Monday, March 5, 2012

The Inside Message is More Important

My husband and I were at a fundraiser for the Little Sisters of the Poor a few nights ago, sitting with a pair of women--sisters, about our ages--at a small table in the back of the room.  Despite the near-capacity crowd, our table for ten just had four guests, probably due to the fact that we called the night before for a reservation--typical us.  The women seated with us were great supporters of the nursing home run by the LSOP, as their uncle had been a resident for many years.   We discussed the usual things strangers discuss:  Education, family, children, parishes, and all that.  Both sisters had been educated in Catholic high schools and colleges.  One had a son, the other had a couple of kids.  We have "only four" we admitted, laughing.  And we homeschool.  I'll leave out the whole conversation that followed, as you have all heard it before.

Then, one of the women made this profound observation:  "So, you are like really Catholic, huh?"

Well, yeah.  I sensed they found real Catholicism quaint.

Which made me think of the whole HHS mandate matter from a Catholic perspective.  Yes, it's an issue that should concern all Americans, because, yes, it's about freedom, the Constitution, the First Amendment, personal responsibility, and all that.  Indeed, this should be, and is now, the message the bishops have sent to the Obama administration and HHS as well as the country.  This is simply the most important message to send to those outside the Church.

But the message to Catholics should be profoundly different.  Those of you reading who have heard a homily about the evils of contraception need read no more; you have heard what the Church teaches.  What a blessing.  See, even if you have decided that the Church is wrong (it is not, by the way), you know clearly where She stands.  How many of us have not heard the message, or have heard it framed as oppression by someone outside--or just as likely, inside--the church?  As I see it, I had an excuse.  When I was younger, I didn't know any better.  I had never--NEVER--heard that the Church forbade things like sterilization or artificial birth control.   I had not been to Catholic schools, but hey!  I had Catholic parents who sent me to a Jesuit parish at a Jesuit college for CCD.  Of course, CCD in the 70s (and now in most parishes) basically meant coloring books about nice things, being nice to each other, thinking nice thoughts, and knowing that "if you are happy, God is happy" so don't worry and follow your conscience.  Well, God must be thrilled with all those folks happily taking the pill!  Woohoo!

I was lucky--no, blessed--to find a friend (who is now my husband) who explained Church teaching to me. I figured I must have been a miserable student not to have heard this message during my faith formation.  So, of course, I was stunned when, during our pre-Cana Engaged Encounter weekend at the local seminary, the priest guiding the group told us to "follow our consciences" on the matter of birth control.  I hadn't missed the message in my youth through poor scholarship; the message wasn't there.

What?  Was there no truth?  Truth??  I wanted to hear it.  Did this priest assume that we had all had our consciences formed in the truth?  Or did he simply not care?  Was he weary of fighting a battle with neither leadership nor comrades?  Or was he neutral, taking no side for fear of alienating the dissenters?  And why wasn't anyone saying anything?

I hate to say it, but Mrs. Pelosi was right about one thing--the Church has failed to teach the truth about so-called birth control.  An entire generation has been so poorly catechized that some, like Mrs. Pelosi, can no longer be reached by the truth.  And now the Church is reaping what it has sown, and put the souls of the faithful in danger.  The message inside the Church can't be simply the same as the wider message meant for non-Catholic Americans.  While we might all agree, as Americans, that there are God-given rights outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of rights, we Catholics need to be told the whole truth plainly and clearly.  For us, it's not just about religious freedom.

Turn to us, Bishops, and teach us that Truth.  And make sure the priests get this memo, too.

For those not willing to wait, the Truth is here.