Fourth Sunday after Epiphany—1
February AD 2009
“Lord, save us, for we are perishing!”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Today the Epistle and Gospel both deal
with the idea of natural law. The Epistle speaks of the natural moral
laws, while the Gospel speaks to the natural physical laws. We tend
to think of the physical laws as being rather immutable. Indeed, mankind
has been able to progress out of the caves precisely because we are able to
trust the universe to go on working as it has in the past. Medicine,
chemistry, physics, music, and virtually every other form of physical endeavor
is based on this assumption of consistency. You pluck a string of certain
physical dimensions, and it gives a certain frequency or note. If you
stumble as you leave your home, you fall down rather than up! Life would
be utter chaos were it otherwise.
Only on rare occasion, and in specific
locations, does God suspend some of the physical laws. The miracles of the
Gospels relate such occasions—mostly the healing of the sick, and occasionally
the resurrection of the dead. The miracle in today’s Gospel is more or
less unique, in that it is directed at the forces of nature itself and not at
one particular person—the wind and the sea are calmed. Our Lord had an
immediate practical purpose in working this miracle—the safety of His
Apostles—but it also serves to address the skepticism of our modern era.
Scoffers like to dismiss our Lord’s miracles with possible scientific
explanations. The tell us that the demon possessed were really suffering
from mental illness; those cured from physical disease had only
psychosomatic illnesses; those resurrected were not really dead, but
merely in a catatonic state. All of these explanations are possible, but
rather speculative on the part of someone two thousand years removed from the
event. But something like calming the wind and the waves is impossible to
explain with mental illness, catatonic states, or psychosomatic disease—it
either happened or it did not.
These miracles—these temporary
suspensions of the natural physical laws—come very rarely. Now,
while nature and nature’s creatures are governed by the natural physical laws,
only those creatures with rational souls are governed by the natural moral laws.
And when we consider the natural moral laws, we must soon conclude that
those laws are never suspended. It is never permitted unjustly
to take away the property of another, or to beat him, or to take away his wife,
or to take his life. One may not deprive him of truth that he has a right
to hear. All of these things represent fundamental rights, given by
God so that people can live together in society.
It is important to notice that these
fundamental rights are not granted by society, but are given by God to each one
as an individual. They cannot arbitrarily be taken away by society, by the
government, or even the Church. Only in matters of strict justice may
society punish individuals or protect itself from them by taking away these
rights. Society may justly imprison the thief, take back what he has
stolen, and perhaps even more by way of fines in order to make stealing an
unprofitable enterprise. Society may even put the murderer to death as
punishment, or as self protection. But always there must be justice and
proportionality in society’s actions. One does not execute a man for
stealing a candy bar, nor lock him away for years, nor fine him a
disproportionate amount of money.
Recognition of these natural, God-given
rights and a system of justice and proportionality are central to the legitimacy
of any government instituted by men and women. A government is legitimate
to the degree that it attempts to bring its laws into conformity with God’s
natural moral law. It may not be one-hundred percent successful, but it
ought to be trying to be very close.
You may have heard me say, or you may
have read in the Parish Bulletin, that for well over a century, now, there has
been a movement to have government disregard the divine moral law, and the
rights of individual men and women. In the United States it is usually
called the “Progressive movement”—that is really a euphemism, because it
is not really about progress, but few people want to be accused of being against
progress. In more extreme forms it is called Fascism or Marxism. In
all cases, it is a theory of government without natural rights because it is a
theory without God.
In all cases, it claims to organize
society in such a way as to provide the “greatest good for society in
general.” You may hear phrases like the “common good,” or the
“will of the people.” With such a system, society may decide to
confiscate your property and use it for “the common good.” Society
might even decide to take your life if you represent a burden to it.
Remember, you have no rights as an individual, other than those that contribute
to the “common good.”
Of their essence, so-called
“Progressive” societies become more and more centralized under state
control. Industry and finance are highly regulated if not run outright by
the government. Transportation, communication, health care, and retirement
funding come more and more under central control, so that they can be made to do
the “will of the people.”
In reality, however, there is no real
way to determine the “common good,” or the “will of the people,” because
people are individuals. And if you take a few tens or hundreds of million
people, you are bound to have a massive conflict of ideas about what the
collective ought to be doing. In practice, the “will of the people”
winds up being determined by the relatively small but powerful group of people
that pulls the levers of power. Man loses out by having his natural rights
taken from him, and God is sinned against as His law is more and more disobeyed.
In some societies this situation comes
about through armed rebellion and forced collectivization—the Soviets, for
example, murdered many millions of people to take their land and force them to
work on state run collectives. In a society like ours it is more likely to
come about by offering everyone something for nothing. The rich man wants
his bank or his business bailed out. The common man wants the government
to make his job secure and his wages higher than before. The unemployed
man wants an allowance. The uninsured want free healthcare, fire, theft,
windstorm, hail, and flood insurance. Artisans and authors want to have
their creativity sponsored for the “common good,” for “everyone deserves
great art, music, poetry, theatre, and literature.”
In themselves, all of these things are
good—from prospering businesses, through good wages, insurance against
calamities, all the way down to the best poetry—all of these are good, none is
bad. The problem comes from thinking such things can be had by taking them
from someone else who has them, or in thinking that such things can materialize
out of nowhere, simply on the orders of the government, acting for the “common
good.” From the moral perspective, at a minimum, such societies are
guilty of theft—but very often other natural moral rights are violated, and
disobedience to God’s laws becomes institutionalized.
I ask you that, before you leave church
this morning, you have a look at two items I have posted on the bulletin board.
One is an article
by Judge Robert Bork—you may recall that Judge Bork was nominated to the
U.S. Supreme Court, but was shot down in the Senate for being too much in favor
of upholding our Constitution! Bork predicts a great deal of trouble for
Catholics in the years ahead, as government becomes more and more
“Progressive” (i.e. Marxist), taking away individual rights, and deciding
what is good for us as a collective.
The second item is more immediate, less
speculative. It is about a bill that Mr. Obama has promised to sign if
Congress will pass it. The bill is mis‑named the “Freedom of
Choice Act,” or “FOCA.” It is mis‑named, for rather than
allowing free choices, it will force hospitals and physicians to
kill unborn children, and force taxpayers to pay for the killing.
I will have more to say about FOCA during the coming weeks, but for the time
being, have a look at what is on the bulletin board. If you have internet
access go to the website and sign the
petition against FOCA. Prepare to write letters.
In closing, let me suggest to you that,
if passed, FOCA will not be the final step. Rather, the government will be
emboldened to determine just who gets what kind of healthcare if any, who gets
to have children, and literally who gets to live or die.
The moral law may be more easy to
disobey than they physical laws of nature, but the consequences are
always sins against God, and very often they are crimes against men and women.
Our nation is founded upon the notion that all of us are “endowed by our
Creator with the unalienable rights” that come from His moral law. As
citizens and as Catholics, we must take our country back from the
“Progressives,” who would sin against us and against our God.
“Lord, save us, for we are
perishing!” It is time to call incessantly upon the one who can
calm both the sea and the winds. It is also time to call upon our elected
representatives, to remind them of their duty, and to put them on notice that
this time we will be taking names!