Deacon James Toner: Sin: The real horror to worry about
"Before too long," wrote Professor J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas, "any culture in deep moral denial must come to its senses or collapse, for the consequences of denying first principles are cumulative and inescapable." Not long after he wrote those words, he converted to the Catholic faith, persuaded that in the Church he could find the deposit of faith which is the constellation of the first principles he regarded as essential to religious and political life.
To breathe today is to inhale the very air of nihilism, which means belief in nothing. A few years ago in a seminar I was teaching, I had a student who insisted that there is no such thing as "evil," but only "bad luck." If there is an up, there must be a down; a left, then a right; a north, then a south. So if we admit that there is evil, then we must admit that there is good. If there is a profane, then there is a sacred.
To believe in the existence of "first principles" means that some things are permanent and good, and to ignore them puts us in moral jeopardy. Moreover, if there are permanent things, then we ought to learn about them, internalize them and commit ourselves to them. As Budziszewski puts it, there are some things that we cannot not know. There is a truth we cannot, in good conscience, deny.
But there is the rub: "in good conscience." If my conscience is developed only along the lines pleasing to me, then I can rule out anything that doesn't give me pleasure. Conscience becomes "all about me." My ego rules. I get to do what I want, how I want, when I want – unless the police tell me otherwise. Certainly, I will permit no priest and no pope to tell me differently. When I look for an authority, I see it in the reflection in the mirror.
God is permanent and unchanging. The full revelation of God is in His divine Son and in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles, in and through the Catholic Church. Is it then any wonder that the Church, which insists that we form our consciences on the basis of permanent truth, would be hated? The Church tells us that God exists and that we are not that God. Therefore, I cannot morally do anything I please when I please.
The bad news, as Charles Rice of Notre Dame tells us, is that we won't be able to stop in-vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, abortion or euthanasia "without restoring the conviction that God, and not man, is the arbiter of when and how life begins and ends." When the Church teaches that our peace and happiness are rooted in knowing, loving and serving God, it infuriates those who tell us, instead, that we are gods.
The late Archbishop John Murphy wrote, "It is the Church which fights for the unborn child, for the rights of parents to educate their children, for the dignity of the marriage contract, for the dignity of the individual being. And in some secular humanistic future, when the only sin will be pain, the only evil ill health; when childbearing will be looked upon as a disease, and terminal illness will not be tolerated, when ... human beings will be forbidden to have a child, ... in that cold, clinical future, you will search in vain for the rebels save in the ranks of the Catholic Church." That was written in 1967.
Too few people today know the writing of the self-described "hillbilly Thomist" Flannery O'Connor, the brilliant Catholic author from Georgia who died of lupus in 1964, before she turned 40. "I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and on this we are fed."
O'Connor was often described as a "horror writer," and she accepted that, but insisted that reviewers often failed to understand the real horror about which she wrote. That was because reviewers, products of a culture which fails to understand that sin is the actual horror, often ignored real evil and the Evil One.
In 1967 Pope Paul VI wrote, "The world is sick." The Church points us, always, to the truth which sets us free, for the Church "carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel" ("Gaudium et Spes," 4). There is our remedy; there is our salvation. May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear!
Deacon James H. Toner serves at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy