One of the most humbling and profound things I've read out of the many US bishops who have spoken up has been this recent article by Bishop Robert Vasa of Oregon. Keep in mind that euthanasia is legal in Oregon. His words should have us all thinking about the kinds of fears that motivate us - fears of speaking up for the common good, and for truth. What kinds of fears motivate us to vote our pocket book ahead of life or make us indifferent to the plight of a class of people?
First he calls to our attention some things from the Old Testament. Then he shifts to a reflection that is well worth pondering. Emphasis is mine in bold with added emphasis in blue-bold; comments in red.
BEND — Note that Eleazar has no illusion about the practical value of his fidelity. It would not cause the king to change the law, it would not cause his friends to convert, it would not result in a miraculous intervention by God. In worldly terms, his death is useless, his resistance futile. Yet, Eleazar states the hope implicit in his willingness to die: “I will prove myself worthy of my old age and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” This is what it means to be a witness, a martyr. It means leaving a noble example for the encouragement, the emboldening of one’s successors.
Another example is found in the chapter immediately following the story of Eleazar. It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers speaking for the others said, “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” Then follows a description of a whole series of the most horrendous tortures which these brothers endured. All the while the mother watched and encouraged her sons. The Scriptures then rightfully recognize the dignity of the mother: Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who saw her seven sons perish in a single day yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers. The mother was the last to die after all her sons. None of these family members was given a name. In purely secular terms we could come up with all kinds of reasons why the mother and her sons should have feigned eating pork in order to spare their lives. These seven sons could have been valuable resistance fighters. They could have raised up faithful sons and daughters to assure the survival of Israel. It could be argued that their faithfulness, which led to the destruction of the entire family, was an exercise in complete futility and even foolhardiness. Was their witness foolhardiness or was it courage?
These Old Testament examples manifested wonderful and exemplary courage. Saint Thomas positions the Cardinal Virtue of fortitude or courage between fear and daring. Courage, he says, curbs fear and moderates daring. We would be more inclined to say that courage stands between cowardice and foolhardiness. A secularist looking at martyrdom would, almost of necessity, conclude that the death is the result of foolhardiness. Such bold actions, in our current, “can’t we all just get along” mentality, will always be viewed as imprudent, politically incorrect, and misguided. Such a disdain for martyrdom and for holy boldness is nothing other than a disdain for faith; a disdain for a hope in the Lord. It is perhaps, also a symptom of the hopelessness of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks in, Spe Salvi. In the case of these Old Testament examples it is clear that each was confronted with a very definitive choice. None of us have ever been confronted with such a dramatic choice but for these Old Testament heroes it came down to this, “Your faith or your life.” In a positive sense, using Pope Benedict’s words, the question would be: “In what do you hope?” We are edified, in the best sense of that word, by the witness, the martyrdom, the courage of Eleazar and companions. We could cite many such examples from the early years of Christianity. Even in our own day, the numerous saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, many of them martyrs, is a testimony to the fact that faith-filled courage is not dead. It is a testimony that hope is not dead.
[Watch where this goes now and reflect inward on it] When I consider the courage of these Old Testament figures and the firm witness of other saints and martyrs I would honestly have to say of myself, “I am a coward!” There are many times when fear impedes me from acting with what could be called holy boldness. The nature of that fear which impedes is perhaps different for each of us but I hope that each of us acknowledges such fear, grapples with it and even occasionally overcomes it, at least for a time.
Unfortunately, for me, the nature of the perceived threat is so paltry that allowing it to impede correct acting can only be the result of profound cowardice. The most serious threat to my well being for acting with greater boldness has been an intimation that I will be rejected, hated, ridiculed, rendered ineffective, deprived of financial support, judged to be insensitive, misunderstood, or verbally vilified. [Wow!] In other words the threats, all things considered, are quite innocuous and yet these things generate within me a variety of fears and doubts and misgivings. At times they even paralyze me into a state of cowardly inaction. [While there are things here for any priest or bishop to reflect on, ponder for a moment those times that we didn't want to leave our comfort zone to talk to our friends and family about what was right and just. Such things don't have to be confrontational. How many times were we silent in the face of distortions or misunderstandings about the faith to avoid discomfort? False charity can sometimes lead us in this direction]
It might be the perception of some that the issuance of my 2004 document, Giving Testimony to the Truth was a courageous act. [This was a bold document in which he told lay people involved in various "ministries" that they should be of high moral character. As you can imagine, it drew some serious flack, as well as support]. Others would classify it as foolhardiness. [ahh....here we go....]This is the document which required that individuals serving in a variety of Diocesan Ministries must affirm some basic tenets of the Church in order to continue to serve. [God bless this bishop. Consider how people are led into scandal by people who are openly pro-abortion handing out Communion as EMHC's]. It is, however, very difficult for me to see how the simple fulfillment of the episcopal duty which I have to teach could be considered an act of courage. In that I would turn to the Gospel of Saint Luke, 17:10: “When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” It is a rather sad commentary for our age that a simple fulfillment of duty is mistaken for a courageous act.
It might be a perception that my boldness regarding pro-abortion politicians is courageous but in truth I only follow the lead of those who exemplify a boldness far greater than my own. The bold speaking out on the part of Archbishop Raymond Burke regarding the contentious issue of Catholic pro-abortion politicians and Holy communion emboldens cowards like me to follow his example [Jesus chose more than one apostle and there are examples of where they embolden each other]. The firm and measured response of Cardinal Egan and a variety of other Archbishops and Bishops to misleading statements of the Speaker of the House emboldens others, like myself, to shake off the shackles of fear and to stand with them.
This is a point I have made about the bishops speaking up - it is catchy. Things really began to steamroll in this election when Archbishop Chaput of Denver didn't waste any time addressing the gross distortions of Catholic teaching presented on Meet the Press by Nancy Pelosi at the time of the Democratic National Convention. Several other bishops followed suit, and more joined in when Joe Biden went and did the same thing. Both of these politicians thumbed their noses at the bishops when they continued, after the public corrections, to distort Catholic teaching to crowds in an effort to get votes.
IT'S ALL ABOUT DYING TO SELF
We have to get out of our comfort zones if we are to follow Christ. We have to imitate His life. The Cross is something we should spend some time meditating upon. What does it teach us? We must die with Christ. Martyrdom is still seen in some places today, but the vast majority of us will need to work on dying to self. That is, chipping away at all that is displeasing to God. More often than not, there is great suffering in letting go of our sinful and unvirtuous attachments. Some of those attachments are subtle, such as being more concerned with what others think, than what God "thinks". We need to constantly evaluate whether we are following Christ by going with the flow, or going against the grain. As was pointed out to us today, the gate is narrow. This means, we cannot be liked by everyone and we should expect ridicule and misunderstandings.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you
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