“Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease / Until He returns?” – Dylan, “When He Returns”
I’ve witnessed quite the flap in recent days over a statement from the USCCB, issued in November 2000’s “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.” Since the statement hit the mainstream through CNS, it has angered some, emboldened others, and has been more-or-less misapplied by fans and detractors alike. The phrase in question — a footnote, no less — reads:
However, we believe that in the long run and with few exceptions — i.e. police officers, military use — handguns should be eliminated from our society.”
In order to ascertain what drives this statement, we have to understand our obligation as a Christian people to work for peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God” (Mt 5:9). Working toward the the elimination of all violence is a direct biblical mandate, and even when we make licit use of force, we do so in an effort to bring peace.
Notice, however, that the bishops believe handgun regulation is the desired goal “in the long run.” Through the promotion of a peaceful and just society, we should work towards that long-range goal in which individual members of society have no need of a handgun for defensive purposes. We would all prefer to live in a society where defensive force — especially force which has the potential to be deadly — would never be necessary.
Yet clearly, we as a society have not reached this point, and this explains why the bishops do not call for a blanket ban on the individual possession of handguns. In fact, here is what they do recommend:
“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer — especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner — and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.”
Reasonable enough, and something every responsible handgun owner would advocate (even if there will always be squabbling over what constitutes “sensible regulation”).
One of the things we must always keep in mind when reading over social justice issues is the “already” and the “not yet” of the Christian reality. In a very real way, the victory of Christ has become manifest through the Church and the world. Christ has already come into the world, triumphing over sin and death; at the same time, however, this victory is only absolutely manifest when He returns. By working for peace, we simply usher in something Christ has already established in the eschaton.
Unfortunately, those who work for peace and justice often fall into the heresy of Pelagianism. This is the belief that we ourselves usher in the “not yet” portion of reality. A Pelagian would argue that ultimate peace will be established by humanity, that we have the “power” to finally destroy the effects of sin which remain in Christ’s wake. The bishops rightly avoid this error by pointing towards the “not yet” reality of peace which — while we have a responsibility to usher in through our actions — can only be delivered in that final moment of Christ’s triumph. In essence, the Christian becomes like John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord; but it is not John the Baptist himself who reestablishes unity with God.
To conclude, then, I’m willing to go one further than the bishops. I say we have a responsibility to prepare the way for that day when even law enforcement and military have no need for handguns, by staying true to Christ’s message of peace, which will be fully realized by humanity when He returns.
 However, one can validly argue that a handgun is a moral neutral, and thus is not evil-in-itself. One must also acknowledge licit use through the hobby/sport of marksmanship, which in-itself contains no other aim but the development of good aim.
 Unarguably, every societal debacle in the history of the world has found its root in Pelagianism, where humanity claims to have established a utopia free from the negatives shackling previous/contemporary structures. Societies that fail to account for sin are doomed to die by it.
…makes me dislike the media a little less. But not much less, so keep reading.
In this instance, at least, it’s more like they don’t get the nuances of moral theology. They’re not pushing an agenda: they’re just ignorant. I can excuse them that, because moral theology is by far one of the more complex fields of study.
Kudos to Pope Benedict for approaching a teaching I’d be hesitant to speak publicly on. It’s gutsy, precisely for the reason we’re seeing today. I know exactly what he was getting at: we’d talked about it on multiple occasions at the seminary, regarding condom use in an already illicit situation (homosexual activity/fornication). The problem with saying such a thing publicly is that nobody understands the nuance of the theology, so of course they’ll run with it as the media has and say, “Aha! The Pope approves of condom use!”
No… no, not at all. What the Pope is saying is that condom use doesn’t make the act any more illicit than it already is, so sin doesn’t compound upon sin. And AIDS doesn’t exactly spread through monogamous relations with one’s spouse.
Most of the recent studies out there put the failure rate of condoms at 15% in terms of disease prevention. The media is still stuck in the 90′s where I grew up, telling us to practice “safe sex” with a condom because it’d be the magic bullet which prevented AIDS transmission. So much for that.
My method — and the method espoused by Pope Benedict — works much better.
Over on Facebook (where I spread my nonsense amongst a more limited crowd…heh), a couple of us were trying to predict what kind of reception the mainstream media would give Archbishop Gomez, based upon his recent appointment to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
I predicted they’d give Opus Dei a pass in favor of racial politics, but another chimed in: “I think the secret-society-child-abuse-Dan-Brown angle will be too delicious to ignore. And there will be plenty of people in LA eager to push that narrative.”
Forgot about Dan Brown, and it looks like my interlocutor wins the day: the Telegraph has declared that +Gomez is the “Pope’s ‘revenge’” for… Hollywood’s depiction of the Church in The Da Vinci Code!
Genius points go to Mr. Simon Caldwell, author of the story, for his deft display of knowledge in regard to how episcopal appointments are made. It’s well-known throughout the American Church that these decisions almost always come down to petty vengeance regarding issues that were never really issues, long forgotten in the public square.
Deliberate obfuscation of the truth doesn’t work me up anymore, as far as the mainstream media’s handling of the Church or Christianity in general are concerned. This charge is no more rooted in fact than the trumped up notion that somehow, some way, Pope Benedict “shielded” abusive priests from laicization, another bald-faced lie put forth by a muckraking media looking to sell consumer goods through self-generated controversy.
If nothing else, I have to tip my cap to the media’s continual creativity.
We should all spend more time praying for Archbishop Gomez than worrying about what the world thinks of him. From what a few of my friends tell me, he’s a wonderful man who will bring many gifts to the people of Los Angeles.
As for the media, I leave you this verse, no doubt inspired by all the John Donne I’ve been reading lately:
When all the papers finally gasp their last
and there is no more network evening news,
the princely peddlers of toilet paper and kitty litter
will be left with nothing but their own refuse.
More to say on this soon, but here are two major reasons I love Caritas in Veritate:
- It’s acidic to liberals because the Holy Father expresses love in relationship to objective truth, which “[enables] men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, [allowing] them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.” Insisting that love is something other than what “feels good” in this day and age is akin to punching a liberal in the face.
- It’s acidic to conservatives because the encyclical reminds us that God often demands more than what is rationally just. God’s love – his willing the good for all of humanity – is bigger than all of that.
Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed watching the fur fly.
Pray for the Church in Connecticut. As the Diocese of Bridgeport states, the proposed law is “irrational, unlawful, and bigoted.”
Really, it all comes back to the culture war. A couple of parish boards in Connecticut decide it’s swell and dandy to start marrying same-sex couples, and boom: you’ve got same-sex marriage in Catholic churches.
With all the attention this bill is causing, it’ll never pass. But what’s interesting is how this blatant, anti-orthodox position has worked its way into the legislative system. Stay tuned. There will be more like this.
Never been arrested, but I wonder if my future service as a priest will earn me a trip to the clink. Actually, I sort of hope it does.
Fr. Barron on the next generation of the “Catholic commentariat.” This explains to perfection why I make natural/systematic theology and philosophy my primary emphasis of study. This is the kind of stuff an educated, growingly skeptical generation needs.
This also explains why I have little interest in liturgical/internal Church battles. “Save the liturgy, Save the Church”? Meh. Tend to people’s intellects, and the liturgy will save itself.
The critical portion starts at 2:30.