I recently heard a sermon on Luke 4:21-30 that troubled me a great deal. At the same time, the words of this particular Catholic priest enlightened me.
The priest spoke about Christ teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, the city where He had grown up. St. Luke says that Christ told those gathered that “no prophet is accepted in his native place.” He then explained why the miracles that He had worked elsewhere could not be worked there. According to Luke’s account, the people became “filled with fury. They rose up, drove Him out of the town, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl Him down headlong. But He passed through the midst of them and went away.”
The people of Nazareth were listening intently to Christ’s words, but as one Gospel commentator explained, they were disrespectful, narrow-minded and filled with pride. Apparently, they did not even remember that when John baptized Christ, God the Father said aloud for all to hear, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
The people of Nazareth wanted Christ to perform miracles for them because of who they were, not because they believed that He indeed was the Son of God. And knowing their thoughts, He did not do as they desired but rather reproached them, leaving them hostile and ready to murder Him.
Well, that is not what the priest explained in his homily. Much to my dismay and utter horror, he said that Christ had pushed “hot buttons” among His listeners and they in turn had acted inappropriately. He said what the people should have done was simply “agree to disagree” with Christ and walk away without comment or criticism. Their urge to “pick a fight,” he said, was wrong.
In other words, Christ’s teaching was nothing more than a man’s point of view with which some were welcome to disagree. The proper response to the teachings Christ set forth should have been, according to this priest, heard as merely someone else’s opinion rather the teaching of Christ, the Son of God. He said this happens frequently among Catholics, and if each acts appropriately, then disagreements do not turn into hot-button issues.
The priest was convinced that when Jesus responded to their lack of faith by explaining why He could not perform miracles in Nazareth, the people should have simply blown Him off and gone back to business as usual, avoiding those dangerous hot buttons that get us in trouble. As unbelievable as this interpretation of Luke’s Gospel sounds, it also revealed one of the most substantial, critical and dire situations in the Church today: The deconstruction or watering down of doctrine for political purposes.
One of the best illustrations of this is a quote from the January 26, 2010, letter to members of the U.S. Senate from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB told the senators that conscience protection must be included in health care reform, that federal funds for elective abortions must be curtailed as they are in the Hyde Amendment and that the failure “to comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is remedied. The bill’s provision against abortion funding should have the same substantive policy as the Hyde amendment and parallel provisions in current law, should cover every program in the legislation, and should be as permanent as the funding provided by the bill. The House-passed language meets these criteria.”
The fact that the House bill contains funding for some abortions is not addressed by the USCCB. What is clear is that the USCCB accepts current Hyde language that permits the payment of elective abortion in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother. Such a position is a direct contradiction to Catholic teaching, which defines abortion as an act of murder.
As Pope John Paul II instructed the faithful in Evangelium vitae, no. 96: “Where God is denied and people live as though he did not exist, or his commandments are not taken into account, the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of human life also end up being rejected or compromised.”
Clearly, to accept Hyde language because it is the status quo is an agreement to compromise.
The absence of a clear demand from the shepherds of the Catholic Church in America that any health care reform must first and foremost recognize the dignity, the personhood of every individual human being from his biological beginning to his death is, in my opinion, a tragic failure to carry forth a message that reflects the true compassion and love of Christ Himself.
The second example of watering down Catholic doctrine is the January 28, 2010, press release from the Catholic Health Association, in which Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO, opines about President Barack Obama’s state of the union message and congressional efforts on health care reform:
The President was right to say to Congress: "Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
We commend Congress for all its efforts over the past year on behalf of those who suffer under the current system, and urge lawmakers to bring those efforts to fruition as quickly as possible. And we urge Congress to continue its work toward the goal of health reform that protects life at all stages while expanding coverage to the greatest possible number of people in our country….
The Catholic health ministry remains committed to the goal of health reform as set out in our "Vision for U.S. Health Care," and confident that our nation is capable of reaching that goal. In a letter our association sent today to Congress, we urged the members of both chambers "to put the needs of our nation's people above political interests and partisan concerns, and continue to work for comprehensive health reform this year. As Congress considers the options for moving forward, we also reaffirm this urgent priority among our health ministry and pledge to work alongside those who will continue in good faith to achieve this goal."
The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), founded in 1915, supports the Catholic health ministry’s commitment to improve the health status of communities and create quality and compassionate health care that works for everyone. The Catholic health ministry is the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health systems and facilities that, along with their sponsoring organizations, employ more than 750,000 women and men who deliver services combining advanced technology with the Catholic caring tradition. For more information, visit the CHA web site at www.chausa.org.
Astounding, is it not, that the spokesperson for the Catholic health care institutions of America, which once existed specifically to care for the needy, the poor and the disenfranchised as a charitable work of mercy, is now working with a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia majority in Congress as though something good could come from these negotiations.
Again, where is the demand for equal protection for all human beings and guaranteed respect for their human rights regardless of their age, health or condition of dependency? Why is Congress being commended for violating the most fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church?
This sort of pandering is excruciating to witness; it is a tragedy.
But it happens when Biblical teaching, Catholic moral teaching and fundamental Catholic medical ethics are set aside for the sake of presumed political achievement. Those people in Nazareth more than 2,000 ago who were so agitated that they wanted to hurl Christ to His death, and later did crucify Him, appear to have allies everywhere. People willing to set aside or “agree to disagree” with absolute truth are misleading our fellow Americans and playing with fire.
This debate about health care reform is no different than Christ’s admonition to the people, for He cannot work miracles among those who do not put Him first and promise to follow Him and never count the cost. It is clear to me that each of us as Catholics, Christians and faithful followers of Christ have to remember the eloquent words of God from the book of Jeremiah (1:19): “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
That is the promise that comes from being faithful—not to political power, but to the only real power that matters.