By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 10, 2008
The penitential season of Lent has begun. Every Catholic who is fourteen years of age or older is obliged to abstain from meat on each and every Friday of Lent. Such abstinence is the bare bones minimum of penitential practice. It is not a recommendation; it is a requirement. It binds in conscience under pain of serious sin. By whose authority? By the authority of Christ, Who gave St. Peter the power to issue all such commands provided that they do not contradict God's commandments, as he might deem helpful in fulfilling the mission that he had received from Christ. "To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 16: 19).
But every devout Catholic will want to do more to share in the sufferings of our crucified Lord than this, the bare minimum. Going "the extra mile' includes intensifying our prayer life: attending the Stations of the Cross regularly on Friday evenings at seven o'clock; reciting the rosary in common in the family home; receiving the Sacrament of Penance frequently and devoutly; attending Mass on weekdays if one's work schedule permits. These are obvious and appropriate ways to make this Lent a season of heightened prayer. In addition voluntarily giving up something that we like, something innocent in itself, is a time-tested practice that "gives teeth' to our resolve to do penance for our sins. Finally, performing works of charity will complete "the triple crown' of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the three classical ways of atoning for our sins, of helping our fellow travelers on the road to God, and of doing what we can to make our own salvation more secure.
Almsgiving can be thought of as a large umbrella whose "spokes" are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, seven each. The corporal or bodily works of mercy are: 1) feeding the hungry; 2) giving drink to the thirsty, 3) clothing the naked, 4) harboring the stranger, 5) visiting the sick; 6) ministering to prisoners; and 7) burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: 1) converting the sinner; 2) instructing the ignorant, 3) counseling the doubtful, 4) comforting the sorrowful, 5) bearing wrongs patiently, 6) forgiving all injuries; and 7) praying for the living and the dead.
An excellent (and very timely) illustration of how the spiritual works of mercy might be incorporated into our lives today was provided in a recent letter to the Star Tribune, dated December 27th, 2007. The letter was written by a professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, Stephen Heaney. Professor Heaney wrote his letter in response to letters and columns censuring Archbishop John Nienstedt for his resolute defense of the age-old teaching of the Catholic Church that genuine love of neighbor will not allow us to encourage our neighbor to continue on a path to self-destruction. May I share Professor Heaney's letter with you here. It touches on counseling the doubtful, in the ultimate hope of converting the sinner.
* * * * *The delicate balance between kindness and complicity.
By: Stephen J Heaney
There is a new sport at the Star Tribune: piling on John Nienstedt, Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The number of full-sized columns and extended letters attacking him for his Catholic Spirit column on homosexuality is out of proportion both to the number of people who oppose the teaching and to the innocuousness of the column itself.
The December 19 sally was by activist Ann DeGroot, under the delightfully misleading headline: "What's this new sin called complicity?" There is nothing new about the concept, nor about the Catholic teaching on the matter. Whenever a reporter asks what the vice president knew and when he knew it, or who drove a getaway car, or why a fugitive was found in the home of an old friend, we are reminded of the gravity of complicity in wrongdoing---or, as Archbishop Nienstedt refers to it, "cooperation in evil."
Material cooperation in an evil act is the provision of the means by which the wrongdoer can actually perform the act. Such cooperation is wrong if it is unncessary or unreasonable; it can be acceptable if there is a proportionte reason for cooperation. Formal cooperation in an evil act requires that the cooperator wills the act as a worthy or fitting thing for human beings to do; to do so with full knowledge makes the cooperator as guilty of wrongdoing as the one who performs the act.
Given that it is part of our common moral and legal heritage to acknowledge the wrong of willful cooperation in evil, DeGroot's article is particularly puzzling. She grants that it is perfectly understandable that the Church should teach, as it always has, against .... same-sex sexual activities; against causing scandal by giving platforms to those who actively oppose this teaching [of the Church]; and against the sin (while still loving the sinner as a person made in the image of God). Yet she expresses complete surprise that an archbishop should also point out that loving the sinner and hating the sin requires that we avoid unnecessary cooperation in the wrongdoing. Suddenly DeGroot has herself standing, as it were, in the cold on the doorstep of her parents' home on Christmas morning while doors are slammed in her face and her child's Christmas presents are snatched away. There is nothing in this teaching that demands such a tragedy. But neither is it so simple as her plea that families "cherish and support" their family members in "openness" and "kindness," especially given her question-begging assumption that her "take" on the matter is the one that embodies justice. She assumes that what she struggles to have us accept- sarne-sex relationships-is in fact fitting for human beings.
There is nothing in Nienstedt's paragraph on cooperation to indicate that he was addressing families. It is far more likely that he was addressing activists who actually promote same-sex relationships. Still, DeGroot is correct in recognizing that such complicity can take place in families. Those who actively celebrate these same-sex relationships, those who say there is nothing wrong with such relationships and who demand that others agree with this assessment, are clearly offering a cooperation that is formal. Family members who offer a bed to a same- sex or cohabiting opposite-sex couple may well be offering improper material cooperation that they should avoid. Those who, out of love and for reasons of family peace, simply welcome such couples into their home [I would suggest, as an alterative formulation: who allow such couples to visit their homes] are at most (if at all) cooperating materially, and certainly with proportionate reason.
Emotional blackmail within a family, by either side, can never lead to peace and understanding. Conversely, true love requires that both sides take steps to understand and respect those with whom they interact. For any who oppose same- sex relationships, this will mean reaching out and welcoming one's children and siblings without stepping over the line into cooperation, and making clear one's reasons for disapproval. For same-sex couples, it requires not asking of one's family what they may not give: approval and cooperation. It is a delicate balance, but one that the coming of Christ [at Christmas] especially demands.