HHS Mandate, Three Resulting Temptations, and the Virtue of Hope

Cowardice, Hatred, Indifference

When an intruder encroaches, one may crawl deeper into the trenches, afraid to face that which terrifies.  Often fear takes a more subtle, latent form.  In the case of the President Obama administration’s mandate, the temptation facing the Church is one of deep, inner-fear.  Fear can be positive in that it points to the real thing causing fright.  In the present case, fear points to a lack of religious freedom and the slippery slope that results.  But, the emphasis quickly jumps to the resulting slippery slope – lack of religious freedom, loss of conscientious objection, legal penalty, persecution, and so forth.  This position breeds doubt, uncertainty and paralysis.

Fighting is quite the opposite.  It lashes out from the trench, swinging erratically at whatever prowls in its vicinity.  This is the “close-my-eyes-and-swing-and-hope-to-make-contact” approach.  One doesn’t even know what he’s fighting against; he blindly launches.  Fighting can be quite honorable when it is done in truth, for the truth, and with knowledge of the issue at hand.  It loses its heroic nature when it slides down the path of hatred toward other human persons.

Indifference plagues our country.  It is difficult to imagine this issue, one that is at once individual, civil and religious failing to incite some reaction.  Yet it inevitably will for some, especially those so rooted in an attitude of apathy toward those issues that don’t immediately affect his or her life.

Disinterest is simply unfortunate.  Fear, while valuable in identifying the problem, slinks into cowardice.  A blind fight can only result in damage done to both sides.  All three positions present negative starting points.  All three are selfish in varying ways and degrees.

I wonder if, as Catholic Christians, we might find a higher road.  Is it possible to move forward from a positive position, rather than selfish, fearful and defensive ones?

Hope – Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Hope moves the human heart.  It is upward desire, not causing the neglect of the troubles of this earth, but recalling the context to mind of the “kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness” (CCC 1817).  Hope rightly orders human desires and sharpens aim, calling for “trust in Christ’s promises,” while “relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (1817).

St. Ambrose echoes this point, saying, “When we find ourselves in some danger, we must not lose courage, but confide much in the Lord; for where danger is great, great also is the assistance of Him who is called our Helper in tribulation.”

Saving religious freedom, or addressing the issue of contraception in the modern climate through purely human devices is a temptation on the prowl.  Human self-centeredness lies at the heart of indifference, fear and blind-fighting.  Hope overcomes these temptations.  It recalls what Christ has done and what he will do, which is nothing less than conquering sin and death.  Hope recalls the mystery within which the faithful are bound, namely the encounter with Christ through the Church.  Christ already wipes away every tear and provides grace that transforms our weakened and, at times, dead nature (Rev. 21:4).  Yet we have not passed entirely through this valley of tears and into beatitude, the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is humble confidence.  Hope, at one time, moves one to anchor him or herself through true confidence in an Other, while also demanding the realization of lowliness and incapacity.  Hope is neither pompous, nor naïve.

Pope Benedict visited the U.S. in 2008, taking as a theme for his trip Christ our Hope. In his homily in Washington, D.C., the Pope echoed St. Paul’s line “In hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24).  He went on to add: “Those who have hope must live different lives! (Spe Salvi 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”

Christian hope, from a positive starting point, believes that:

  • Through prayer and fasting, the Church’s entreaty for the sake of religious freedom will not go unheard by God (Mt. 7:7).
  • The United States and our government will remain faithful in seeking to uphold the 1st Amendment.  Certainly this will require Catholics, Christians and members of other faiths to stand united.
  • Hearts will be converted and humanity as a whole will grow in deeper understanding of life and the human person. At this point in history, the issues at stake must necessarily make their way to the fore:  contraception, sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia.
  • The Church needs to respond courageously to any criticism, and redouble her efforts to teach both Catholics and non-Catholics about her vision for the human person.  Archbishop Dolan recently made the observation that the Obama administration recognized “that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.”  The HHS decision provokes not only an appeal to the individual right to conscience, but invites the Church to preach anew on this “unpopular belief.”

Christian hope urges one to see life through a broader scope.  The here and now is not the end.  But, it is necessary for our salvation.  And so, man and woman must work with the whole picture in mind, embracing the joys and sufferings of the present moment, yet not forgetting the final destination.  Hope links us to an Other, to Christ, who is victorious and raises humanity above and beyond its often futile attempts at problem-solving.  Hope opens to the horizon that is beatitude, heavenly glory, “the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”  Such a position properly converts the tendency to fight or fear, to fear of God and confidence in Christ who has already won.  Indeed, “those who hope must live different lives.”

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About the Author

Brad is the Director of Youth Ministry for the growing youth program at St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is actively involved in planning, leading worship for, and speaking at retreats and youth events in the Cincinnati area. He received his BA in English and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Following his graduation in 2008, he spent a year teaching English in Denver at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Brad and his wife Katie spend much of the day chasing around their 18 month old daughter. They are expecting their second child in October. In his spare time, Brad enjoys reading classic pieces of literature, writing, playing sports, listening to classic rock, and thinking about how funny he thinks he is.

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