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September 25, 2012
A plea to confused Catholics
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

Virgil was right: there are things that call for tears (“sunt lacrimae rerum”). This famous quote recently came to my mind when watching Raymond Arroyo’s program “The World Over.”

He was interviewing Dr. Stephen Schneck, an associate professor at Catholic University of America and co-chair of Catholics for Obama. The latter told the hearers that he is a sincere and committed Catholic. This is precisely why his decision to vote for Obama – dubbed the most “pro-abortion” president we have ever had – left me dumbfounded.

How is it possible that a son of the Church – founded by Someone who declared that He was the Truth, the Way, and the Life – can justify his choice? He personally rejects abortion, gay marriages, embryonic stem cells research (all three strongly endorsed by our present president), and yet is trying to convince us that to vote for him can be justified on moral grounds.

What are his arguments and do they have any validity? The key one is that, according to him, Romney intends  to make deep cuts in the Medicaid budget, and that this decision will inevitably lead  to a notable increase in the number of abortions. Therefore to give one’s vote to Obama will in fact benefit the pro-life cause! This is a type of twisted logic that only “intellectuals” can concoct. It would be difficult to convince a peasant that a purely abstract projection (cuts in Medicaid will lead to more abortions) justifies voting for someone who is “pro-choice,”  endorses not only late term abortion, but also the murder of those little ones who survived this “scientific” torture. This is typical intellectual prestidigitation, a sleight of hand of such “cleverness” that it justifies the words of St. Peter Damian: the Devil was the first grammarian: he “taught us to decline god in the plural.” By endorsing Obama, Professor Schneck inevitably gives his place to same sex marriage (which he rejects), assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, evil engenders evil.

That Romney opposes these grave moral aberrations, does not seem to have any weight in Professor Schneck’s mind. Am I wrong in suggesting that when St. Paul writes that there are things that “should not even be mentioned among Christians,” he might had had “same sex marriage” in mind, an inevitable consequence of the endorsement of homosexuality so severely condemned by Plato – a pagan – as being not only against nature, but as being a moral disease of such gravity that it inevitably leads to the downfall of any society. History teaches us a lesson: the great nations of the world now extinct, were victims of the immorality of their customs. Their problem was not economic; it was moral, and inevitably, as a punishment, it affected the economy.

Abortion, i.e. murder of innocent human beings,  is intrinsically evil at all time, in all places, under all circumstances. The same applies to embryonic stem cell research; a human being is a human being from the very moment of conception; if it became one only when fully developed, it would be a typical case of magic: namely a change of nature, as we read in fairy tales. The Devil who is a master at deceit, covers the horror of this crime by inserting the term “scientific research,” and the word “scientific“ fills with awe those who believe in “progress.”

May I suggest that if abortions were no longer paid by “other people’s taxes” (forced to do), quite a few people would think twice before having one. Money matters in our society, and if this barbarous practice was not covered by insurances, it is likely that fewer would be performed, and  that women would consider carrying the baby to term and give it up for adoption. We know that there  is such a high demand for babies that many are those who have to turn to foreign countries to find one.

Upon hearing Professor Schneck’s words, I was not only grieved: I was stunned.  Unwittingly, he assumes that the end justifies the means: that to vote for a pro abortion president, by some mysterious twist, will in the long run, protect life.

Like all decadent societies, we have lost sight of the crucial importance of hierarchy in human life. We have in mind not only the ontological hierarchy placing the Creator above creatures, angels above men (except for the Blessed one among women), man over animals (challenged by Peter Singer: a healthy whale ranks higher than a crippled baby), but also of the epistemological hierarchy of revealed truth above all other truths, of veritates aeternae over empirical truths, and last but not least, of the solemn command to abstain from committing murder. This was formulated by St. Augustine. He tells us that man’s first duty is to abstain from moral evil (I.e. sin); the second is to do as much good as possible. By sin, we mean an offense of God – the infinitely Holy one – which also stains the soul of the sinner, endangering his eternal welfare, and in the majority of cases harms his neighbors.

It is worth mentioning that Plato’s admirable ethics, clearly endorsing the natural moral law, is limited because having no access to revelation, this noble thinker had no clear conception of God’s nature. Therefore he could not perceive that moral evil is an offense against God, even though he came close to it when he wrote that, “he who honors his mother pleases the gods.” His ethics is  “open” to the  message of New Testament; therefore he had been called: “a preparer of the way to Christ,” something that cannot be said of Aristotle for the plain reason that  the latter having denied any possible relationship between God and man, eliminated the notion of sin from his philosophical horizon.

Man’s second  obligation is to do as much good as possible. This calls clarification. For “good” is so rich in meaning and it inevitably opens the door to equivocations. It can clearly refer to “pleasure,” or to what is beneficial to man, or to moral qualities. Whereas it is indeed a duty  to try to benefit mankind by spreading  moral values (mainly by practicing them ourselves), and beneficial goods, there is no moral obligation to intensify “pleasure” either for oneself or for others. It may be laudable, but not obligatory. This is one of the very many pitiful equivocations in Jeremiah Bentham’s so called Ethics: advocating as our duty to produce the greatest possible good for the largest possible number of people. Which good?

In our society, “educated” by the news media, a high percentage of people assume erroneously that our concern for “social issues” should be given pride of place. They forget that the first commandment is to “Love the Lord our God.” This is our very first obligation. It is meaningful  that several of  the ten commandments are “negative”: “thou shalt not.” It clearly reminds us that being creatures endowed with free will, we are granted this privilege to freely obey the divine law. It is fashionable to interpret this as a “negative” attitude and to claim that “positive” ethics – the ethics commanding us to do “good” –  should be our primary obligation. As mentioned above, this claim is dangerously misleading.  This type of  “positive” ethics is  favored today. Modern man is sick of “prohibitions” and commands. He has “come of age” (typical claim of all adolescents) and should himself decide what his priorities are.

That “to do good” sounds so attractive to modern ears explains why so many Catholics are tempted to endorse the agenda of a president who  claims to be “socially minded.” We live in a society of “doers” who value “accomplishments” and  place “efficiency” above holiness.

It is noteworthy that a Joseph II, emperor of Austria in the 18th century closed numerous Carthusian monasteries, while respecting “active” religious organizations. The latter “achieved” something. The others did not benefit society. That the prayers and sacrifices of these holy monks were in fact the spiritual foundation of charitable works, is something that he did not and could not be perceived by a ruler fed on the philosophy of Voltaire, Rousseau and their ilk.

Cavour – as anti clerical as he was – was favorable to the work of Don Bosco: his “taming” of wild street boys in Turin, clearly benefited the State. But “contemplative” orders had no right to exist in this upcoming brave new world. The same philosophy motivated Clemenceau in France in the 20th century.

This leads me back to my topic: how can devout Catholics favor a man who has shown total disregard for fundamental moral commandments: thou shalt not murder, because he gives full priority to social improvements?

In this context, it is worth mentioning that when we abstain from committing evil acts, such as murdering, perverse sexual practices, to mention only two, we have no reason whatever to “feel good about ourselves.” We have just done our duty. (“We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Luke 17:10) Never has a man received an award for paying his debts, for telling his truth, for being faithful to his wife: such a man has only done what he ought to have done.

But throughout the year, people rightly receive awards for having founded a school, or a hospital, or given huge sums to worthy causes. Inevitably such benefactors, “feel good about themselves,”  “this is my work,” and indeed, the work deserves praise.

St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the lights of the 19th century, did not do anything spectacular. Shortly before her death, a sister was concerned about what could possibly be praised when she died: she had done nothing special. Indeed, that was true, but she did what she ought to do with such a love that in Gods eyes, it gained eternal value.

It is tempting to accuse me of having no understanding for the greatness and nobility of “social work.”  It is the glory of the Catholic Church that from the very beginning she has founded hospitals, schools, and tried in every possible way to ease the burdens of suffering humanity. But this admirable mission was in fact based on a clear awareness of the hierarchy of our moral obligations. “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all the rest will be added unto.” To adore and love God is our primary duty, and it is also man’s glory. From this it follows that we should obey His commandments, a primary one of which; Thou shalt not murder. Early in Genesis, this abominable crime was condemned.

Those who do not perceive this luminous truth suffer from a grave disease: moral blindness. Whereas blind people know that they are blind, the tragic fate of morally blind people is that they do not realize that they are gravely “ill.”

It is my wish and hope that when going to the polls in November, all men of good will will say a short prayer echoing the one of the blind man in Jericho. Christ said to him: what do you want. “Lord, that I may see.” His request was granted.

Moreover,  it is fashionable to claim that in acting, our key concern should be focused on the consequences of our act. Will it benefit society? Once again, the ambiguity is obvious: benefit in what sense? Morally? Humanly? Financially?  Should we be concerned about “immediate’ benefits, or those in the long run? If our key moral concern should be  the consequences of our action, it would be impossible for man ever to make any valid decision because he can never foretell what  “fruits” his action will bring.

Let us imagine the following scenario; a hundred years ago, a man saved a teenager who has fallen in a river, and was close to drowning. Had he known (an impossibility) that the youngster was Adolf Hitler, should he have refused his help? The “call” of the hour was to save a human life. The future is in God’s hands.

Ethics is the most “existential” branch of philosophy. It plays a key role in our daily life. There is one thing that all men can and should share: the “natural” law (not confusing it with the laws of nature such as gravity, which applies to all creatures). I am referring to a law inscribed in every human heart the validity of which is independent of time, place, and circumstances. Moral evil injects poison in the society in which we live, because our acts have direct or indirect consequences on others. To take the life of an innocent defenseless person , is a crime that cries to heaven. Anyone who denies this luminous ethical truth suffers from a terrible sickness: moral blindness. Whereas a blind man knows he is blind, many are those who are morally blind – a much graver “disease” – and are totally unaware of it. They do not even question the validity of their moral vision.

Moral evil is the cancer of any society and history teaches us that all great nations that have disappeared from the face of the earth, were morally decadent. Money never has and never will save a nation.

My husband gave hundred of talks in seventeen countries in four languages. A couple of years before his death, he delivered his very last talk in Orange, California. It was after Roe and Wade (which made him exclaim that “The 'defeated' Hitler won the war” for the Nazi poison (ruthless disrespect for the dignity of human life) had penetrated into the soul of the “conqueror.” This justifies the words of Plato: “… many a victory has been and will be suicidal to the victor …” (Laws, 19)

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s very last words uttered with a trembling voice were, “A country that legalizes murder is doomed.” That should give us food for thought. To vote for a President who fully endorses abortion, is to vote for death.

Man’s second duty is to do as much good as possible. Modern man is psychologically tempted to give priority to "good and noble causes" over our strict duty to abstain from moral evil. The reason is obvious: by not committing murder, we are just doing our "duty" (see Luke 17:10). We do not deserve praise. How ludicrous it would be if a man “bragged” that he has not murdered his parents. How grotesque would it be to give an award to someone because he has never raped a woman or a child. Who deserves praise for doing what he ought to do? Whereas our concern about the wide range of "social issues"  strikes us as noble and generous deeds that deserve to be commended and honored.  It makes us “feel good” about ourselves.

Indeed, it is our strict moral duty to care about our neighbor's needs, but this concern can never justify our breaking a moral law with an absolute veto. There is no conceivable moral justification for endorsing Obama’s position.

Let me repeat: there is a hierarchy of truths, and there is a hierarchy of moral obligations. All those who intend to vote for a president who clearly justifies not only abortion, but homosexuality, same sex marriages and self assisted suicide in the name of “social concerns” are gravely “sinning” against this hierarchy established by God Himself.  We should be “socially concerned,” but such concerns are legitimate only to the extend that they respect the natural law.  Moreover, they should never “allow” us to violate a  moral law with an absolute veto. I am not allowed to kill one person in order to save another person’s life.

Man is a creature: his primary duty is to obey. The great confusion prevalent today is that many confused people justify an intrinsically evil act, because they “calculate” (consequentialism) that "in the long run," it will bring a decrease of  evil  and therefore a greater good.

This reasoning is the Devil’s logic, and he can play the clever logician when convenient.

On the other hand, one could also claim that if abortion were not “free” (a gift from the State paid by others’ taxes whether they want to or not), many of them would not be performed. If it had to be paid for, one would be surprised how many women would hesitate to have one. Money matters in our society.  If  walkers were not paid for, it might be that some persons would courageously train themselves to walk with a cane. The great danger of “great government” is that everyone is “promised a free wheel chair,” without paying for it, and thereby are discouraged from going to therapy and “re-conquer” their mobility. I heard about an acrobat who after a terrible accident lost his leg, and re-learned to do tight rope walking with an artificial leg. He wanted to. Moreover “big government” means a monstrous bureaucracy, and inevitably opens the door far and wide to fraud. A friend of mine who worked for the government his whole life long, told me that in government offices, there is nothing which is not stolen unless it is “solidly nailed down.” Some of us might hesitate to rob a neighbor. Who cares to satisfy one’s needs at the expense of an impersonal monster: the state. Tax payers will fill the deficit.

After original sin,  men were condemned to earn their bread with the sweat of their brow.  Most of them  have no objection to working, but they do not like the “sweat”, that is the pain, the effort. How tempting to vote for a President who  provides for one’s needs without having to “sweat” to enjoy them. This is the danger menacing us today. People should not be encouraged, nay “tempted” to depend on the impersonal state, a Leviathan which imprisons his victims into his treacherous net and will inevitably rob them of their freedom.

There are, of course, cases in which it is fully legitimate to ask and to get help and support.  But we should not forget that the most generous “charities” are in the hands of individuals animated by love of neighbor. It is well known that from the beginning of Christianity, innumerable religious orders have been founded to take care of the poor, the sick, the afflicted.  I am far from denying that the State has no social responsibility, but there is an abyss between personal care or “bureaucratic“ care. Alas, in our society, social help has now becomes a “right” and who is grateful for what we have a right to possess?

A French proverb says, “He who wants to kill his dog, will accuse him of having the plague.” It is easy enough to view an innocent baby as an intruder, an unwanted guest, threatening one’s career or promotion,  and  thereby justify extinguishing the life of a human person made to God’s image and likeness. No doubt, this approach to pregnancy leads to innumerable abortions.

Let us recall the grief of Jewish women like Rachel, like Hannah, like Elizabeth because  of their infertility. How they suffered; how they prayed and their prayers were heard. Today a baby is  viewed as a “tumor,” a “sickness,” that calls for urgent medical intervention.

How deeply regrettable to witness that Catholic education since Vatican II has been so deplorable that many “good” Catholics are plainly ignorant not only of their faith, but also of the basic tenets of the natural law that they share with all men.

Social work, admirable and praise-worthy as it is (let us think of what a Mother Teresa of Calcutta has accomplished – she was not a State Employee, thank God) will never solve the tragic problem of poverty: “You shall always have poor among you.” She devoted every moment of her religious life to relieve the poor. Has poverty disappeared? But her deeds of love are jewels now resplendent on her crown. This does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything possible to help those in need,  but not to commit moral evil has priority. Murder is irreversible: a corpse cannot be brought back to life.

Catholics  blessed by the Magisterium are doubly culpable for not listening to the voice of our pastors who defend both God’s commandments and the “natural” law.

I repeat: to place a strict moral commandment which suffers no exception, on the same level with a vague unwarranted claim that in the long run the abominable moral evil of abortion coupled with “social concerns” will have positive consequences, is a tragic confusion which, alas, has caught many “good” Catholics into its devilish net. Indeed, the Devil is the Master of confusion.

Before going to the polls, may I urge all men of good will to say a short prayer echoing  the one of the blind man of Jericho: “Lord, that I may see.”

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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Oct
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October 23, 2014

Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

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Lk 12:49-53

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First Reading:: Eph 3:14-21
Gospel:: Lk 12: 49-53

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St. Romuald »

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Lk 12:49-53

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