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There are just and unjust choices — church teaching helps

3/01/2007

Bishop Robert Vasa

Diocese of Baker, Oregon

This week I had the honor of presiding, at both Bend and Baker City, over a ceremony known as the Rite of Election.

This is the ceremony in which those who have been engaged in the process of learning about the Catholic Faith with a view to joining the Church make a public declaration of their intention and the Church, represented by the Bishop or the Pastor, officially declares that the intention of the Church is to welcome them to full communion at Easter.

It is an important step for the Catechumens (that is, those who are preparing to be baptized) and for the Candidates (those who are already baptized). It is a day of decision, a day of deeper commitment, a day of resolution, a day of joy and a day of peace. The joy of the day is shared by the spouses and friends of the candidates and catechumens and it is shared, in a particular way, by the sponsors who have accompanied these candidates and catechumens on this portion of their faith journey.

I commend and thank all those who are involved in the catechetical process. I especially encourage all throughout the Diocese who are now involved, throughout this Lenten Season, in a particularly intensive spiritual preparation for Profession of Faith, Baptism, Confession, Eucharist and Confirmation.

The actual entry into the Church most properly takes place at the Easter Vigil for those who are preparing for Baptism. For them there is a Profession of Faith, the Baptismal Promises, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.

For those already baptized there is a Profession of Faith, Confession and then Confirmation and Holy Communion.

The Candidates recite the Creed and then add their personal attestation and commitment. It is this personal commitment which constitutes the heart of their conversion to the Catholic Faith. The phrase which is added is this: “I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” It is a moment of great freedom; a moment of abandonment of oneself into the hands of God and into the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is an unconditional “yes” to Jesus while at the same time recognizing that we may never completely know all that this “yes” entails.

Nonetheless the commitment is made, the pledge is spoken and it is then sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. This commitment recognizes that believing is a graced choice and not merely a feeling; it is a decision. It is a decision which irrevocably alters the whole of the rest of our lives. It is a decision which alters how we see the world.

For example, the commitment of Faith entails certain beliefs about the Most Holy Eucharist. The Church teaches that the bread consecrated at Mass really and truly becomes the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My attestation of faith confirms that I choose, in response to the grace of Faith, to believe this. Once I make this commitment of faith, my own “I believe”, then it is incumbent upon me to live in a way consistent with that profession of belief. It is radically inconsistent to declare on the one hand that I believe the Eucharist is truly our Lord and at the same time to conclude that I owe no special deference or honor to that Eucharistic Lord. The conclusion belies the declaration. If I truly believe then my actions must be consistent with what I profess to believe. My actions must also defend what I believe. For example, because I believe that the Lord is truly present under the form of bread and wine it would be unconscionable for me to allow someone else to scatter Consecrated Hosts throughout a Church, to keep a Consecrated Host in their home as a personal possession or to allow someone to receive Holy Communion when it is patently clear that they lack the proper understanding or disposition.

Thus, if someone were to say to me in response to a question about the need to protect the Most Blessed Sacrament from profanation: “To me it is not even a question. God has given us a free will. We are all responsible for our actions. If you do not want to scatter Consecrated Hosts throughout the Church, you do not believe in doing that, then do not do it. But do not tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their religious convictions. After all, they are just choices.” Clearly, such a position would belie one’s authentic belief in the Real Presence of our Lord. At very least such a position would contradict one’s attestation that they “believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

Some months ago a prominent Catholic public person, described as faithful to the church, was asked if being pro-choice or pro-abortion was an issue which conflicted with the Catholic Faith. Here is what was said: “To me it isn’t even a question. God has given us a free will. We’re all responsible for our actions. If you don’t want an abortion, you don’t believe in it, then don’t have one. But don’t tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their responsibilities.” According to a close relative the choice to have an abortion or not to have an abortion had no moral component whatsoever. “They were just choices.”

It seems to me that there are just choices and there are unjust choices. Choices would be the preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream or sherbet instead of ice cream. That is just a choice.

A just choice would be to choose to pay a fair and living wage to employees as opposed to simply meeting the mandatory standard of minimum wage laws. An unjust choice would be to choose to terminate the life of another human being. This is not just a choice and it is not a just choice; it is an unjust choice.

Furthermore it is an unjust choice which is diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as well as to the clear and consistent teaching of God Himself in the Ten Commandments. The direct, intentional taking of the life of an innocent human being is inhumane and unjust. It is not just a choice!

It is categorically impossible for the same person to state that he or she believes simultaneously both what the Catholic Church teaches and that abortion is just a choice. What we believe must inform what we do.

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