When walking in the woods, there is an amount of certainty when there is a worn path under our feet. That assurance lets us venture deeper into the wilderness with confidence we will arrive at our destination, so long as we stay on the path.
At first, we follow diligently, with healthy caution to guide us. But as we go along we find ourselves more at ease, and take a few steps off the path to inspect a little closer one thing or another. Our caution stays with us, prudently keeping the path in view, so not to lose our orientation.
With time though, we venture off a little bit more saying to ourselves, “oh, I can always return to the safety of the path and continue on my way when I want.”
But then, something goes wrong.
Without realizing it, we get a little too far away from the security of that secure road. Our path is obscured by change of landscape, and before we realize, we have stayed too far, and lost our way. Now we find ourselves, scurrying left and right, hoping to come across the safety we had known in the beginning. We long to have that worn path to guide us.
This journey through a forest is a metaphor for the moral life. Every day we make decisions based on what we know by our conscience which is shaped by the wisdom we seek.
In the Church, we have a failsafe way by which to live our lives, by following the Her teachings that help us live out the Ten Commandments of God in our daily life. In the United States, we have a Constitution, that if honored, keeps our society in a balance with the natural law found in the soul of every man and established by reason.
The Catechism describes this foundation as ‘natural law’, “present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties.” The statement goes on to quote Cisero (Rep. III,22,33):
“For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense…To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.” (CCC 1956)
Natural Law is a path that will never lead us to sin, but if followed, will lead us to know more deeply Divine Truths. But when we begin to turn away from these basic principles that right reason manifests, and begin perhaps to trust more in our own ideas and desires rather than the wisdom of those who have walked before us, we throw to the wind our secure passage promising eternal happiness for a something that catches our eyes, out of reach from the safety of the road we are on.
It is at this point, what may be seen as a small slip from right-living and we find ourselves scrambling to re-obtain that safety and security we have known. It is a slippery slope that, one day we wake to ask, “How did we get here?!?”
That day is here.
Over the last couple of weeks the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has found itself in direct battle with the Executive Branch of the United States government over the HHS Mandate, threatening the constitutional right of religious liberty. Many of us – rightly – are appalled by such a glaring assault. Bishops have are showing a united front in writing publically, and to their flocks, about this threat to our freedom.
Although this battle is on constitutional grounds, I want to return to the question, ‘How did we get here?’ We have been slowly walking to this point over the last forty-five-plus years. And it was not the secular society alone that got us here.
Whenever we reject a part of Church teaching, we open the door to sin. We become selective, putting ourselves as judge over what is correct and what is not. When Pope Paul VI promulgated Humane Vitae in 1968, its teaching on contraception was rejected by a block of bishops in Canada in what has been named the Winnipeg Statement. By their publicly agreeing to disagree with the Chair of Peter, they sent the message to their flocks, if only by omission, that contraception was permissible. This opened the door to generations of Catholics who were raised with the notion that the Church turns a blind eye to this moral issue. Omission by the Shepherds became ascent in the eyes of the faithful.
Where we are now?
Perhaps our current struggle for constitutional clarity over our religious liberty could have been avoided if, on the heels of Humane Vitae solid catechesis was done, rather than shelving the Papal Encyclical? I mention this not to point blame, but to note that the solution is not only going to be found on the constitutional battleground, but must also be fought by firm teachings by the Shepherds to the WHY contraception is not acceptable.
Pope Paul VI outlined those areas of instruction necessary to ensure safe passage through the changing world we live in:
- Value of Self-Discipline
- Promotion of Chastity
- Appeal to Public Authorities
- Seeking True Solutions (that do no ‘violence to man’s essential dignity’)
- Education of Scientists, Doctors and Nurses
- Catechesis to Married Christian Couples, and Family Apostolate
Saving us from losing our religious liberty can be likened to an escape from a wild animal we encounter while lost in the woods. We may be able to escape it for now, but we will have to confront it again in another form, waiting to swipe at us. Unless, we also plant signs leading back to sure footing through sound catechesis, we will only lengthen our wondering in the forest (or desert?), lost until our hearts are willing to heed God’s message. We must pray that our Shepherds are courageous, and willing to lead us. We must also pray that each of us have the courage to hear the truth and choose to return to the worn path that ensures our passage to our eternal home.
What Must We Do?
Study Theology of the Body. It is a wonderful way to embrace chastity according to our state of life. Then introduce it to someone else.
Understand these Six things about the HHS Mandate.
Write to your representatives in Congress. The link helps you to send emails to your representatives.