The Demands of Discipleship
Christ calls us to discipleship. And discipleship demands a response of faith and courageous charity. Today it has become necessary to reclaim an ancient title: We are soldiers of Christ.
During World War II when my dad and so many others went off to war in the South Pacific, other relatives stayed home and labored in the war effort. Some of you may recall that in an attempt to keep the cost of the war in check, the Government imposed wage and price controls on the nation, causing many dislocations and unintended consequences.
For example, if a plant foreman was especially valuable to the company, his only recourse for obtaining a pay increase was to seek a job in another company. In an effort to retain talented employees within the constraints of wage and price controls, American companies devised fringe benefits. Health insurance benefits paid by the employer hence gained traction and became a common practice.
Since World War II, health insurance packages provided by employers not only continued, but they became expected entitlements on the part of employees. Unlike pay increases, the true costs of the benefits are hidden from view. In some respects, it is a curious development. When an automobile needs repair, we take the car to a garage and pay the bill ourselves. But when our bodies need repair, we go to the doctor and fumble with our insurance cards, making sure we do not overpay the copays but never having to confront the true cost of health care.
Many large employers are “self-insured.” Catholic churches, schools, Catholic universities and many other Catholic institutions are similarly “self-insured.” In the Diocese of Arlington, for example, parishes pay from $5,000 to $12,000 a year for employees who carry health insurance. If an employee receives a $40,000 annual salary, the total payroll package including taxes and benefits could well exceed $60,000.
Parishes send the money for health insurance to the Diocese. The Diocese consolidates the payments in a large fund, hires an insurance company to administer the fund, and pays employee health expenses from the pot of money hoping to break even.
Because the fund is self-insured, the Diocese is free to regulate how the money is spent.
This is how it is possible for Catholic institutions to prohibit insurance funding of contraception and abortion.
We learned last Friday, January 20, 2012, that is about to change.
Here is part of a news release by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
“The Catholic bishops of the United States called ‘literally unconscionable’ a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers. ‘In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,’ said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
It can be no accident the announcement comes on the eve of the March for Life where thousands every year stand up for the rights of unborn babies and lament the slaughter of over 50 million babies since 1973. (On a purely practical basis, would there be an unfunded Social Security crisis today if there were 50 million more people funding the system?) Most upright people have a healthy “live and let live” attitude, at times forgetting it is the nature of evil to consume. (For example, the gay rights movement initially demanded mere acceptance of the lifestyle. Today the demands are compounding to include the acceptance of gay “marriage.”) Perhaps we should have been more attentive to the hints in recent months. It should have been clear that powerful personages, such as former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, support the move to restrict our religious freedom. Recall that not too long ago Speaker Pelosi said: “I’m a devout Catholic and I honor my faith and love it…but [with respect to contraception and abortion] they [Catholics!] have this conscience thing.”
“Conscience thing”? Martin Luther King had a “conscience thing” in his defense of civil rights of all citizens. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a “conscience thing” that drove him to rescue Jews from the Nazi incinerators and cost him his life.
Catholics and millions of otherAmericans have a “conscience thing” in the defense of the unborn. Coming froma self-described “devout Catholic,” it is a very revealing disparaging remark.
In prescient comments to American bishops on the eve of this momentous decision, Pope Benedict XVI warned:
“At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God.
Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo- Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”
Put simply, the Obama Administration has declared war on the Catholic Church.
Why should we not take those who oppose our Faith at their word? Another nominal Catholic, HHS secretary Kathleen Sibelius spoke at a recent pro-abortion Chicago Power of Choice luncheon. She said, “We are in a war…to roll back the last 50 years of progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America.” She was referring, of course, to the availability of contraception and abortion as cornerstones of “women’s health care.” (Even before we discuss morality, how can taking the life of an unborn baby be considered “health care”? Come to think of it, how did contraceptive drugs and devices, or the medical attack on perfectly healthy human organs for the purpose of rendering them dysfunctional come to be considered “health care”?)
If these oppressive regulations are not repealed, for the first time in American history – on a national level – we Catholics will be prohibited from practicing our religion without compromise. This goes beyond the anti-Catholic nativism in some of the states of the 19th Century where Catholics were harassed. This is a systematic national assault on the Catholic Faith by the Federal Government in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Again, the Holy Father saw this loss of religious freedom coming. In the same address to the American bishops last week he said the loss of religious faith is “a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself.” He explained:
“When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.”
If the adversaries of the Catholic Faith really believe they can confront the Catholic Church in this way, divide her and conquer her, they are very much mistaken.
We may be winnowed down a bit, but the winnowing will just make us stronger. They may even be effective in closing our institutions, perhaps for a long time, replacing them with Soviet-style edifices. But the dustbins of history are filled with tyrants such as these. And the Faith, in God’s time, always re-emerges in strength. In Christ, after every Cross, there is always a Resurrection.
Friday was a wakeup call. There is an old saying, “God save us from interesting times.” We certainly live in interesting times and the time has come not only for resistance, but a renewed sense of Christian activism to rescue our culture. Whether we succeed, of course, is up to God. But let us rejoice that we have been found worthy to be disciples in these difficult times! If we remain faithful soldiers of Christ, great will be our reward.
Homily delivered Saturday, January 21, 2012 by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky – Pastor, Saint Michael Church – Annandale, Virginia