Sunday, October 03, 2004

How People Lose Their Faith

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 3, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; 1 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14; Luke 17: 5-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2004]

Our readings this morning all remind us of the importance of faith.

In today’s first reading the Lord speaks to the prophet Habakkuk and the suffering people of Judah, and he promises them that if they persevere in their faith, they will someday be rewarded: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

In today’s second reading from 2 Timothy 1 St. Paul makes it clear that those who possess the gift of faith have an inner power—an inner strength—which comes from the Holy Spirit. He says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

And in our Gospel passage from Luke 17, Jesus tells us that faith enables us to do what we could never do otherwise. He says, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Obviously, the importance of faith cannot be overestimated!

Sadly, however, we’ve all known people who have lost this precious gift—people who have lost their faith. On that note, a few weeks ago I was listening to a talk by Johnette Benkovic, who hosts a weekly television program on EWTN. I’m sure many of you have seen her show. In this particular talk, she made a very interesting observation concerning how people lose their faith. She said, “Most of the time, faith is not lost in a single instant. That’s not the way it happens. When you lose your faith, you normally lose it one decision at a time, one choice at a time.”

That is so true!

Bad decisions, slowly but surely, destroy faith.

Take, for example, the choice to skip Mass on a Sunday or Holyday. Whenever you make that choice, you first of all deprive yourself of hearing the truth, of hearing God’s word (and remember, the Bible says in Romans 10 that faith comes through hearing!). Furthermore, you deprive yourself of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—Jesus, who is the source of the power you need to live your faith.

Or how about the choice to avoid Confession when your conscience keeps telling you that you need it?

Or the choice to skip your daily prayer time; or the choice to participate in occult or New Age activities; or the choice to surround yourself with friends who are into drinking and drugs and promiscuous behavior; or the choice to let your questions about God and the Church go unanswered, so that the doubts in your mind grow and become more and more troubling?

These are all choices—bad choices—that will whittle away at your faith over time, and perhaps destroy it entirely.

But they’re the more obvious ones, aren’t they? In fact, if I hadn’t listed them, many of you could probably have done so quite easily.

Well, here’s one of the less obvious ones—one of the much less obvious ones, although I believe it’s one of the most deadly!—especially in our technological age, where information can be disseminated all over the globe in a matter of a few seconds.

It’s the choice to accept the information the world gives you uncritically. If you choose not to question what you hear about the Catholic Church and her teachings on the evening news; if you choose not to question what you read about the Church and her teachings in the local newspaper or in your history textbook at school—that is to say, if you accept all the information you receive from secular sources as if it were the gospel truth (pardon the pun), then your faith will very quickly be beaten into the ground. I can promise you that.

For example, as we all know, the liberal media in this country has demonized Pope Pius XII in recent years by portraying him as silent in the face of the Nazi holocaust of the Jews during World War II. Some have even gone so far as to accuse him of being a Nazi collaborator—Hitler’s good buddy! I ask you: How many Catholics have believed these lies and had their faith weakened—or even destroyed—in the process?

The answer is: MANY!

But the truth is that Pope Pius XII was responsible for saving more Jewish lives during the Second World War than any other single individual alive at the time (800,000 according to Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish historian).

Unfortunately, the only way you can discover that truth these days is to question what you hear from secular sources, and then do some hard research for yourself. If you make the mistake of accepting the information they give you about Pius XII uncritically, your faith will definitely be undermined.

Here’s another example—one that’s a bit more timely. It concerns a story that was all over the news just a few weeks ago. I think the best way to speak about this issue is to read you an excerpt from a recent article by Phil Lawler, the founder of Catholic World News:

If you live anywhere in the United States, you probably saw news stories [recently], reporting that Cardinal Ratzinger [in Rome] had issued a new statement, saying that Catholics CAN vote for a candidate who promotes legal abortion—as long as they’re casting that vote for other reasons.

Cardinal Ratzinger said no such thing.

In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t issue ANY new statement on the subject recently!

The story that has spread through the American press . . . is a complete fraud.

Frankly, the rapid spread of this thoroughly phony story reminds me, once again, of why I founded Catholic World News. If you want informed, reliable coverage of Catholic affairs, you just can’t count on the secular media—especially during an election year, when politicians and pundits are both willing to bend the facts to suit their own partisan purposes.

So what is the REAL story about Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement?

[Well] back in June, [the Cardinal] sent a letter to the US bishops, offering some guidance on how Church leaders should respond to Catholic politicians who promote abortion.

Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to whom the letter was addressed, chose NOT to share it with the other American bishops, and so Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement did not come to light for several weeks, until it was leaked to an Italian journalist.

The Ratzinger letter is still readily available, and if you read the full text, you’ll be left with absolutely no doubt about what the cardinal is saying: that Catholics should NOT vote for a candidate who supports abortion.

Quoting Pope John Paul II, the cardinal observes that “in the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.’”

Is abortion just one among many moral topics that voters should consider? Cardinal Ratzinger answers that question clearly: “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

At the bottom of his letter, Cardinal Ratzinger inserted one explanatory footnote. And now suddenly this footnote—rather than the full text of the cardinal’s statement—has become the focus of media attention. So let’s take a careful look at it:

“When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the case of proportionate reasons.”

Take careful note of those last two words: “proportionate reasons.” Cardinal Ratzinger, a careful moral theologian, is telling us that a faithful Catholic might vote for a candidate who supported abortion IF THERE WERE ANOTHER MORAL ISSUE AS GRAVE AND AS CLEAR AS THE ABORTION ISSUE. But keep in mind that in the text above this footnote, the cardinal made it quite clear that there IS NO SUCH COMMENSURATE ISSUE. . . .

In a statement released on August 11, Bishop Rene Gracida clarified matters:

“Since abortion and euthanasia have been defined by the Church as the most serious sins prevalent in our society, what kind of reasons could possibly be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion? None of the reasons commonly suggested could even begin to be proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for such a candidate. Reasons such as the candidate’s position on war, or taxes, or the death penalty, or immigration, or a national health plan, or social security, or aids, or homosexuality, or marriage, or any similar burning societal issues of our time are simply lacking in proportionality.”

Now I’m quite certain that many good Catholics heard the way the media reported this story a few weeks ago and found themselves deeply confused. They said to themselves, “What’s going on in the Church? Has the pope suddenly reversed his position? Is it okay now to support those who publicly advocate the killing of innocent, unborn babies? What has happened to the Church? Has she changed her teaching on this issue? If so, what’s next?”

Because they believed the story to be true without checking it out for themselves, their faith took a hit. It was weakened—perhaps a little bit, perhaps a lot.

Faith is not lost in a single instant. It’s lost one bad decision at a time, one bad choice at a time.

May God give us the grace to test everything we hear, everything we see, and everything we read—especially when it comes from a secular source. May he help us to make that good choice every day—so that our faith will never weaken.