A Novena of Light and Darkness: Laudato Si, Charleston, and the Supreme Court

July 3, 2015

The Catholic Social Teaching Corner is an occasional reflection by the Promoter of Social Justice of the Province of St. Joseph on the Church’s social doctrine as applied to current issues and events. Below is the latest reflection from Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P. The nine days from June 18th to June 26th were marked by ground-breaking and tumultuous news for American Catholics and indeed the country at large. Laudato Si, the widely welcomed encyclical on the environment by Pope Francis, was released on the 18th. But that was also the day we heard the news of the tragic and senseless murder of nine African-Americans attending a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. A little over a week later there came the shocking, if not wholly unexpected, decision of the Supreme Court, Obergefell vs. Hodges, legalizing same-sex “marriage” throughout the land. It was, as it were, a novena of social and political bombshells concerning topics so diverse – the environment, racism, the definition of marriage – as to challenge any attempt to find a common thread. Perhaps Pope Francis’ encyclical itself suggests a way to find meaning: one can reflect on the theme of moral relativism and its effects on the world. There is a section on “practical relativism” in chapter three of Laudato Si, in which Pope Francis attributes the causes for environmental destruction to modern man’s failure to recognize objective truth. Thanks to the consequent logic of consumerism, a “use and throw away” mentality predominates and the environment is abused. The Pope links this harm to a host of other issues – in this atmosphere, he asks, “what limits can be placed on human trafficking…the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies… eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted?” (no. 123) Relativism has a pervasive quality, harmful to the created world around us as well as our personal morality. He thus brings together concerns from different sides of the political spectrum in a call to conversion. There is need for a moral law based on “objective truth and universally valid principles”. (Ibid.) The shooting in Charleston is, one might say, a kind of mockery of relativism. At the least, a callow youth’s idiotic philosophy and cowardly act of violence elicits a universal recognition of moral truth, even on the part of the most permissive of thinkers: murder is evil and racism is erroneous. Better than that was the beauty that emerged from this ugliness, a true grace evident to all. The families of the victims, their loved ones targeted for alleged inferiority, showed a sublime and heart-rending moral grandeur in offering forgiveness to Dylann Roof, the shooter. In a rare case of the Gospel predominating in the news cycle, love and mercy were on full national display. One fears that the Supreme Court’s decision redefining marriage is a fulfillment of Pope Benedict’s warning about a “dictatorship of relativism” ten years ago. Where it will lead, in terms of the freedom of the Church, is hard to say. Given a widespread ignorance about the purpose of marriage, what the Church can do is to hold up all the more the incomparable beauty of true marriage – the complementarity of the sexes, the joy and wonder of a life entered into together, the miracle of fruitfulness and children, the mystery and drama of a Christian household. At the same time, especially in light of upcoming Year of Mercy decreed by the Pope, compassion in truth to all God’s children, including those struggling with same sex attraction, is called for. It is Providential that the impending canonization of Blesseds Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was just announced. May their loving example and intercession awaken many to the true meaning of marriage. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls for an integral ecology, a recognition that social and environmental problems are interwoven. One thinks of the many precious lessons of childhood – through field trips, visits to the museum, or personal exploration, learning to respect and marvel at nature. These are lessons to be heeded into adulthood and applied all the more to what Francis, echoing Pope Benedict, calls “human ecology”. This is recognizing that human beings must be treated with a greater gentleness than we rightly show a bird’s nest; and that, rather than leaving people to define their own identity (as the Court’s majority would have it), we aim joyfully to live within the nature God gave us. May this June novena of light and darkness be a call to conversion, to love the Creator and honor His creation in light of the redemption won by Jesus Christ.

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