christian I am obliged to submit to the authority of His Church.
There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Jesus Christ intended to build several churches, He built One Church, His Church. Alone, I cannot properly interpret all that Scripture reveals, let alone understand it. Neither can any other man or woman. The Catholic Church is the only Christian church on earth with apostolic succession with teachings from our Church fathers leading all the way back to Jesus Christ himself. The Catholic Church is the only Christian church with two thousand years of Sacred Tradition, again leading back to Jesus Christ himself. In fact, until the 1500′s there was no other Christian church except the Catholic Church.
The Word of God is revealed to us through human authors in a collection of Sacred Scripture we call the Bible. Every Christian church uses their own interpretation of the Bible, yet the Bible was written long before other Christian “denominations” even existed. Although every Christian church uses the Bible, the books of the Bible were determined at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD. Since that time, other Christian faiths have removed books they no longer felt were relevant to them. I cannot imagine feeling so powerful to tell God that His Word was no longer relevant to my beliefs. Either I believe it all, the Sacred Scripture, the Sacred Magisterium, and the Sacred Tradition, or I don’t. If I do not believe it all, then I am not Catholic. For this reason, I am all in. God is God, and I am but a man. This man, like any other man, cannot assume he has more supremacy than God.
When should I rely on my faith?
I should rely on my faith every single moment of every single day. There is never a time when I should not stay focused on God. If I pick and choose the moments I feel I should turn to God, then I am no different than those who pick and choose what to believe in Sacred Scripture. When I pick and choose, I strip the Bible of its moral power. Either I believe it all and live it all, or I don’t. Why run around in rhetorical circles when I can walk side by side with the One True God? As I said before, my faith is universal, it encompasses all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I will ever be. There is no room in my life for turning my back on God, nor is there time for “blind faith”. I must continually strive to increase my faith, to seek more understanding, and to grow closer to God. If my faith is universal, then it only makes sense that my Church is too.
Where should I proclaim my faith?
Everywhere. In every word I speak. In every action I take. In every breath I take. There should never be a moment that I do not take the opportunity to proclaim my Catholic faith.
Describing the “who, what, why, when, and where” of my faith is quite simple, but it can be very difficult to live in the secular world. No matter how difficult it is, I should never remain silent or inactive when it comes to matters of faith. If I bow to the pressures of secular society or remain silent when others are encouraged to do so, then I am no different than those who bowed to the pressures of secular society in the past and decided to “reform” the Word of God to fit their own needs. I am a Catholic and my faith is universal. There is nothing on this earth that can change this fact because the Catholic Church is the only Christian church that possesses indestructible unity, fundamental holiness, and an unbroken line of apostolic succession, all of which are characteristics that Jesus Christ himself said would distinguish his one true Church. I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church. As I said before, I am all in.
Last week, thousands of people turned out to show their support for Chick-Fil-A. Comments made by Dan Cathy, the Chief Operations Officer, sparked a media firestorm when he confirmed that he and his company support traditional families that include a husband and a wife. When Cathy made this statement, almost a month ago, there was no question about his Christian faith and there was no doubt that Chick-Fil-A is operated on Christian principles. In fact, the only reason his comments stirred the public into a frenzy is because the media itself chose to introduce an element of hate into the public dialogue.
By suggesting that hate may be the sole motive for those who support the biblical definition of marriage, the media tried to spin the message into something it was not. They tried to portray everyone who supported Cathy’s statements as anti-gay and filled with hate. While some people turned out to show support for his freedoms of speech and religion, many also turned out to show their support for the company’s Christian values and their stance supporting the biblical definition of marriage. Across the country there were no reports of violence and there was no anger, but if you listen to reports from the mainstream media you might believe that the entire event was nothing more than a giant, nationwide hate-fest.
In light of these recent events, a gay friend of mine asked me to read an article about the evils of Chick-Fil-A “with an open mind” and by doing so I might “have a bit more understanding”. Of course, that statement by itself implied that I have a closed mind and that I might not understand the importance of this issue within the gay community. Ironically, I had already read the article in question with an open mind, and I fully understand the significance of Chick-Fil-A’s charitable contributions and the affect those contributions may have on my gay friends. While I do not condone some of the actions and statements by representatives of the charities in question, I still support Chick-Fil-A and the fact they operate under Christian principles and values.
On August 1st, I showed my support for Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A. I did so because I support our right to express our own views, I support our right to exercise our own religious beliefs, and yes, I support the biblical definition of marriage. I possess no anger for people unlike me, I do not hold grudges, and I harbor no hatred for gay people. I am no bigot, and I would like to see everyone treated equally, but with that said, marriage is much more than some shiny object that can be passed around and divided equally among us. I believe that man and woman were made for each other, that God created them to be a communion of persons, who share in the act of Creation and transmit human life to their descendants (CCC 372). I support God’s plan for the sacrament of Marriage. I support the biblical definition of marriage, but that does not make me close-minded, it makes me Catholic.
If my mind was closed, I would not have spent more than five years and thousands of dollars operating one of the first AIDS/HIV Information bulletin board systems in the nation. If my mind was closed, I would not spend countless hours donating my time to the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the neglected, and the abused. If my mind was closed, I would not have African-American friends, Chinese friends, tall friends, short friends, fat friends, skinny friends, non-Christian friends, and yes, even gay friends. If my mind was closed, I would not be Catholic. If I have learned anything since my conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, it is that I need an open mind to fully understand Christ, his passion, his suffering, and the many gifts of grace we receive from Him simply because we believe.
Marriage is clearly defined in the bible. From Genesis through Revelation, in every chapter and verse that refers to marriage, man and woman are referenced together. At this point I could list dozens of biblical references to marriage and its definition, but that would be redundant for the purposes of this article because the bible cannot be taken out of context with random verses tossed in just to support my argument. Doing so might lead others to believe they can refute God’s plan by tossing out their own non-related references and what would that solve?
As a Catholic, I trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the Church especially in areas where our own opinions and desires may cloud our judgment. With that said, I believe the institution of marriage is ordered to the procreation of offspring (CCC 1652), and God himself is the author of marriage (CCC 1603). I also believe that no matter what we, as human beings, want to think, “marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes” (CCC 1603). If God himself is the author of marriage, who are we to redefine or modify it? Just as the definitions of adultery, murder and gossip cannot be changed, neither can the God authored, biblical definition of marriage.
If we take a step back and look at the issue at hand, it really is about tolerance, but not tolerance for “gay rights” as much as tolerance for accepting each other, and the true definition of who we are as human beings. Nothing about the biblical definition of marriage makes someone a “full member of society”, and nothing about being gay makes someone a “second-class citizen” simply because they can or cannot marry, either. This week, some people have referenced divorced Christians, remarried Christians, and drug addict Christians in their argument in support of gay marriage, but since when does pointing out the flaws of others make you a better person? By focusing on the flaws, rather than the gifts we each bring to the table, we are doomed to intolerance aren’t we? As we get lost in the semantics of this argument, where is the tolerance for God? Where is the tolerance for following God’s law? Where is the tolerance for responsibility of our own acts? If you believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, then you know that this tolerance comes from God.
In the end, this controversy was no controversy at all. The media tried to run with a message of hate when in fact the true message was love all along. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but he never told us to ignore the laws of God or to turn our back on the Sacrament of Marriage. No matter how we look at it, God is the author of marriage and His definition of marriage will never change. This is not an equal rights issue or a human rights issue, it’s an obedience issue. When all is said and done, the bottom line remains that we can make up thousands of excuses for not obeying God, but a life of faithfulness and surrender requires us to possess a heart full of obedience to our one true loving God.
The Passion of the Christ (Gibson, 2004) is a depiction of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, as told by Director Mel Gibson. Whether or not this film is an historical account of the final hours of Jesus Christ, which contains enough emotion by itself, The Passion of the Christ evokes even stronger emotional responses from the audience. By manipulating the viewing experience through clever cinematography, the depiction of extreme violence, and the use of ancient, long forgotten languages, Mel Gibson cleverly presents a masterpiece of near biblical proportion, even if the historic accuracy is a tad bit skewed. Although the story purports to tell the true story of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion, some dialogue and visual elements of the film are nowhere to be found in the four Gospels of the New Testament (Fuller, 2006). While embellishing some parts of the gospel story through creative license from the director, The Passion of the Christ evokes deep emotional responses to events that are construed to be true simply because of the graphic element added to evoke those responses from the viewers. Through the use of cinematographic manipulation of the audience, The Passion of the Christ seems to blur the line between a factual biography and a fictional representation of the most important person in Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The storytelling in The Passion of the Christ is very straightforward, faithfully telling the story of Christ’s passion, death, and for a couple brief moments at the end, his resurrection. The narrative of the film is anything but linear as it is carried out in a simultaneous fashion with events occurring at the same time or seamlessly overlapping into one intense emotion that captures our attention and holds it for the duration of the film. The entire film is a montage of scenes, interpolated with common elements that carry over from scene to scene slowly piecing together the tragedy that is about to unfold. One example of this continuous montage occurs when Judas betrays Jesus in the garden and Peter is attacking the soldiers while John runs to Mary to inform her that they have seized Jesus. Although these two scenes are linear to the eye, one happening right after the other, they actually overlap, occurring at the same time, and deepen the emotional experience of watching Jesus being taken into custody and then beaten. The montage nature of the film cuts the individual stories into their own segments providing a non-linear progression while keeping the viewers emotional experience under the director’s control.
The plot is revealed in chronological order, for the most part, with timely flashbacks to Jesus’ earlier life although it may not seem to relate to the current storyline. The best flashback occurs as the high priests are bringing Jesus into town and Mary Magdelene informs the soldier that the priests have captured Jesus. She expresses her concern and a priest explains the situation is a Jewish temple issue rather than a Roman law issue and he hurries away. As the crowd passes in front of Jesus he makes eye contact with a woodworker on the other side of the crowd. As he hears the hammer of the woodworker, the flashback begins. We are all suddenly transported back to a day when Jesus is working on a tall table for a ‘rich man’. The flashback shows the down to earth nature of a younger Jesus along with the intimate connection between a mother and her son. As Mary and Jesus hug at the end of the scene we are brought back to present time in the story, with Jesus standing in the crowd where he once again makes eye contact with his mother. That scene, where they make eye contact, would not have the emotional draw that it does had we not seen the flashback to that happier time. Mel Gibson’s choice to present these scenes, along with their flashbacks, was an excellent way to introduce the emotional element that cannot be ignored when considering the events that lead to the end of the story. By laying down the emotional foundation throughout the entire film with the proper presentation of flashbacks and happier times, Gibson allows the other visual and sound elements of the film to present the graphic and violent moments leading up to the death of Jesus. With help from the cinematographer, the editor of this film, Steve Mirkovich, makes extensive use of visual elements to draw the audience into the story, even when parts of the story seem to drift away from authentic Gospel accounts of the Passion. One such drift occurs at the very beginning of the film as Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Satan uses every tactic at his disposal to distract Jesus while he prays, Jesus stands and crushes the serpent underneath the heel of his foot. This is not an account from any of the four Gospels, but rather a reference which foretells the prophecy of Satan failing in the future against the coming Messiah. “I will put your enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15 NABRE). The story includes this account from Genesis, and is based in part on visions by two Catholic mystics that have no proven basis in the theological context presented (Thigpen, 2004). However, as with other biblical accounts of the Passion, Christ in this story is dealing with his own internal conflict knowing what has to be done, as well as how it has to be done. The graphic visuals of blood, and the price Christ paid with his blood bring that reality to light for the viewer. In the scene of the scourging, it cannot get any more real for the viewer. Christ is standing at the pillar when the first soldier, and then the other soldier, strike him with sticks. As Christ is beaten and welts appear on his back and legs, he falls to his knees and the audience cannot help but cringe at the pain endured by Jesus at the pillar. But just as we think that Jesus cannot take any more, he looks at his mother and stands once again. While he grimaces in excruciating pain, the soldiers pick up the whips with sharp metal pieces on them and begin striking him all over again. The sounds of Jesus being struck, the tearing of his flesh, and his gasps while being struck, along with the intensely graphic nature of this scene leave no doubt of the suffering that Christ endured at the pillar. The way in which the story is presented on screen allows the viewer to relate to the pain, suffering, and turmoil that Christ felt as he faced the final hours of his life on Earth.
Actor Jim Caviezel offers a stunning impersonation of Jesus Christ through a realistic style and the use of the ancient Aramaic dialogue. His portrayal of Christ contributes greatly to the story, as we watch the physical torture endured by Christ during his Passion. Caviezel was able to truly convey the torture at the pillar because the actors playing the Roman soldiers accidentally hit him with the whip at least once while filming the scene (Drake, 2004). While many of the actors in the movie play their part convincingly, none are as convincing as Caviezel himself other than Maia Morgenstern who plays his mother Mary. Each scene that revolves around Mary conveys the emotion and horror that is unfolding as each minute passes, and her character watches her son’s turmoil knowing full well he could stop it at any time. As Mary watches the scourging, she is horrified at the pain he is willing to endure and gasps with him at each beating. Her eyes implore him to stop everything and save his own life, often covering her own face to hide the events taking place in front of her. As the beating comes to an end the expression on her face changes. It is clear that she knows the gravity of the situation as she immediately prepares to gather the blood of her son. Gibson keeps the historical significance of the story intact by depicting the scene of the two Mary’s collecting Jesus’ blood, although historical accuracy falls by the wayside. In Jewish tradition, life is in the blood therefore the blood of Jesus had to be collected, but there is no historical or biblical reference that Mary collected the blood of her son after the scourging. Even with these historical anomalies, Morgenstern offers a very strong portrayal of the virgin mother of Christ and carries Gibson’s interpretation of Mary out well.
The cinematography of this movie proves to be more important than all of the other elements than the story itself. If not for the cinematography, The Passion of the Christ may not have become the blockbuster hit it became, because of the graphic use of violence and blood to depict the level of pain and suffering experienced by Jesus Christ. It was obvious from the first scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Mel Gibson trusted the cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, to capture the vivid scenes he was directing and produce the visual elements needed to carry the film from that first moment until the final scenes of the resurrected Christ. The scene with Satan in Gethsemane seems to contradict Scripture (Thigpen, 2004), but Gibson uses clever editing and cinematography to manipulate the audience into believing this event actually occurred. The movie is shot using intense natural lighting that captures the vivid colors of each frame, which ends up being the color of Christ’s blood in many cases. As the two Mary’s attempt to collect the blood of Jesus, Pontius Pilate’s wife approaches with white cloths offering them to Mary. Although this depiction is one of the less accurate scenes from a historical perspective, as there is no account in Scripture of Pilate’s wife performing this act, it adds to the emotional intrigue that exists from the first moments in the film to the very end. The colors are not saturated, and all of the camera angles and distances enhance the scene by providing framing that keeps the viewers focus on the developing story and intensifies the emotions of each scene. This works exceptionally well, given the fact that some of the scenes, as well as the dialogue, may not be historically accurate.
Through the careful use of continuity editing, The Passion of the Christ unfolds as a journey through the Stations of the Cross. The transitions from scene to scene build on the emotions as the violence and graphic detail become stronger and stronger on the screen. Appropriate flashbacks are used when Christ reflects on his life as it pertains to the elements within the current scene, and slow motion is used to capture intense scenes so they last longer than a fleeting moment. There are no elements left to the imagination or implying that something else is happening behind the scenes. After the horror of the scourging, Christ is led toward Mount Calvary along the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Suffering, within the city of Jerusalem. As Jesus embraces his cross, we see the crowd building. People scream at him, spit on him, and guards whip him. As he falls with his cross in slow motion, the ferocity of the soldiers is kept at the forefront as if we needed another reminder how brutal it was for Christ. Other than the graphic visual of blood, some of the most intense scenes are when Mary makes eye contact with her son. These scenes build to a climax where even Mary herself has a flashback of a childhood Jesus falling in the street. In both the flashback and the current scene, she rushes to Jesus in the street and reminds him that she is there. As he stands with his cross again he tells her he will make all things new again. The emotion is so intense, no visuals are needed to feel the pain of Christ and the heartbreak of his mother. Viewers watch in horror as the story of Christ and his Passion unfolds before their eyes, even if they are covering them with their hands to escape the carnage on the screen. Although the non-biblical elements, like the scene where Pilate’s wife brings white linens to the two Marys (Thigpen, 2004), may be noticeable to those who know the story already (Willis, 2004), the editing of this film is done in a way that those moments are soon forgotten in a vast rhythm of emotional imagery.
As expected with a film like this there is extensive dialogue, even though the dialogue is entirely in Aramaic and Latin. The sub-titles offer little to no distraction, and actually help the viewer understand some of the more emotional scenes by requiring the viewer to read the dialogue and process it rather than hearing it in their own language. The use of orchestra music during intense, emotional scenes adds to the overall experience of the film, and the sudden silence and attention grabbing sounds during slow-motion scenes amplify the reality of the images appearing on screen. When Judas is paid his thirty pieces of silver and the priests throw the bag of coins toward him, we are captivated by the sound of coins falling to the floor as the scene wraps up in slow motion.
Each scene, whether historically accurate or not, is executed flawlessly by Gibson and his technical competence is proven to be solid when pertaining to telling the story of Christ’s Passion. His use of blood, extensively, to emphasize the sacrifice made by Jesus is just one of the many non-traditional storytelling techniques used in the film. If Mel Gibson’s intention was telling the story of the Passion by pointing out the extreme pain, suffering, and sacrifice of Christ, then he succeeded beyond measure in a way that no other film about the Passion has done.
The impact of The Passion of the Christ is yet to be known, and only time will tell if it becomes a definitive popular reflection of the final hours of Jesus Christ. Critics claim that the film makes several anti-Semitic statements (Fuller, 2006), and the historical accuracy of some scenes has been called into question (Thigpen, 2004), but the overall integrity of the movie is very strong. Although The Passion of the Christ falls into the drama genre and many people already know the story of Christ’s Passion, it could also be considered an historical account, or biography, of the life of Jesus Christ.
Analysis of The Passion of the Christ shows that although several scenes are not completely accurate to the historical and biblical accounts of the life of Christ, the storyline is solid and supported by exceptional acting, vivid cinematography, clever editing, and stylish directing. The manipulation of the audience through the visual elements of period settings and subtle effects is emphasized along with the use of extreme scenes of blood and violence. Whether or not this film is a completely historical account of the final hours of Jesus Christ, which contains enough emotion by itself, The Passion of the Christ evokes deep emotional responses to events that are construed to be true simply because of the graphic element added to evoke those responses from the viewers. Historical inaccuracies and non-biblical accounts may detract from the overall authenticity of the film leading some to believe that The Passion of the Christ is merely a fictional representation of the most important person in Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gibson’s genius depiction of Christ in the final hours of his life presents the audience with a clear message, using creative license that is far from blurred, that this was the most significant sacrifice in the history of mankind, and that is the story Gibson was trying to convey.
Drake, T. (2004). ‘The Movie Was Torture – But Worth It’: An Interview with actor Jim Caviezel. BeliefNet. Retrieved from http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/2004/02/The-Movie-Was-Torture-But-Worth-It.aspx
Fuller, C. (2006). Gibson’s “Passion” in the Light of Pasolini’s “Gospel”. Society of Biblical Literature Forum. Retrieved from http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=508
Gibson, M. (Director). (2004). The Passion of the Christ [Film]. Los Angeles: Icon Productions.
Thigpen, P. (2004). How Faithful to the Gospel is The Passion of the Christ? Retrieved from http://www.paulthigpen.com/theology/passion-gospel.html
Willis, B. (2004). The Passion of the Christ. Christian Spotlight on Entertainment. Retrieved from http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2004/thepassionofthechrist.html
I have joined several different groups on Facebook, and I enjoy participating in the discussions on many of them. Sometimes, however, I find myself biting my tongue (or sitting on my hands in this case) because someone says something or does something that completely throws me for a loop.
In one of those groups, a conversation revolved around the death of Rodney King, and whether or not we, as a society, should celebrate the death of criminals among us. As some argued that his death should be celebrated because he was a criminal, others argued that we should never celebrate the death of another human being.
I am pursuing my degree in Psychology, so I found the entire debate about human dignity (or the lack thereof) quite interesting. I have known some of those participating in the conversation for most of my life, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and the others participating in the discussion. I found their positions to be quite insightful, especially given the topic at hand and the fact they are all present and former law enforcement personnel.
The conversation quickly devolved into a series of personal disagreements and derogatory statements. The focus of the conversation was no longer about Rodney King or his death, but rather a series of petty attacks and disagreements against each other. I am amazed that a conversation which was revolving around the human dignity for a criminal who died could transform and become an example of the lack of respect and human dignity we have for each other, here in the land of the living. I suppose I had higher expectations because I know most of these people, but it comes as no surprise that someone who cannot respect the human dignity of others around them (and living) would have none for a criminal who has died.
In the e-book, True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty, Cardinal Dolan wrote, “If we are divinized reflections of God, created in His image and likeness, then we ought to treat ourselves and others only with respect, love, honor, and care.” So the question remains, does Rodney King deserve respect and human dignity in death? At what point do we draw the line and determine that someone does not deserve the same basic respect and human dignity as all other human beings? Is it our place to draw that line, let alone cross it?
While some will see this post as sympathy for criminals among us, or imposing my religious beliefs on others, I hope many more will see it as a wake up call. If we do not respect the human dignity of others, why should we expect that respect ourselves? At the end of the day, when we sit back and watch the standards of our society swirl down the drain, maybe we should be looking at ourselves.
Three days ago I was nearly in a panic.
I have been taking calls, maintaining a list of recipients, and organizing our frozen food distribution program for three weeks. On the first Thursday of each month, our local Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference distributes frozen food to clients we have assisted and people within our community who have expressed the need for a helping hand. Through an initiative with Kroger grocery stores, the SVdP Conference Support Center in Atlanta is able to help provide frozen foods to the many conferences in our area and we are grateful for the opportunity to assist people within our community.
The response from our community has been nothing short of amazing. People have volunteered to help pick up, sort, and distribute food. Word spread this month and we were scheduled to help 98 people today. In order to help nearly 100 people we would need 10 fifty-pound boxes of frozen food. Our goal is to give each person 5 pounds of food, which should (in theory) provide them with enough food to supplement their diet for a week.
Three days ago, I received word that we would only receive half of the food we had requested for the distribution. My heart sank, my head was spinning, and I began to panic. I spent Monday working the numbers, dividing the pounds of food by the number of people, and the more I thought about it, the more I panicked.
Tuesday morning, during Communion Service, our own Deacon Gary read the Gospel and then spoke about the end of times. He reminded us that the end times could come many, many, many, many, years from now, or possibly tomorrow. He spoke about our wonderful Lord, and how he has been our refuge through every age. Toward the end of his homily he talked about prayer. Heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer.
Throughout the entire service, I could not help but worry about the frozen food initiative. I realized that the only way I was going to stop panicking was to turn it over to God. Deacon Gary’s homilies are one of a kind. No matter what he says or how he presents it, the topic always comes full circle and you find yourself wrapped in the moment, slowly consuming the Word.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.” Before I walked up to receive the Eucharist, I said a silent, heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer. “Lord, please help me”.
I asked God for help. I reassured him that I knew He was capable of feeding thousands of people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, but I was a weak human being and needed help figuring out how to feed 98 people with only 5 boxes of food. I prayed that He would guide our frozen food ministry, and show me how to feed our own modern day multitude. The geographic area of our parish is very large. People would be driving many miles to receive this food, and I could not, in good conscience, give them a pittance of food and send them on their way.
This morning, my oldest son and I drove up to the SVdP Family Support Center in Dallas, Georgia to pick up the food. When the delivery driver arrived, I introduced myself, and asked him if he had five boxes of food for me. He said, “No sir, I don’t.” My heart sank again. I should have known better than to panic. He grinned and told me that he had 10, yes ten!!! I was stunned, to say the least.
Driving back to Carrollton, I could hardly contain myself. I know our God is an awesome God. I know He works miracles every day. I truly believed He would provide the food we needed, whether it was five boxes or ten, and He did! But today’s story does not end there.
When we arrived back at the church, we quickly emptied the boxes, and sorted the foods. It took us 35 minutes to pack 48 bags of food. We would have had 50, but some of the meat packages were small, so I doubled up a couple items to make sure each person received a fair portion.
We counted the bags on the table, we counted the bags when we moved them to the cart, and we counted the bags when we placed them in the freezer. I know it sounds redundant, but the total number of bags determines how many bags we can distribute to each family, in order to provide the most food to the most people.
The distribution was scheduled from 4pm to 6pm, but when we arrived at 3:30pm, there were a dozen people waiting in the parking lot. Most of them were elderly, and the sun was a bit warm today. I quickly organized the distribution point and opened the door. We had 48 bags of food for 98 people, and no room for error, extras, or mistakes.
Four of the first six people were not on the distribution list. They had not called our hotline, they had not reserved food, but they were standing in front of me, and they needed food. I felt the panic returning. I was going to have to turn these people away because I did not have enough food after all. I felt like a schmuck. Time stood still, but in that one moment I realized what I was supposed to do. I took each person’s name, entered them in my log sheet, and gave each person a bag of food.
After the initial crowd received their food, I decided to count the number of bags still on the shelf so I could re-work the numbers and spread the remaining food as far as I could. We distributed food to four people who were not on our distribution list, so we should have been four bags short. But we weren’t. When we counted (and recounted) the bags, we had exactly the number we needed to provide food to the remaining people on our list.
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, we had more and more people show up that were not on the list. I took their names and gave them food. I did not turn anyone away.
By the end of the day, we had distributed 56 bags of food, assisting 115 people. Eight people did not show up and 12 bags remained on the shelf. Now that was the miracle God was working on this first Thursday of June.
All afternoon I thought the miracle was receiving 10 boxes of food, little did I know that He had something else in mind. A better idea, a greater plan. There is no doubt that we only had 500 pounds of food, in 48 bags, to help 98 people.
“When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’ So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (John 6:12-13)
Something tells me that only God can explain today’s events, but I need no explanation. I am grateful for the miracle that occurred, and I am humbled to have experienced it first hand. God answered my prayer, and I learned through heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer, that silence truly is the first language of God.
Contraception and abortion have always been thought to be controversial by our generation, but every Christian faith “consistently opposed any interference with the God-given natural fecundity of the nature of conjugal relations” (Notare, 2008) until 1930 when the Anglican Church first permitted the use of artificial birth control in marriage. Moral values have been constantly eroded by the individual freedoms sought in the secular world, and because of this erosion, society now places more emphasis on a woman’s right to choose birth control rather than a child’s right to life. When considering the use of birth control, an ethical egoist will always focus on what is best for them personally, but the person with a utilitarianism viewpoint will consider the best result for the greatest number of people affected by their decision. When making their initial decision to use birth control, the utilitarian must also rely on virtue ethics in order to determine the greatest number of people affected by that decision.
Although someone may try to approach the use of birth control from a utilitarian viewpoint, the justification for using birth control, whether in the form of contraception or abortion, is contradictory to utilitarianism because the choice of using contraception, as well as abortion, always has a detrimental affect on one-half of the people affected by the decision. “Utilitarianism argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice” (Mosser, 2010). When choosing to use birth control, the mother is, sometimes inadvertently, declaring that her right to use birth control is more valid that her child’s right to life. By choosing to prevent the conception of new life, or choosing to terminate the life of the child forming in her womb, the mother has made a decision that does not generate the best result for the greatest number of people because she has chosen to end the life of one-half of those affected by her decision. From a strictly utilitarian view, birth control and abortion would never be considered if the utilitarian possessed some form of virtue ethics in making their initial determination regarding the rights of their unborn child.
“The rights of human beings do not depend on the circumstances of their conception: for example, the child conceived from rape must be respected no less than any other child” (Stephens, Jordens, Kerridge, & Ankeny, 2010). Although every human being deserves the same basic human rights and dignity, many people who support the use of birth control will cite various statistics to support their position. They attempt to justify their position by claiming that many “unwanted” children would be raised in low-income or single parent families. They claim that children produced by rape would cause misery and be a detriment to the mother’s mental well-being. The same could be said about every child born, but what could be worse than ceasing to exist in the first place? No matter how a child is conceived, any decision to terminate the pregnancy produces a negative result for the child, and is not producing the best result for the greatest number of people involved, no matter how those children may or may not be raised once they are born. While many feel the use of birth control revolves around a woman’s right to choose, doing so could show they have “the wrong attitude not only to fetuses, but more generally to human life and death” (Hursthouse, 1991).
The choice of whether or not to use birth control, in utilitarianism terms, should always take into account the best results for the most people involved in the decision. The only way the decision to use birth control, or to obtain an abortion, can be made from a utilitarian viewpoint is when people hold the belief that, “There is room for only one person with full and equal rights inside a single human skin. That is why it is birth, rather than sentience, viability, or some other prenatal milestone that must mark the beginning of legal parenthood, and of legal personhood” (Porter, 1994). Although a woman may enjoy a carefree lifestyle, with no thought of the potential result, that lifestyle may lead to decisions that are simply not utilitarian in nature. When choosing to use birth control she prevents a potential child from developing, or worse, she terminates that child’s life. Because the utilitarian always considers the greatest good for the greatest number of people, their decision to use birth control should also rely on their belief that the child developing inside them has the same right to human dignity that they themselves enjoy. Setting all moral values and virtue issues aside, it all boils down to the acknowledgment that a young child’s life is at stake, and the reality that their life is just as valuable as the life of their mother.
On the other side of this issue is the ethical egoist argument that contraception and abortion increase our ability to live a sexually pleasurable life and birth control as well as abortion enable us, as individuals, to live the life we want, therefore we should be permitted to use them as desired. This belief, that “if something promotes my own happiness or helps me reach my desired goals, I should do it” (Mosser, 2010) outweighs the moral concerns for the possibility of conception, or the termination afterward, because the ethical egoist is only concerned with the self, or the “I factor”. As a society becomes more secular, the “I factor” plays a vital role in what is accepted throughout that society.
In writing about abortion, contraception, and euthanasia, Pope John Paul II, wrote, “Broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom” (Pope John Paul II, 1995). Individual freedoms are much more attractive to the ethical egoist than others because ethical egoists are focused on their own happiness and those individual freedoms provide a layer of self-justification for their own decisions, no matter how bad those decisions may be. Pope John Paul II also added, “Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable” (Pope John Paul II, 1995). Remember, for more than 1,900 years birth control was considered immoral by all Christian faiths, but in the past 80 years the decision to use birth control has not only become “moral” to some Christians, but it has become an acceptable and common practice for many others, all in the name of the advancement of individual freedom.
For the ethical egoist, individual freedoms belong to the woman who may conceive, or is carrying the child; therefore she alone has the right to choose whether or not to use birth control or obtain an abortion. The increase in the belief that birth control is an individual freedom has had a tremendous impact on the destruction of numerous human lives. Although the ethical egoist does not consider the affect of their decision on others, Pope John Paul II points out several societal reasons why these choices no longer seem taboo to many people. He states, “no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life” (Pope John Paul II, 1995). The ethical egoist considers their own happiness, their own well-being, and their own concerns, rather than the concerns of others, when making the decision to use birth control. Because they focus solely on their own self, and ignore the needs and benefits to others, they are, in essence, ignoring the basic value of the human life of the child who is affected by their decision. As long as ethical egoists remain focused on themselves and continue to ignore the basic value of human life, the state of their own conscience will continue to decline and the moral standards of society as a whole will continue to decay as the relevance of human dignity becomes less recognizable.
The secularization of our society has allowed the thought that individual freedom outweighs the ‘greater good’ because we deserve to be happy, we deserve to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. The “I factor” has become such a prominent cornerstone of secular belief that many people focus solely on themselves and their desires rather than the moral standards that used to guide them in making decisions that could ultimately impact others and the world around them. By remaining focused on their own individual freedoms, the effect of their decision on the world around them does not matter to the ethical egoist. The “I factor” may allow them to think of birth control and abortion as the “incidental means to some desirable state of affairs” (Hurthouse, 1991), but taking this approach “is to do something callous and light-minded, the sort of thing that no virtuous and wise person would do” (Hursthouse, 1991). The freedom of choice and the very definition of ‘individual freedom’ calls into play several more ethical questions that could have a cascading effect on our society, therefore it is important for the ethical egoist to keep their argument focused on the individual we can see physically, rather than the one forming in the womb that may cause a potential moral dilemma simply by entering into the argument.
Those who consider the decision to use birth control as a personal choice often rely on revisionist theories and secular propaganda to ignore any possible ramifications for their actions. They justify their actions by clinging to their rights of individual freedom and completely ignoring the intrinsically evil result their actions will create. With that said, the utilitarianism position is the position that is closest to my own position because the choices made, whether or not to use birth control, revolve around what is best for the greatest number of people affected by the decision. The ethical egoist ignores every factor that does not benefit the person making the decision, and justifies their decision based solely on their own happiness and reaching their own desired goals. Although I have discussed this issue from a utilitarian and ethical egoist point of view, I feel the decision to use birth control cannot be made without some level of virtue ethics entering into the equation. When a woman makes her initial decision to use birth control, or to obtain an abortion, she must first make the virtuous decision whether or not to engage in sexual activity in the first place. If she chooses to engage is such activity, she must then also decide whether the child that might develop inside her, or is developing inside her, is indeed a person. If so, this new person should be entitled to the same basic rights of human life and dignity that she herself is entitled to.
Some people claim, “life imposes harsh conflicts between fundamental interests of mothers and their unborn children; or between the value of life and the wish to avoid extreme misery” (Barilan, 2009). As I stated earlier, those who support the individual freedom to ignore the right to life attempt to justify their position by pointing out the horrible or miserable conditions that would exist if the woman was ‘forced’ to be responsible for the child developing inside her. For many, except the ethical egoist who would not even consider it within their argument, it is easier to justify the use of birth control and abortion in the name of preventing a horrible life for the child rather than justifying the child’s basic human rights and standing up for the right for all human life and dignity. John Paul II wrote, “a person who, because of illness, handicap, or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or lifestyle of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated” (John Paul II, 1995). When we consider that more than 55 million children have been eliminated through abortion since 1973 (Ertelt, 2010), and a majority of women of reproductive age in the United States are now using birth control (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011), this statement could not be truer today.
The utilitarian would never choose to terminate a child’s life because the prevention of life, or the death of the child, would not result in the best outcome for the greatest number of people involved. When considering the best outcome, the utilitarian would be compelled to consider the life of the child that would be affected by their decision. By considering the best outcome, the utilitarian would be upholding the basic right of human dignity for their child as well. If everyone approached this issue from a utilitarianism viewpoint, rather than from ethical egoism, our society would be more responsible today.
Personally I feel if a woman holds the thought that a child may inhibit or impose conflicts on her lifestyle, before she engages in sexual activity, she would never find herself in the situation of having to make that choice in the first place. In fact, I feel it goes much deeper than that. When we consider human rights and dignity, “moral rights and responsibilities interact in a dynamic dialectical fashion. Caring relationships provide the moral ideal; a respect for rights provides the moral floor, a minimum protection for individuals which remains morally binding even where appropriate caring relationships are absent or have broken down” (Porter, 1994). Decisions based on the greater good, such as those made by utilitarianism, would highlight the respect for rights of the unborn child and provide a moral floor for all other moral rights and responsibilities. Therefore, I agree with a utilitarian approach to this issue, because any decision made must benefit not only the mother, but also the child.
Just over 80 years ago every Christian faith found the use of birth control to be immoral (Notare, 2008). With the constant erosion of moral values, individual freedoms are now emphasized in our society placing a woman’s right to choose to use birth control in the forefront, while altogether ignoring a child’s right to life and human dignity. Ethical egoists support the propagation of the “I factor” as they remain focused on what is best for them personally, ultimately hindering personal responsibility and promoting the decay of moral standards within our society. As society becomes more secular the “I factor” will become more commonplace which will eventually negate the utilitarianism viewpoint all together. In fact, the effect of this decay will result in the constant erosion of human dignity until moral rights and responsibilities as well as the definition of good vs. evil are blurred to the point that they are unrecognizable to those who used to hold them so dear.
Barilan, Y. M. (2009). Judaism, Human Dignity and the Most Vulnerable Women on
Earth. American Journal Of Bioethics, 9(11), 35-37.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Unintended Pregnancy Prevention: Contraception. Retrieved from
Ertelt, S. (2010). Analysis Shows 52 Million Abortions Since Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade Decision. Retrieved from http://www.lifenews.com/2010/01/22/nat-5910/
Hursthouse, R. (1991). Virtue Theory and Abortion. Philosophy & Public Affairs , Vol. 20, No. 3 (Summer, 1991), pp. 223-246
Mosser, K. (2010). Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility. Retrieved from
Notare, P. (2008). “A revolution on Christian morals”: Lambeth 1930-Resolution #15. History & Reception. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1650925941&sid=1&Fmt=2&clientId=79356&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Pope John Paul II. (1995). Pope John Paul II on Abortion, Contraception, and Euthanasia, Population and Development Review , Vol. 21, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 689-696
Porter, E. (1994). Abortion Ethics: Rights and Responsibilities. Hypatia , Vol. 9, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 66-87
Stephens, M., Jordens, C., Kerridge, I., & Ankeny, R. (2010). Religious Perspectives on Abortion and a Secular Response. Journal Of Religion & Health, 49(4), 513-535.
A friend of mine made reference to the U.S. Health and Human Services insurance mandate, claiming he was sick of hearing about this “war on religion”. He insisted that President Obama had attempted to compromise on the issue, and he added that women deserve rights too. In other words, he was complaining because the Catholic Church was not backing down, not letting go, and not compromising its position on this highly controversial insurance mandate.
To say I was appalled at his words is an understatement, not because we may disagree on issues politically, but because we are both Catholic. Being Catholic does not mean we always see eye to eye, it does not mean we understand everything without studying it, nor does it mean we have to agree with each other all the time. However, it does mean that we believe first and foremost that the Church is truly the Church founded by Christ and we agree to follow, and live by, the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Although this is not the first time this has happened, I was saddened as I stared at his words on the screen. In the past I have watched him cross the line between common sense and political servitude, but I had never seen him blatantly turn against the doctrines and teachings of the Church, let alone attack the Church’s position on matters that are concretely established through Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and the Magisterium.
Everything Catholics believe is expressed in the profession of faith, also known as the Nicene Creed. In the Nicene Creed, we profess:
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
When we recite the Nicene Creed during Mass, we are professing our faith in God the Father, Jesus Christ his son, and the Holy Spirit. We are professing our belief in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. But most importantly, for this article, we are standing together as one universal body, professing our belief in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
As members of the one, holy, catholic (or universal), and apostolic church, we believe in the “deposit of faith”, which consists of Holy Scripture and Tradition. All true Christians, on the authority of God, must accept the deposit of faith. As Catholics, we rely on the Magisterium, or the teaching authority of the Church. In Matthew 28: 18-20, Jesus commissioned the disciples,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The Magisterium, which consists of the Pope and all of the Bishops of the Church, guides us and authentically interprets the Word of God. The Magisterium affirms the dogmas of the Church and declares the doctrines of the Church. A dogma is a specific tenet, established opinion, belief, or principle that is authoritatively passed down by the Church. A doctrine is a particular principle or policy which is specifically associated with, or inseparable from, the body of works and knowledge (or dogmas) of the Church.
The library of the Catholic Church was so vast it was nearly impossible for the common layperson to review each document, let alone study it, or to discern the teachings of the Magisterium. This obstacle was eliminated in 1985, when the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops submitted a request to Pope John Paul II. The bishops requested that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals be composed.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II commissioned twelve Cardinals and Bishops to prepare a draft, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church was presented to the world in 1992. The publication of the Catechism brought the teachings of the Catholic Church directly to the laypeople. This forever changed the lives of the Catholic faithful who now had access to, and the ability to research, the official teaching of the Church.
We, as Catholics, reaffirm these beliefs, as well as our faith, each time we celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist. As we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and we say “Amen”, not only are we saying that we believe that we are truly receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we are also saying that we believe everything the Catholic Church believes, from everything in Holy Scripture to the earliest teachings of the Church. We are re-affirming our faith in God, the importance of Mary’s role in our lives, the authority of the Pope, the existence of Purgatory, and much, much more. When we say “Amen” we are re-committing ourselves to living a Catholic life, attending Sunday Mass, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, raising our children in the Catholic faith, and following all that the church teaches through Holy Scripture, tradition, and the catechism.
This is not to say you must understand everything the Church teaches, but you must be open to studying and learning the teaching of the Church. If you find yourself in a situation where you are confronted with choices that conflict with the teaching of the Church, you must assent to Church authority whether or not you understand or fully agree with that teaching.
My friend began his tweet stating he was sick of hearing about this “war on religion”, which references the U.S. Health and Human Services insurance mandate that states that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.
To understand whether or not this is an attack on the Catholic faith, or a “war on religion”, we need to take a look at the position of the Catholic Church on each of these issues.
Paragraph #2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” The Catholic Church views contraception as intrinsically evil.
Paragraph #2399 states, “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)”. The Catholic Church views sterilization as intrinsically evil.
Paragraphs #2270-2271 reflect the Church’s position on abortion. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” The Catholic Church views abortion as intrinsically evil.
Because the insurance mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will force Catholic organizations to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception the mandate is a technical declaration of war on the Catholic faith. My friend was correct when he referenced this “war on religion”.
My friend also referenced President Obama’s attempt to “compromise” with the Catholic Church. In this “compromise” President Obama shifted the responsibility from religious organizations to the insurance companies providing coverage to those religious organizations. If the religious organization is self-insured, they are still paying for the coverage directly, and if not, the insurance companies will be charging for the coverage, and they will be paying for those services indirectly. The Catholic Church finds those services to be intrinsically evil and could never, and would never, support paying for them. In other words, there will be no compromising. When it comes to Church doctrine, there is no compromise. The Church has never compromised her beliefs, and she never will.
The one part of my friend’s statement that I found hard to reconcile was his insistence that this issue, the insurance mandate, was an attack on women’s rights. I honestly don’t understand how the Catholic Church’s position against sterilization, contraception, and abortion, is an attack on the rights of women, specifically the women who are members of the Catholic Church.
The women of the Catholic Church, those who practice their faith and believe in the Catholic Church as I described earlier in this article, should be proud of the Catholic Church, her Pope and Bishops, her priests and her laypeople, and all of those who uphold the beliefs, teachings, and traditions of the Catholic faith. If a woman claims to be Catholic and believes all that the Catholic Church represents, how can she insist on the “right” to sterilization, contraception, or abortion? Isn’t the Catholic Church, by objecting to the insurance mandate, actually standing up for the rights of every Catholic woman in the United States? By remaining firm in our beliefs we, as Catholics, are upholding the rights of every woman, man, and child (born and unborn). It doesn’t get any more universal than that.
Today’s first reading at Mass from the book of James could not have been more appropriately timed. We should be doers of the word not hearers. If we think we are religious and do not bridle our tongues but deceive our hearts, our religion is in vain.
As Catholics we cannot allow ourselves to hear the Word of God, the tradition of the Church, and the teachings of the Church, only to disregard what we have heard and do nothing. As Catholics we cannot stand idly by while the secular world destroys the very fabric of our faith. In Matthew 22:21 Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s“. While universal health care could benefit a vast number of people across our great country, it should not come at the expense of our religious liberties and through the compromise of our Catholic faith.
As a Church, we will not violate our consciences, not now, not a year from now, not ever. We will not compromise our doctrines or twist our faith to fit the confines of the secular world. For over 2,000 years, Christians have paid a price for not rendering to Caesar what is God’s, so what makes today any different than any day before? We must stand up to defend our faith, defend our beliefs, and defend ourselves as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Newspapers and news magazines have long been a mainstay for information and keeping up to date about the world around us. The Internet has increased accessibility and dramatically changed the way people gather and read their news, but it has not changed the perception of bias within today’s print media. Publishers learned long ago that sex, scandal, and controversy would sell copies, so it is not surprising that Catholics would perceive an anti-Catholic bias within those publications. In an age where abortion, sexual promiscuity, and same-sex marriage are commonplace, faithful Catholics find themselves at odds with many of the morals and values portrayed in today’s media. This anti-Catholic bias, whether it is simply perceived or otherwise, has a negative impact on the Catholic community.
The perception of anti-Catholic bias does in-fact exist within members of the Church, therefore it is imperative to prove the reasons behind it. Rev. Avery Dulles, S.J., a Jesuit priest, provided an example of this perception when he wrote, “The church seeks to promote unity and reconciliation, minimizing discord and dissent. The news media, however, specialize in disagreement and conflict which evidently arouse greater interest and boost circulation” (Dulles, 1994). At first glance, his statement implied that the media is not merely biased, but was simply attempting to sell copies of their publications by creating an element of disagreement and conflict. Although every publication is in the business of selling copies, it is not logical, nor realistic, to conclude that all media outlets create hype in order to increase their bottom line. Dulles offered another reason for the perception of an anti-Catholic bias by pointing out that, “most newspapers and magazines have no professionally qualified reporters in the field of religion” (Dulles, 1994). Articles summarizing sporting events should be written by someone who knows the sport they are covering, and financial reports would not be credible if the writer did not possess a basic knowledge of our financial system, so the same should be required of those writing about religion. The veracity of information comes into question when the person writing it has little to no training or has limited understanding of the subject.
Catholic journalist Amy Welborn acknowledges, “Reporting on the Catholic Church is quite a challenge, given the historical depth and complexity of the subject matter” (Flynn, 2008). Given the complexity of the subject matter, it is no surprise that many reports contain inaccuracies. In a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, one-third of Catholics surveyed could not name the four Gospels, and 45% did not know that the Church teaches the bread and wine used in Holy Communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ (Pew Research Center, 2010). Welborn also offered her own recommendation for her fellow journalists in the print media, “Deepening their knowledge of the Church would be a step forward for journalists covering Catholicism… This does not mean losing objectivity, but reporting on events in their proper context” (Flynn, 2008). Her recommendation supports the position that anti-Catholic bias exists because of misunderstanding and ignorance rather than an intentional bias against the Church.
The Los Angeles Times has a history of providing editorial space to those who appear to write from an anti-Catholic prospective. For example, Tim Rutten wrote, “Many Catholics worry about a Vatican that fires an Australian bishop for speaking in favor of ordaining women and married men, but declines to act against a Belgian prelate who unapologetically admits to molesting young boys” (Rutten, 2011). His statement appears to be a valid argument against Church hypocrisy, but Rutten purposely misled readers by failing to mention that the Vatican suspended the Belgian prelate immediately, while the Australian bishop was allowed to remain in his position for five years before his removal (Wooden, 2011). In this example, Tim Rutten was clearly attempting to sway readers into being sympathetic for relaxing the rules of the Church by claiming that the Church itself was not enforcing its own standards.
While sex scandals involving priests are definitely newsworthy, some news outlets go out of their way to make reference to those scandals while covering a wide variety of other topics within the Catholic Church. For example, during his homily at the funeral for Cardinal John Patrick Foley of Philadelphia, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York City said, “any diocese that can turn out such a noble, gentle man is a church which can endure and come out even stronger” (O’Reilly, 2011). The author of the article, David O’Reilly, attributed Archbishop Dolan’s comments as “an apparent reference to the difficulties the archdiocese will face next year – a sex abuse trial, school closings, decisions on 27 priests under internal investigation for possible misconduct with children” (O’Reilly, 2011), when the Archbishop could have simply been referencing the endurance of the Philadelphia community and the effect the loss of their beloved Cardinal Foley will have on them over time. Other news outlets simply quote the most radical thinkers as if they are an example of the Catholic faithful (Seiler, 1999) and some make an intentional effort to undermine Church teaching. Although there are examples of intentional anti-Catholic bias within some segments of the media, the majority of the bias is not intentional, but rather a misunderstanding and ignorance of the beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Tim Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges commented on the “amazing ignorance by some of the reporters that cover religion” (Flynn, 2008). His comments support the claims made by Dulles and Welborn, in stating that many covering religious topics should be trained and educated in the field they are reporting. This lack of knowledge and training has resulted in an anti-Catholic bias perpetuated by misunderstandings and ignorance, rather than the intentional exclusion of facts.
The sex abuse scandal within the Church has long been a topic of discourse. While the response from the Church was nothing short of controversial to some, the reaction by the media caused a backlash of unprecedented proportions. In his book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, author Philip Jenkins wrote, “the sex abuse scandal in the United States has resulted in a public outpouring of anti-Church and anti-Catholic vituperation on a scale not witnessed since the 1920s” (Anonymous, 2003). Allegations of abuse were widespread within the Catholic Church creating an illusion that the entire Church was to blame for the violations. While the investigation of criminal activity and misconduct on the part of Church authorities was completely justified, Jenkins wrote that many reports of abuse, “segued effortlessly into grotesque attacks on the Catholic Church as an institution” (Anonymous, 2003).
Any attack on the Catholic Church is dangerous because many Catholics today are ill informed about the faith they profess. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, from the Pew Research Center, showed that Catholics answered just 14.7 out of 32 questions (46%) correctly (Pew Research Center, 2010). The results of this survey are not hard to believe, given the influence of today’s media. Rev. Dulles wrote, “It must be recognized that many Catholics learn about what is happening in their Church primarily, or in great part, from the secular media” (Dulles, 1994). As Catholics glean more information from the media than their Church, the influence of that media permeates their lives and begins to distort the teachings of the Church. Jenkins concluded that anti-Catholic bias, “has become so ingrained that reporters do not even recognize their own anti-Catholic attitudes” (Anonymous, 2003). Catholics do not always know their own faith, so we cannot expect them to recognize this anti-Catholic attitude either. Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J. writes, “anti-Catholicism in America today is far more subtle and perhaps even insidious in a culture where religion is too often merely a matter of private opinion” (Fogarty, 2003). Although the result was unintentional, we must realize that the media unknowingly exacerbated the problem of anti-Catholic bias in our society as they continued to report the sex abuse scandal.
The best recourse for the Church, at this point, is to fight fire with fire. For too long, the Church has ignored the words of Pope Paul VI, who declared in 1975, “The church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means of communication that human skill is daily rendering more perfect” (Dulles, 1994). By utilizing the media to combat inaccurate information, the Catholic Church can establish a new pattern of effective communication and proper context that would contrast the existing media bias and balance the negative messages currently being delivered. The leaders of the Church must learn to use the media as a tool to support their message, rather than to control it. Any attempt to control the message would be seen as censorship and rejected by some of their own members, let alone those working as journalists in the secular media (Dulles, 1994).
As subtle forms of anti-Catholicism become more prevalent in our society, many people see the Catholic Church as “authoritarian and opposed to freedom of thought” (Fogarty, 2003). This message is deliberately misleading and completely unfounded, yet the Church has done little to dissuade the message from pervading society. “The Church is not without blame in this farrago of vilification. Bishops obfuscate, cardinals equivocate, and Church spokesmen prevaricate as the tide of media condemnation surges around them” (Anonymous, 2003), which is why the leaders of the Catholic Church must embrace new media if they hope to relieve tension and communicate a message that combats anti-Catholic bias in the media.
As people continue to rely on newspapers and news magazines to keep informed, those sources of media are unintentionally perpetuating an atmosphere of anti-Catholic bias. Publishers of print media focus on stories that will sell copies, often filled with sex, scandal, and controversy and they fail to hire qualified personnel to cover the topic of religion. The consequences of their actions result in misunderstandings about the Catholic Church and ignorance of the Catholic faith itself. The Church must take a pro-active approach and begin participating in the message rather than responding to criticisms after the fact. Until they do so, anti-Catholic bias will continue to create discord and Catholics will become more secular because of that influence. While the existence of anti-Catholic bias in the media may be unintentional, it poses a threat that has a negative impact on the entire Catholic community as well as society as a whole.
Anonymous. (2003). Church rounds on anti-Catholic bias by Media. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=2171705581&sid=1&Fmt=3&client
Dulles, A. (1994). Religion and the News Media: A Theologian Reflects. America 171, no. 9, pp 6-9. Retrieved from http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/media/me0005.html
Flynn, J. (2008). The Media and Misreporting Religion. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=31225
Fogarty, G. (2003). Reflections on Contemporary Anti-Catholicism, U.S. Catholic Historian , Vol. 21, No. 4, Anti-Catholicism (Fall, 2003), pp. 37-44. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25154876
O’Reilly, D. (2011). Funeral for Cardinal Foley draws church dignitaries. Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/2011/12/16/3324188/funeral-for-cardinal-foley-draws.html
Pew Research Center (2010). U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. Retrieved from http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx
Rutten, T. (2011). Tim Rutten: Is Pope John Paul II fit for sainthood? Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-0504-rutten-20110504,0,963466.column
Seiler, J. (1993). Pope’s visit unleashes anti-Catholic media. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=145475401&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=74379&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Wooden, C. (2011). Church unity motivated papal action against bishop, Australians say. Retrieved from http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1104169.htm