The Catholic Thing
Not Trusting Grace Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Tuesday, 17 August 2010

There is something extraordinary in the way that real Catholics operate. It involves divine grace. In the dominant models of Catholicism in our society, however, Catholic judges, congressmen, senators, and other public figures, frequently lead us to be skeptical of both the presence and the effects of grace. Looking to the Catechism, for example, we hear the official – which means true – teaching that: “Recognizing in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life ‘worthy of the Gospel of Christ’(Phil 1:27). Through the sacraments and prayer they receive the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit which make them capable of such a life.” So the grace of God is actually present in the life of this or that individual and yet some Catholic public figures seem unaware or uninterested in following the dictates of grace and its accompanying truth. And at least in public, they usually get away with it! Is this fear that God might renege on his grace? A casual attitude towards Catholicism? Or perhaps it is something more serious.

John Paul II quoted this article from the Catechism in his encyclical Veritatis splendor where he explains that: “Jesus himself is the living fulfillment of the Law inasmuch as he fulfills its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law, who invites people to follow him; through the Spirit, he gives the grace to share his own life and love and provides the strength to bear witness to that love in personal choices and actions (cf. Jn 13:34-35).” So apparently God provides the strength. The way that Saint John Chrysostom put it in his Instructions to Catechumens was that at Baptism: “the king shall give the cup into your hand – that dread cup, full of much power, and more precious than any created thing.” So certainly the spiritual strength is not lacking, even in “personal choices and actions.” That does not seem to leave much out!

What it comes down to is that in Catholicism, again in John Paul’s words, “the New Law is not content to say what must be done, but also gives the power to ‘do what is true’ ” (cf. Jn 3:21). Doing what is true means knowing the truth and then acting accordingly. Now what the Church teaches is true. It is that simple. The teaching is not so complex that we can claim that “I did not understand it.” It is not locked up in a vault somewhere so that it is inaccessible. It is available for nothing on the Internet. Moreover it comes on the authority of the Church. So there is really no room for excuses. John Paul again: “The Christian, thanks to God’s Revelation and to faith, is aware of the ‘newness’ which characterizes the morality of his actions: these actions are called to show either consistency or inconsistency with that dignity and vocation which have been bestowed on him by grace.”

So then why is the inconsistency of the behavior of Catholic public figures just simply left to fester in the flow of events in American society? John Paul points out three things that are vital to evaluating the actions of Catholics. He asks: “What is it that ensures this ordering of human acts to God?” And he analyses his question further: “Is it the intention of the acting subject, the circumstances – and in particular the consequences – of his action, or the object itself of his act.” (VS 74) His answer in the same encyclical is: “The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the ‘object’ rationally chosen by the deliberate will.” 

This is not the wishy-washy choosing of mere good intentions. That is simply not good enough. Moreover, we usually do know objectively that certain things are evil. We know it from Church teaching! Again from the encyclical, the Letter to the Romans is quite blunt on this score: “‘There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just’ (Rom 3:8). Quite simply the standard of judgment, which even we mere non-celebrities can grasp is, in John Paul II’s words, whether the “object [of the words or the action] is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who alone is good.” 

So if we can understand this why then do we have to endure the sickening parade of Catholic celebrities making vicious and untrue statements such as, for example, Ted Kennedy did at the hearing on the nomination of Justice Bork to the Supreme Court; or the support for abortion on the part of prominent senators and congressmen and women; or the actions of “Catholic” organizations in this country who deliberately and publicly go against well-known Catholic teaching. The list is long and in fact inexplicable. Should the Church and all of its members not provide a united witness to the one truth of human life? Should we not trust God‘s grace and truth?

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

(c) 2010 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Anonymous, August 18, 2010
And doesn't trusting in God's grace and truth mean not keeping individual institutions (parishes, schools, religious orders, social services, etc.) functioning as long as they have a Catholic veneer while not caring or knowing how to maintain a "deeply" Catholic identity? When will our bishops make the word "Catholic" mean something, especially when an institution dares to use it to describe itself?
written by Bob M, August 18, 2010
the answer of course is yes but you never answer the "why" - isn't this our favorite failure - consequentialism
written by James, August 18, 2010
Fr. Bramwell,
Great article.
I mean this in the most complimentary sense: I can't believe you made it through Boston College without being tossed out.
After all, how could the largely dissident-Catholic faculty at B.C. tolerate your obviously genuine Catholic approach: "Now what the Church teaches is true. It is that simple. "
That counts as "heresy" at Boston College.
written by Robert Ormsbee, August 18, 2010
Re: Living the Gospel of Christ...
I've found that "learning" in all matters human, consists of much review, pondering and deliberating with careful discernment...all things experiential--mentally, physically and spiritually. I feel our "fast-form" ways with fashion and "entitlements" and political popularity, pleasures and daring aplomb...might be overwhelming to the profound depth of Gospel meanings and truths.

Am I correct in thinking that, after information concerning the "Father" and the "Kingdom of Heaven," the most talked about message of Jesus was "hypocrisy?" This seems especially problematic with celebrities and politicians today (as well as with plebeian folks such a me).
written by Patrick Brennan, August 18, 2010
Just a nit on another and otherwise wonderful essay by Fr. Bramwell. It was Judge -- not Justice -- Bork who was nominated to the Supreme Court (and denied a seat thereon): Justice Bork is what Judge Bork didn't become. The nit is worth making, I think, because, interestingly, the Constitution itself speaks (in Art. III, sec. 1 and Art. II, sec. 2, cl. 2) of "Judges," even specifically of "Judges of the supreme Court." It's the judges of the Supreme Court who made themselves into justices.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author