Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trust Is Crucial

We can’t get too far in the spiritual life without trust.

We might have faith—we might believe all the tenets of the Church. Wanting to avoid hell, we might eschew mortal sin. But in the long run, faith alone will likely not be enough.

Without trust, we can get into a fair amount of trouble.

When you think about it, how many little sins do we commit because we don’t trust enough in God’s grace or His plan? Scads.

When we’re tempted in our weaknesses, we may “know” theoretically that God has promised “My grace is sufficient for you,” but we don’t agree. We don’t think it is, and we give in. We may put up a little fight, but countless times we crumble before putting that verse to the test.

Quite often we don’t trust the promptings of the Holy Spirit. How often do we turn a deaf ear to His whispered suggestions—not wanting to leave our comfort zone or do something “weird” or too “extreme”? How often do we fail to reach out to someone because we distrust such intimations?

Not trusting in His plan is another common pitfall. When He asks us to do something truly unworldly or give up something to which we’re really attached, we don’t want to trust that His plan is worth it. I wonder how many apostolates and vocations have fallen to the wayside as a result.

Hardest of all, of course, is what I touched on in my last post: trusting Him in the face of suffering. Trusting when things are going from bad to worse, when dreams are crushed, when pain takes over, when tragedy strikes. That’s when it’s really hard to trust in God’s love, in the wisdom of His plan, sometimes in His very existence.

Without trust, then, it’s very hard to grow in virtue. We can't overcome our habitual sins, and habitual sin can lead to mortal sin. And without trust, it’s almost impossible to make it through a period of real suffering with one’s faith intact.

Yet how do we grow in trust?

Like almost everything worthwhile, it takes time. First of all, we have to ask God for it, for the grace to trust Him.

Next we need to spend time with Him, getting to know Him and His promises. Reading and reflecting on His Word is critical to this. You can’t trust someone you don’t know.

Then we need to realize how trustworthy He is. This is not merely theoretical. There are plenty of examples in Scripture and the lives of the saints demonstrating His faithfulness, His wisdom, His love. In the long run, His plan is always best, because He sees the big picture: He sees the greater good, He sees not only what we want now, but also what we need—and what our neighbor needs—to be eternally happy.

We can deepen our realization of this not only by studying Scripture and the lives of the saints, but also recalling His providence in our own lives. Taking time to be grateful yields huge benefits.

Finally, we can grow in trust by trying to trust. Talk to Him about it: 

Okay, Lord, you said to come to you when I’m weary and that you’d make my burden light and sweet. Boy, do I need that now. I’m coming to you; please help me, please strengthen me. Increase my love so that serving you and others becomes a joy for me…


Okay, Lord, you said your grace would be sufficient for me. I’m feeling really tempted right now. Please help me not to give in. Strengthen me so that I don’t want to give in, so that what I want most is to please you. Help me, Lord! Tell me what I should do…

Trust is like a muscle: it grows stronger the more you use it. 

Try it, see what happens.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Trusting in God

When I first became a mother, I soon found myself worried about my child's well-being. There was nothing wrong with herjust with me. You see, the illusion of control that we modern Westerners work so hard to keep up had been shattered for me, and I realized there was a host of dangers beyond my power to prevent that could potentially befall my helpless darling.
     At that time, I was losing hold of my trust in God to take care of what I could not. My father-in-law had passed away prematurely the year before, and one of my dearest friends died shortly afterward. I had begun to experience disturbing flashbacks, and a repressed childhood trauma was showing signs of resurfacing.  My husband's nerve injury was worsening, and it was dawning on us that the dream of a concert career for him might not merely be delayed but snuffed out.
     I only mention this to show that when I advocate trusting in God I'm not doing so airily, with no personal experience of how hard it can be, especially in the face of suffering.
     Why should we trust Him? How can we, when He sometimes allows difficult or devastating things to happen to us, even though He is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful?
     The problem is in part how we view God. If we see Him as a Big Prayer-Answering Machine in the Sky or an Almighty Santa Claus (minus the naughtiness-coal connection), we think that if He really loved us, He would just give us what we want and protect us from everything unpleasant, let alone painful or catastrophic.
     But that's not who God is. He is the Father. And every good parent knows that loving your children often means saying No to them. Children not infrequently want what isn't good for them. Love even means letting them suffer something they don't understand (say, a baby getting a shot in the doctor's office), in order to prevent greater suffering.
     While we may come to understand some of the good coming out of some suffering, we'll never understand it perfectly during our lifetime. I can't explain how certain horrible things could be good for us.
     All I can do is point to the cross. 
     We may not always understand His plan, His permissive will, but we know that He hasn't asked us to do anything He hasn't done. His solidarity with us in suffering is clear. How many of us have suffered like He did?
    He lives up to the name EmmanuelGod with us. In all things.
    We must remember this, especially when things get hard. We feel like we can't manage it, we can't get through this crisisbecause we can't. At least not by ourselves. But with Him, nothing is impossible (Mt 19:26). With Him, we can do anything He calls us to do, for He Himself will strengthen us (Phil 4:13).
   Beyond that, His death was not the end of the story, and neither is our suffering. Whatever we may go through, big or small, will pass. And if we join it to His Cross, then He will bring about a victory.
   Every dark night ends with a sunrise. Everyone who dies to himself in Christ will rise with him.

     "You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy, and that joy no one will take from you" (Jn 16:20).
     Jesus, I trust in You; help me trust Your loving heart even more.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

When Cooperation Isn't So Good

The last few weeks have been hectic, with end-of-the-school-year events, hence I've been unable to post weekly as of late.
     One of those big events was my daughter Emily's junior thesis presentation. At her classical, Catholic school, the juniors and seniors are required to write and present an Scholastic-style thesis (like those found in Aquinas' Summa)
     She clarifies some of the ambiguity surrounding the HHS mandate and why it is an infringement on the religious liberty of those who find certain requirements to be morally objectionable, so I share it here:

Whether it is Morally Permissible to Cooperate with the HHS Mandate

 Objection 1: Cecilia Munoz wrote on the White House Blog: “According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.” It seems from the statistics that even though the Church denounces contraception, hardly any Catholics find that contraception and religion are in opposition with one another, so it is morally permissible to cooperate with the mandate.

Objection 2: President Obama announced that not only some churches will be exempt from the mandate and religious organizations will be granted a one-year transitional period, but also that a new accommodation will be put into place for religious employers who object to the mandate. Now, if an employer does not want to pay for services that the Church condemns, the insurance company will offer the services free of charge. Therefore, it seems that it is morally permissible to cooperate with the mandate, since the mandate no longer forces employers to pay for any objective evil.

Objection 3: In Mark 12:17, Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.” American Catholics obey this by paying their taxes to their government, even though it uses taxes to fund Planned Parenthood. This year, Planned Parenthood has received $542,400,000 from government grants and reimbursements. If it is morally permissible to pay taxes that may go to fund abortions, then, similarly, it seems that it is permissible to cover an employee's abortion-inducing drugs.

On the contrary, St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles, “We must obey God rather than men.”

            The HHS mandate requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization, to their workers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that sterilization and contraception are morally unacceptable [no. 2399]. Some kinds of contraception are actually abortion-inducing drugs; the Catechism states:  “Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”
            When an individual cooperates with the sin of another, he may, by doing so, be sinning himself. There are two main categories of cooperation. One is called formal cooperation, which occurs when a person freely and directly cooperates with the objectionable action of the principal agent and shares the intent of the agent. For example, if a person were to drive the getaway car for bank robbers, he would be formally cooperating in the robbery. The other, material cooperation, occurs when a person knowingly cooperates with a morally objectionable act principally performed by another [the principal agent]. If a person was forced at gunpoint to open a safe for bank robbers they would be materially cooperating with the robbery. Formal cooperation with sin is by definition never morally permissible, while material cooperation may or may not be wrong, depending on the circumstances. Many people think that the action of an employer who complies with the mandate is an implicit formal cooperation. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says that “Implicit formal cooperation is attributed when, even though the cooperator denies intending the wrongdoer's object, no other explanation can distinguish the cooperator's object from the wrongdoer's object.'' In this case, though, there is an explanation for the motive of the cooperator: the employer may simply want to provide his employee's insurance, or he may want to avoid the heavy fines for disobeying which could run him out of business. An employer who complies with the mandate is not necessarily cooperating formally. For the cooperation to be formal, the employer would have to be in support of the government and cooperate of his own free will.
            However, even though such an employer is not necessarily cooperating formally, he still may be committing a sin. He would, at any rate, be materially cooperating with sin, and material cooperation is permissible in some cases but not in others. Whether the cooperation is mediate or immediate can determine the morality of an action.  Mediate cooperation occurs when a person cooperates in a way that is not essential for the principal agent to commit the sin. If a person were involved in a situation in which their cooperation was not necessary for the sin to be committed, the cooperation might be permissible, depending both on how proximate the sin is, and how grave it is compared to the good of the cooperator's action. Immediate cooperation occurs when a person cooperates in a way that is essential for the principal agent to commit the sin. If a person was the only one who knew the combination to the safe door and opened it at gunpoint, he would be an immediate cooperator. The morality of this kind of cooperation also depends on the gravity of the sin. In the case of the HHS mandate, the employer alone is given the task of providing the workers with the coverage, so he really is essential for the worker to commit the sin.
            Some will argue that the employer can cooperate with the mandate because fines for disobeying the mandate would ruin his business. But this cooperation cannot be morally permissible because the sin with which he cooperates is grave matter. The Church forbids cooperation with anything intrinsically immoral. Therefore, if an employer complies with the mandate, he will be jeopardizing the state of his own soul, he may be providing abortion-inducing drugs, which destroy human lives, and he will be enabling his workers to commit grave sins. The well-being of his business does not have more value than his soul, the souls of others, and lives of children. 
            Therefore, complying with the HHS mandate constitutes immediate material cooperation with a grave sin, and cannot be morally permissible.

Answer to Objection 1: First, the figure that was used on the White House blog is not at all accurate. For one thing, Cecilia Munoz said that 98% of Catholic women have used contraception, but the study was not referring to 98% of all Catholic women. The study itself was referring to a narrower age group, and had merely subtracted the 2% of Catholic women using NFP from the 100% to conclude that the rest used contraception.
            But even if 98% of all Catholic women had used contraception, that would bear no relevance to the question. The Church is not a democracy, ruled by majority vote. The Church is ruled by God, and her laws are true. Many people have the impression that, if enough people disobey one of the Church's laws, then they are invalid or have been changed. But the doctrines of the Church will never change, and Catholics will be held accountable according to the Church's laws.

Answer to Objection 2: Since the “accommodation” has been put into place, many Catholics believe that the cooperation is no longer immediate. But the so called “accommodation” does not really lift the responsibility from the employer's shoulders. It states that religious employers who object to providing those services to workers can have the insurance company provide it “free of charge.” But this rephrasing of the wording does not change the employer's role in the process: the employer still buys the insurance coverage from a certain company for the employee, which will include contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization. So, in either scenario, the employer is a key part in the process, and is engaging in immediate material cooperation. 

Answer to Objection 3:  The full quote is “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” The cooperation with taxes to which the third objector referred is a different moral situation from the cooperation with the HHS mandate. Someone who pays taxes to the government and is against Planned Parenthood does not cooperate formally with giving funds to it, and the material cooperation is mediate, because, even if the person were to refuse to pay his taxes, the government would still give about the same funds to Planned Parenthood. Mediate cooperation can be justified according to the remoteness of the sin and the proportionate good accomplished by the cooperator's action. A taxpayer's money goes to the government, which then decides how to spend the funds on different areas for the good of the community. In our country, at this time, the government gives some of these funds to Planned Parenthood. So taxpayers' participation is remote mediate material cooperation. As good members of a community, Catholics are morally obliged to pay taxes for the good of the country. The taxes could be given to Planned Parenthood, or they could be used for highways, libraries, or post offices.
            The cooperation of an employer with the HHS mandate, on the other hand, is not mediate material cooperation, but immediate: while the government can still fund Planned Parenthood even if one person does not pay his taxes, the employer is essential for the worker to receive the insurance coverage. As explained before, immediate cooperation with a grave sin makes the cooperator participate in the sin. 

Therefore, it is not morally permissible to cooperate with the HHS mandate.