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Lewis, Tolkien, and Kathleen Sebelius—A Homily
Many of you are familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, or are at least familiar with the first book and movie of that series called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s not merely a children’s series. It gives adults too the Christian faith in a way they can hear it more easily. Many people are familiar with the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; very few people are familiar with the last book of the series—either because it’s not a movie yet or because they give up at about Book 5 or something. But the final book of the series has some brilliant stuff in it. The last book is in fact called The Last Battle. It’s called that because it’s final battle at the end of Narnia. It’s the Narnian apocalypse. And so you picture some great, glorious, giant battle. No. It’s actually a rather small battle and it’s against a (seemingly) insignificant enemy. The first time you read it it’s almost a letdown. You say, “Ooo, that’s it? Really?” That’s because we think of great, deciding moments in our lives as being big, plain old, obvious battles. In terms of Christianity, we think of “battles” as being like the Roman Persecutions—martyrs laying down their lives for their faith, or of how Christians every year from 600-1600 A.D. feared the forces of Islam would come sweeping upon them, taking away their faith, or in the years of the Protestant Revolt—especially in Germany and in England/Scotland/Ireland, where people fought constantly to keep their faith from being taken away. But every generation’s battle is different. It comes in different ways.
The real pain in The Last Battle was its enemy. Someone had taken image of Aslan—the great lion, the Christ-figure in the stories—and made a counterfeit of him to do evil. People began to believe that Aslan was demanding evils of them, but they followed. When the good guys—the king and his young friends—showed everyone that it was a counterfeit, it wasn’t like they abandoned the fake and came back to following the real Aslan. Instead they said: “See, it’s all a bunch of stories. It’s all lies. Myths, legends, fairy tales. No more stories, no more gods. We’re in it for ourselves now. We’re done. Thank you very much.” And out of that grows Indifference. And with Indifference comes Unwillingness. Indifference says, “Does it really matter? It’s all a bunch of hokey anyway. What difference does it make?” And with Unwillingness comes the feeling, “Why should do anything? Why should I get involved? I’m taking care of me. I’m for myself.” Lewis understood that in the modern world, it wouldn’t be great battles; it’d be Indifference and Unwillingness.
With that in mind, I want to talk about the great battle that comes upon us, now, here in our own day. It will not be great and obvious, or be filled with clear persecutions, most likely. The real enemies will not be like the Nazis or the Soviets that marched down the streets of John Paul II’s hometown in the 1930s and ‘40s. That’s not what it’s going to look like. The real enemy is an Indifference to Truth and an Unwillingness to Act. Some of you are already aware of the storm that is brewing—and that has in fact begun to strike at us. It is the storm gathering between the National Health Care initiative and the Catholic Church. It has gotten exceptionally little media coverage. You can find it about page six of the last few days’ newspapers. That should tell us something. Today, I’m going to read a letter from the Bishop on this, but I want to give some background on it first. I’ll try to read it with enough fitting gusto; it’s quite different than the average Christmas blessings letter from the Bishop.
When the National Health Care Act was passed, immediately the question was asked of how this was going to affect Catholic hospitals and especially Catholic institutions and workplaces. We know that the law requires everyone to receive health insurance, and it must be provided by their employer. The question was raised as to whether Catholic employers would be expected to provide things under insurance that a Catholic conscience should consider immoral—things like: direct abortion, pharmaceuticals that are abortifacent (meaning they cause an abortion, like “Plan B” and “the morning after pill”), and all forms of contraception and sterilization. Would these have to be covered by Catholics’ insurance?
Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that all these would be expected to be covered by the insurance companies and paid for by the employers. What’s more, it declared that for these services they were not allowed to ask a co-pay. Meaning: no patient would ever spend a single cent on any of these elective services that treat fertility—a normal, proper function of the human body—as a disease: something to be turned off, removed, or destroyed. Ironically—and this is the giveaway of their agenda—women suffering from infertility, which is a true medical disorder, get no special coverage. It is not paid for by the new insurance plan. In other words: if you’ve got a real medical problem, it’s: “Honey, you’re on your own.” But if you want to shut down a properly-functioning system, if you want to mutilate tissues and organs and disrupt their proper ends, it’s: “Oh yeah, that’s paid in full.” And this can only be paid for—since there’s no co-pay—by raising the premiums on the employer, so the employer ends up paying all of the cost of these moral evils. As Archbishop Timothy Dolan says: “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.”
So back in August when this was announced, the Church asked for an exemption. And the HHS said they would consider it. Last week, Friday, January 20th, President Obama personally called to tell Archbishop Dolan, the archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, that there would be no exemption for the Catholic Church and all its institutions. That same day, Secretary for Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, announced that the Church would be given one year to comply—supposedly a generous gift to give us time to figure out how to shift things internally. As Archbishop Dolan remarked: “In effect, the President is saying we have one year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” Now, note the date: January 20. What happens on January 20th, next year particularly? That is inauguration day, and the day the Congress is sworn in. In other words, no one you could elect for Congress this year could there in time to stop the law from taking place. Hmm…ponder that. [This is factually incorrect. The Administration is actually giving until August 2013 to comply. I failed to fact-check what “one year” really meant.]
Basically, it all comes down to the concept of freedom of conscience—the right to respect and follow one’s own conscience, and the freedom that flows from that. No exception was made for the Catholic conscience, though exceptions were and are made for other religious groups. Just not us. To quote Archbishop Dolan again: “The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors.” Quakers came to America largely for this freedom to avoid fighting anyone, even against unjust aggressors, even if it meant saving their own lives. We, as Catholics, aren’t even asking for that. We’re asking for the right to not have to kill innocent and non-aggressive defenseless human beings, and yet we get no help, no protection for our consciences. In other words: All consciences are protected except those that happen to think that human life has value from the moment its DNA begins to intertwine in a human zygote.
Now, some would point out that many people—many Catholics even—see no problem with things like contraception. Some sources report that possibly even up to 95% of Catholics think that contraception is ok at least in some cases. Many approve at least the occasional use of chemical, hormonal contraceptives like “The Pill”, Depo-Provera, Nuva-Ring, etc. Agreed. Many Catholics don’t see a problem in it. Some Catholic insurance groups have already agreed to pay. Maybe many of you sitting here today think the same thing. Fine. I will answer that topic, but that’s a homily for another day. Even if that’s the case, it’s at least the Church’s universal teaching that these things are morally wrong, even for those not of our Faith. And if contraception and sterilization may be hotly debated even among Catholics, we have even stronger things to say about abortion and abortifacients. Abortifacients are chemicals—like “the morning after pill”, like “Plan B”—that will keep the tiny, fertilized egg, which is now growing and dividing and developing—we would say, a living human which has its own unique 46 chromosomes—keep it from being able to implant in the uterine wall and so it passes out and is indirectly aborted. We say: that’s the loss of a human life by a human choice—that’s what humanity refers to as “murder”.
This is the world—the battle—in which we now sit. I’m now going to read the Bishop’s letter and then finish with the reasons I still have great hope in spite of this situation.
To the Clergy, Religious, and Faithful Laity of the Diocese of Lincoln:
Beloved in Christ,
The Catholic Bishops of the United States, led by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are joining together to call the attention of all Catholics in our country to a serious attack upon our faith, upon our consciences, and upon our cherished freedom of religion. I am happy to join my voice and efforts to these Successors of the Apostles and to protest most strongly against a mandate, not even a duly passed law, issued by the Obama Administration that requires all Catholics in the United States to violate their consciences and support abortion, abortion-causing drugs, contraception and sterilization.
As you know, the buying of health insurance by every citizen of the USA is now compulsory by federal law. The same law gives to the Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority over all health insurance. The present Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a bitter fallen-away Catholic, now requires that all insurance, even when issued privately, must carry coverage for evil and grave sin. This means that all of our Catholic schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and the like will be forced to participate in evil. The Catholic Church has pleaded with President Obama to rescind this edict, but all pleas have been met with scorn and have fallen on deaf ears. This mandate is accompanied by new attacks by the federal government on Catholic Relief Services and on the Bishops' work in immigration and refugee settlement services.
Secretary Sebelius, in an act of mockery, said that those who might quality for a conscientious exemption (almost no one), have one year to comply, but during that year they must "refer" people to the insurance that covers wicked deeds. We cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree. Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering which could include heavy fines and imprisonment. Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy.
All Catholic are asked to pray and do penance that this matter may be resolved. All should contact their elected representatives to protest this outrage and to insist on the passage of the "Respect for Conscience" act which is now before Congress.
With my blessing and prayers for all of you and your loved ones, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus,
The Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz
Bishop of Lincoln
Now, here’s why I’m not worried. I’m not worried for a lot of reasons. First, because there is that bill for the Protection of Conscience, specifically crafted to combat this injustice before us. Hopefully our current Congressmen will step up and do the right thing. Second, I think this move by the Administration is kind of crazy. In the last month the Supreme Court has struck down moves by the government to interfere in religious freedom in terms of hiring and firing. The Court ruled 9-0 that that runs contrary to the Constitution, and is not possible for the executive branch.
More importantly, I think this could be a great moment of grace for our country. This is going to open up a discussion of things that have lain dormant for the last 50 years. Beyond the questions of abortion and even abortifacients, the question of contraception has been basically ignored, with the exception of maybe the Lincoln Diocese and maybe some other Midwestern states. Believe me, I’ve lived in other states: it’s noting like it is here. Mostly people have never heard there is a debate. My parents ate 65 years old; they were in college in 1968 when the great debate began. Most people born even 10 years after them don’t really know what it is. The don’t realize how just a handful of dissenting Catholics had the influence to lead the majority away from the Church’s teaching, to the point that—for most—it’s not even a question anymore. If you don’t know who the name “Charlie Curran” refers to—a priest at Catholic University in 1968 who began the dissent—if that doesn’t ring a bell, it proves the controversy has been forgotten by the world. Maybe it’s time to reignite this conversation.
Next, I’m not worried because we’re going to do the right thing. The Catholic Church is going to stand by its moral obligations no matter what; we’re not going to bend. If, in the past, we’ve been too sluggish to act, we’ve wanted to play nice, we’ve tried to go along—I think the gloves are off now. I think we see our generation’s battle and we see we’re quite truly going to have to fight for our own religious freedom.
Along with that: we’re not alone. Many other religious groups are joining us, even those that directly disagree with our teaching on some of these things. But they recognize this is about contraception or even abortion, it’s about freedom. And they see that what is given to the Quakers and the Amish and the Christian Scientists should be given to us as well. In the words often attributed to Voltaire (no friend of the Catholic Church): “I completely disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Beyond these points, I think the more they attack us, the more obvious to onlookers their malice will become. Frankly, I’m amazed this is happening in an election year. It seems poor political prudence to pick this fight at the very moment that people are paying attention on a heightened level. I think this is going to backfire. As Aragorn says of Sauron: “the hasty stroke goes oft astray.”
Finally, more importantly than any of these human, practical, temporal things that I take hope in, the number one I find hope in is that these armies and enemies don’t matter. As King Henry V says in Shakespeare’s play: “We are in God’s hands, brother, not in theirs.” I—in the end, then—am not worried in the slightest. In John’s gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” That is where we truly sit.
We’re going to be fine if we do our part. Call your congressman. Get involved. Pay attention. The simple thing we must do, the fight have before us, is to avoid Indifference to Truth and Unwillingness to Act. As a final thought, I want to share the thoughts of another childrens’ author. A Catholic. The man who brought C.S. Lewis into Christianity and into story-telling. In fact, he is the man to whom Lewis’ (perhaps) most famous book is dedicated. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his The Lord of the Rings writes this, when young Frodo comes to recognize his dark and dangerous path:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is our time. This is our battle. This is our challenge. We must respond.