The road we're on may be pleasant, but is it right?
By Bishop Robert Vasa
Bishop of Baker, Oregon
Published in the Catholic Sentinel, Portland, OR
May 28, 2009
BEND — This week was a week in which I attempted to consolidate a number of
trips to the eastern portion of the diocese into one more comprehensive week.
Thus I started with a trip to Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ontario for Mass and
confirmation Saturday and Sunday and then proceeded to Pendleton, St. Andrew
Mission for a weekday confirmation.
I had planned on Mass and confirmation at St. Helen, Pilot Rock but was not able
to coordinate the schedule. I then had Mass and confirmation at Pendleton, St.
Mary on Thursday, which is still called Ascension Thursday even though the
celebration is moved to Sunday. On Friday I proceeded to St. Francis de Sales
Cathedral at Baker City for the ordination and then Saturday and Sunday I
continued my general northward movement by offering Holy Mass and confirming at
St. Francis of Assisi at Milton-Freewater. From there I proceeded home to Bend
after an approximately 920-mile week.
It is a great time to travel through the diocese. This does not imply at all
that other times are less attractive, but only that the possibility of icy roads
and snow covered passes is greatly reduced. This affords a little more leisure
in travel and a greater opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
When the weather is less cooperative I do tend to focus on arriving at the
destination much more than the joy of the journey. This week was a time to focus
just a bit more on the pleasantness of the country through which I am blessed to
This is something that is perfectly legitimate to do when traveling across the
diocese to a variety of locations but one needs to take a slightly different
approach when considering this life as a journey. In cross-state travel there is
little danger, at least for the time being, of getting so distracted by the
country through which I travel that I forget both where I am going and how I
plan to get there. Unfortunately, in terms of the spiritual life, it is quite
easy to get so distracted by the “foreign land” we presently inhabit that we can
quite literally forget who we are, where we are going and how we plan to get
there. In the midst of the busyness of a typical day, we can forget that we are
Catholic Christians, followers of Christ, pilgrims, lovers of the Gospel, sons
and daughters of God, a resurrection-believing people. We can forget that our
true citizenship is in heaven, that we are “strangers and aliens” here, that our
true home still awaits us, that this world is passing, that our relationship
with God surpasses all others. We can forget, usually because of being
distracted by what we find along the way, that we are to leave ourselves behind,
that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, that strict obedience to a
moral code is essential, that Jesus is the way, that he gave us the Church to
show us the way.
On one of my journeys, not this round, I needed to get to the cathedral and I
started out, who knows why, going east out of Bend on US 20. Now it is possible
to get to the Cathedral on that road but it is about 100 miles further than the
US 26 route. I “woke up” to my error very early and so doubled back the two or
three miles to reestablish a start on the right road. Prior to discovering my
mistake I was making great time and I was enjoying the journey. However, there
was a problem. I was on the wrong road. It wasn’t as wrong as being on US 97
South and not ever so bad as being on US 20 West but having temporarily lost
sight of my destination and the proper road to get there my journey had the
potential to be a great deal of fun but really quite ineffective in terms of my
predetermined goal and destination.
We can never forget that our living is really a spiritual journey with a very
important and baptismally predetermined destination. It is certainly good and
proper to enjoy the journey but never at the expense of the destination.
Sometimes the life and faith journey runs into snags, roadblocks and stumbling
blocks and I do believe that one of these which the faith community of the
United States is encountering and will encounter more seriously in the near
future has to do with religious freedom. The specific form which the present
challenge to religious freedom is taking is freedom of conscience. As Bishop
Kevin Rhoades, chairman of the USCCB Task Force on Health Care, wrote: “We
should all be gravely concerned that our new president may rescind existing
federal protections for conscience rights in the health care profession.” The
present administration has indicated that it intends to remove a conscience
protection rule presently in force for the Department of Health and Human
Services. This “conscience protection rule” ensures that health care workers are
not coerced into offering or participating in medical procedures, such as
abortion, sterilization, embryonic stem cell research, use of pharmaceuticals
connected with aborted children to name a few, which would be contrary to their
religious beliefs. The rule affirms one of the fundamental rights of our
country, the right to the free exercise of religion. The indication of an intent
to remove it must be seen as a very serious threat to religious liberty.
It seems to me that many Catholics may not fully appreciate the seriousness of
the threat. In our tendency toward moral relativism we hear such things as, “I
do not see why the Catholic Church should not provide contraception in its
health plans for those who want it.” In terms of a hospital, someone might be
inclined to say: “I do not see why Catholic hospitals should not provide
contraception, sterilization or even abortion for those who desire or need them.
It is not their business to tell their ‘customers’ what they can or cannot
purchase in terms of health care.” They seem to have no difficulty with the
government mandating that the Catholic Church participate in and even perpetrate
that which she knows to be evil.
The reality is that health care is provided by real living human persons who
have beliefs and values. Catholic institutions, including Catholic hospitals,
are founded on ethically sound religious principles and values. Those
principles, beliefs and values must be respected. The government may never
mandate that the Church or its members do evil. Eliminating existing federal
protections for conscience rights in the health care profession makes doing evil
a condition for admission to the field of health care. It’s the wrong road.
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