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The Road We're On May Be Pleasant, But Is It Rght?

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 travel.

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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