Not Trusting Grace

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?