Monday, May 14, 2012

Life rightly understood is not about rights

The young people whom I have had the opportunity to minister to as a priest have been oftentimes one of the most delightful as well as the most challenging at the same time.  Some of them have been very well formed spiritually, but for the most part, they also seem to be worldly savvy rather than actively putting their faith into practice when faced with the struggles of daily living.  Sad to say, the world does seem to be a stumbling block, preventing them from living out their faith.  The way it panders to their feelings, influencing their moral standards and desensitizing their conscience makes it a particular challenge to any minister, lay or ordained, to reach them at their hearts and souls.  Generally, they seem to relate to what is portrayed in the movies, and I have on occasion had to use some phrases that are particularly useful to bring across a teaching point.  I recall one phrase that Peter Parker, also known as Spiderman, uttered in the movie of the same name.  It ran "with great power comes great responsibility".  It has been a very useful phrase for teaching not only youth, but adults as well, as there is a lot of truth in it.  Perhaps the adult world should hold that as a golden rule as well.

In the past week, we saw how President Obama, arguably the most powerful man in the world, make a personal statement about how he supports gay marriage.  He made it clear that it was a personal belief, citing how among the members of his own staff who lived out their homosexual orientations in life, he came to see how good and effective they were as workers and staff members.  It was the first time ever that a President of the United States of America made such a public and quasi-official statement on gay marriage, and understandably, it caused Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to respond with great concern this stand of Mr. Obama.  Needless to say, the gay rights activists were beside themselves to see such endorsement given to their cause at the presidential level.  It brought to mind Peter Parker's phrase with a heavy heart.

It is clear that marriage as an institution is being threatened on so many levels as it is.  The last thing it needs now is to have a same-sex union to be called a "marriage", let alone having it presidentially endorsed, even if it is a "personal" opinion.  It will most certainly be misread and misquoted as something that is official and bona fide, even if it is not.  Marriage is and has always been the sacred union that joins a man and a woman in a lifelong exclusive bond.  It has been raised to a sacramental level, meaning that when that union is lived out in its fullest and most selfless, loving way, it mirrors God's very own existential love because from it comes the possible fecundity of another human living being.  This is simply not a possibility in any same-sex "marriage".  Using the word "marriage" so loosely and with such flippancy will undoubtedly confuse the impressionable young minds.  This will stymie the Church’s efforts in forming the minds of our future adults.

What is the root of the issue here?  There are many, I am sure.  But one of the biggest issues is that of a misplaced and misinformed sense of "rights".  We do have rights, but they are all within the purview of God’s divine law.  Inside of this issue of misinformed "rights" are erroneous presumptions like  "it's my right to do with my body as I please", or "to satisfy my deepest longings is my right as a human being" or “I have a right to find my own happiness no matter what it takes”.  However, at the heart of a true Catholic spirituality is the fact that life is not about rights, and instead, that life is a gift given out of grace.  The moment the "rights" card is waved and brandished about and thrust in the face of our interlocutors, it is clear that we are no longer on common ground.

We only need to read and reflect on the temptations of Jesus in the desert to see that life is not about "rights".  His three temptations were all "rights" centered, weren't they?  Being the Son of God, the tempter insinuated that he had rights and privileges.  Turn stone to bread, get the angels to be at his service, and right to be given the world if one worships the wrong god. 

These are very real temptations, and everyone faces them at some point in their lives.  Jesus gives us the right approach when faced with such temptations.  Pun definitely unintended.


  1. Dear Fr Luke

    When obama announced that he is ok with SSM (sam sex marriage)my gut feeling is that sooner or later u are going to mention it in yr blog..

    My fear is that once obma set the precedent.. the gay couples ard this asean region will see as their RIGHT to lobby to their respective govts for such measure.i.e SSM.. and whether the govts will give in to them is another matter altogether. Even if the govt is a secular institution, i hope and pray they will not allow ssm here in our backyard, because marraige btw man and woman is moral and designed as such.. not just in the christian principle but inline with the universal moral law.

    God Bless!


  2. I am sorry Fr Luke that me and my colleage understand the last line. Is it about temptation?

    1. I am sorry if I was not clear in my closing, giving you the possible impression that I am saying that the temptation to homosexual activity is something that everyone experiences in life. That is not what I am saying. I am referring to the temptation to apply one's perceived "rights" to be the basis of one's actions, regardless of its morality.

      God bless
      Fr Luke

  3. If God had intended same sex marriage, He would have created 2 Adams or 2 Eves?


  4. Strangely enough, I am bemused as to..........
    i) how the President of arguably the ‘only super-power’ today - can be so naive as to think he can make a ‘’personal’’ statement about such a remarkably controversial social cum ethical issue, .........(divesting himself of his great office as if he were a mere John Doe)..........if he did not mean to bring his ‘’power’’ to bear or ‘weigh in’ on his endorsement.

    ii) isn’t it patronising that he should expect ‘the homosexual orientations in life of his staff’ to affect their goodness and effectiveness in the carrying out of their duties..........and so, was it in a gush of great relief that he resorted to endorsing gay marriage as an apologetic after-thought?

    iii) In endorsing gay marriage, the rights of the majority are now subsumed........doesn’t rights entail obligations? If the rest of society can co-exist, side by side with the gay community, don’t they have the right to have their norms and value systems respected, their institutions like marriage left un-corrupted? It is such corruption of ideals and ideas- that I believe- is at the core of many of our social and even ethical problems in our society today. The gay community should be creative enough to come up with better names to call their partnership or co-habition and leave our ‘staid and stuffy’ marriage institution alone.

    iv) we do not need any Apocalypse from Outer Space to sound the death knell to the human race...... we are doing it to ourselves!

    So, don’t ask – ‘’for whom the bell tolls.....’’ (John Donne ).....‘’it tolls for thee ’’
    God bless you, Fr

  5. Obama is like all politicians..he is man of his time whose deepest concern now is his re-election. This means that he has to shore up his base, raise lots of money and highlight the differences which separate him from his opponent. Political leaders are not spiritual leaders. They are fallen beings trying to make the best of difficult situations. Sometimes their rhetoric gets the better of them. Obama can say what he wants.

    Nothing is going to stop the consequences of divine judgement which are the result of man's sinful actions.

  6. I agree completely with Jim (Leow).

    Obama will do what he does best. He is a politician in the purest sense. How's that for a contradiction of terms?

    The whole world is all worked up about the issue of human rights. They brandish it about as if it were a fine-edged sword. But what about human wrongs? No one ever wants to talk about that. It's as if sin has been done away with and we've all been made perfect.

    God loves us in spite of our wretchedness. He does not immediately claim His "right" to judge us; although it must be said that ultimately, it must come to that.

    Obama can say what he wants. But it doesn't change anything. Truth will prevail. Unfortunately though, his word carries a lot of weight, him being who he is.

  7. Let us face it, Christendom is dead!

    Christianity is well and alive, but the politics of governing a Western country with Christian morals and righteous living, i.e. Christendom, are over. The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen predicted years ago that USA was decaying from within. Very soon, we will not see a USA President swearing his allegiance to the Bible when he is sworn in. Things are the same across the Atlantic. One can’t help but notice that the message to Europe from our Pope is very consistent – keep your Christian values, resist secularism.

    As good Christians, we have always been asked to depise the sin but love the sinner. However, the secular world had blurred this line. The world today loathes the hero and the truth. Obama, instead of being the hero, chose the path of least resistance in romancing his voters. Instead of holding to the torch of truth, he hid behind the term “individual rights”. I am all for Obama to stand against discriminations and prejudices but he should stop short of re-writing God’s natural law.

    Indeed, Christendom has fallen in the land of the free and home of the brave when her leader refuses to love the world as Jesus did, hung on the Cross. Instead, he succumbed to the people’s shout, “Come down from the Cross! Save yourself!”

  8. Just to follow up on the above, your Peter Parker’s quote led me to this essay by the late Bishop’s Sheen on “responsibility”. He wrote, “The open mind does not want truth for truth implies obligation, which predicates responsibility, and responsibility is the only thing the open mind is most eager to avoid.” It is so true that often we want the power but not the responsibility. If we were careless, this power would lead us into darkness rather than to the City of God.

    I am happy to reprise below this particular essay. It will set us thinking whether we are open-minded heroes or open-minded cowards. See if you agree, Fr Luke.

    Truth Seekers vs. Open-Minded Cowards
    By Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

    The open mind is commendable when it is like a road that leads to a city, but the open mind is condemnable when it is like an abyss.

    Those who boast of their open-mindedness are invariably those who love to search for truth but not to find it; they love the chase but not the capture; they admire the footprints of truth, but not catching up with it. They go through life talking about “widening the horizons of truth” without ever seeing the sun. Truth brings with it grave responsibilities; that is why so many keep their hands open to welcome it but never close them to grasp it.

    The real thinker who is willing to embrace a truth at all costs generally has a double price to pay—first, isolation from popular opinion. For example, anyone who arrives at the moral conclusion that divorce prepares the way for civilization’s breakdown must be prepared to be ostracized by the Herods and Salomes of this world.

    Nonconformity with popular opinion can be expected to bring down opposition and ridicule upon the offender’s head.

    Second, those who discover a truth must stand naked before the uplifted stroke of its duties or else take up the cross that it imposes. Those two effects of embracing truth make many people fearful. In their cowardice, they keep their minds “open” so they will never have to close on anything that would entail responsibility, duty, moral correction or altered behavior.

    The “open mind” does not want truth for truth implies obligation, which predicates responsibility, and responsibility is the only thing the “open mind” is most eager to avoid. Avoiding responsibility only results in the abdication of one’s free will to another, whether it be to an ideology or to a director. The only real solution is for those with “open minds” to grasp truth, even though it does involve a change in behavior, for ultimately it is only truth that can make them free.

    -- From Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Way to Inner Peace (New York: Alba House Publishers, 1994), 154–156.

    1. How true! Faithfully following the church's teachings (especially in matters of sexuality) comes at a price. You will be mocked, ridiculed. Even by fellow Catholics. But it's OK. Loving God and living an authentic Catholic life is more important than human acclaim. Because you see, it's all about Him; its all about Joy.