Friday, April 17, 2009

Being always aware of the One whose witnesses we are

It is not a question as to whether we should be reduced to practicing our faith in private or giving public witness. Without a doubt, we are to give public witness to the truth, whether it be about the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, or about the nature of marriage. So, it becomes about the nature of our public witness. This gets back to something I posted not long ago, namely an observation by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "that for conservatives it is axiomatic 'that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.' As one might suspect, it is an atomic truth of liberalism that politics is more fundamental and important to society than culture."

The reaction of many to the two recent dust-ups involving President Obama and Catholic institutions do nothing but prove the thesis I set forth in my earlier post, namely that in the U.S. almost everyone is liberal because we look to politics and/or political solutions, that is, power plays and assertions of will, to solve every problem. By doing this, we expend resources, effort, and energy that are better spent building up culture through education and other means. Reacting to circumstnaces in this way leads to a reduction of faith, which is a reduction of ourselves and others.

Let's take another controversy as instructive of what it means to start from a positive hypothesis: the Holy Father's assertion that the way to prevent the further spread of HIV in Africa is not by distributing condoms, but by rehumanizing sexuality. This is not a political assertion, though it is one in conformity with the epidemiological facts. Hence, it is not an ideology, an assertion of what the church teaches against a reality that contradicts it. Rather, he begins by recognizing the humanity of the people of Africa, the fact that the human person is a direct relationship with the mystery, and by recognizing sexuality as an authentic part of being human. You become ideological when your abstractions and theories discount and reduce the humanity of others because you are asserting yourself against the fact that constitutes reality.

As Rose wisely observed: "Let us start from the fact that we need to be educated, even in living sexuality. But education primarily concerns the discovery of self: the person who is conscious of himself. He knows that he has a value that is greater than everything. Without the discovery of this value - for themselves and others - there is nothing to hold." Hence, to begin, as those who think the distribution of condoms is either the only way, or merely the primary way, of combating the spread of this deadly virus, from a negative hypothesis- that people in Africa, or anywhere, like teenagers in high school, will inevitably behave in a sexually irresponsible manner is dehumanizing. As the Holy Father said, the rehumanization of sexuality consists of "bringing a new way of behaving towards one another." As Carlo put it in a title to his post on Paper Clippings, it is a matter of putting education over mechanics.

This is the kind of witness we are called to give. Somehow I do not think shouting, marching, carrying banners, condemning to hell, etc. are ways to witness to Christ or to give witness to the sanctity of human life because they do not start from a positive hypothesis, but a negative one and are ideological expressions. It is a way to further polarize, a polarization that not only pits the church against the world, but members of the church against each other.

Is there nothing we can do? I remember Fr. Trento's declining to be made a Knight of the Order of the Star of Solidarity of the Republic of Italy, due to the government's refusal to intercede on behalf of Eluana Englaro. Why? Because it contradicted his solidarity with those whom he serves. After receiving it, he quietly returned it on his own to the Italian embassy in Paraguay, the country in which he lives and ministers. He did not call a press conference, or organize a demonstration, he did not angrily denounce or condemn anyone, he merely pointed out the contradiction of honoring someone who has devoted his life to serving many people in the same situation as Eluana. He then went back to his ministry, where he remains giving witness to the One whose presence "is the only fact that can give meaning to pain and to injustice."

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