Saturday, August 13, 2011

Free of Contempt

I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, but on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree. . . . I look forward to working with you on other issues of mutual agreement. And I respect your freedom to disagree with me as a citizen and as a religious leader without questioning your motives.”

He probably thought he was being gracious. When Governor Martin O’Malley wrote that at the end of his letter to Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, he must have been emphasizing his own generosity and good manners in allowing the Archbishop to teach the faith, and even to disagree with him, the Governor.

Archbishop O’Brien had first written a private letter to the Governor to ask him not to sponsor a bill that would impose so-called same sex “marriage” on Maryland. He reminded the Governor that his own Catholic beliefs should help him to recognize, value, and protect the reality that is marriage. Moreover, he emphasized that the reality of marriage is age-old at the natural level, what it has always been, and why it is a fundamental element of society that merits protection. The Governor published the Archbishop’s letter recently, along with his own response rejecting the plea.

To say that’s-okay-for-you-but-don’t-expect-it-to-affect-me dismisses the other person and his ability to discern and describe the truth. This is not an act of gracious respect, but an act of contempt. It is even more destructive as a universal assertion – that no other person can find truth, only his truth. This means that everyone is hopelessly benighted and only deluded by whatever assortment of assertions he or she has assembled; that mankind is incapable of recognizing what is true, so we have to make do with what we think or what we prefer. Therefore, they say, don’t you try to tell me what is true.

This assertion has become common and even dominant, leading our Holy Father to call it ”the dictatorship of relativism.” It denies our freedom and our dignity as human beings, which flow from our ability to recognize and choose the good, or reject it. Our society is based on that freedom and that dignity. If we are merely able to choose what we prefer, we are slaves of our appetites and emotions, and even worse off than the beasts.

We Catholics have been freed from this slavery, freed by Christ Jesus, in whom we behold not only who we are as sons and daughters of God, but also what we are for. However, in recent years even many Catholics have forgotten the awesome responsibility that comes with our redemption. Neither we nor even our children are immune; Governor O’Malley attended Catholic schools right here around us, and he seems to have misplaced this lesson.

Whether the Governor and others who make this argument think it is gracious or clever, expeditious or simply effective in liberating them from the burden of reason as well as that of revelation, I cannot say. But I must say that it is important for every one of us, though we are not running the state or running for office, not fall into this trap. To dismiss the truth that is presented in love, however inconvenient or unwelcome the demands it places upon us, is an act of contempt not only for the teacher, but also for ourselves.

Monsignor Smith

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