Far too many Catholics think of the Church in terms of laxity or strictness, when in fact to do so is to miss the whole point. Morality is the fruit of love, love of Christ, who said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (Cf. John 14:15). This was not a threat or some divine arm-twisting, but a statement of fact. Religious obedience is an act of great spiritual maturity and love. It is not that we love Him but that He first loved us (Cf. 1 John 4:19). He is our Bridegroom.
I would be worried about any engaged couple that was caught up in worry about fidelity instead of being so dizzily — or sanely — in love that infidelity was unthinkable. In theological terms we speak of fear of the Lord as a virtue, which of course it is, but it is not a craven timorousness, nor is it simply "awe," as some proposed in the 60s and 70s to soften the blow of the word "fear."
Proper fear of the Lord is the horror one feels at the thought of hurting, harming or even simply displeasing our beloved, be it a human love or God. This is called filial fear. Another kind of fear is called "servile fear" based more in fear of getting caught or being punished. While this is not altogether a bad thing, filial fear is superior as it speaks of a higher love.
Little girls do not grow up dreaming of hopping from bed to bed and contraception. They dream of a man who will sweep them off their feet and love them forever, and of having his many children. A cynicism born of the sexual revolution has brought emptiness to the hearts, wombs and lives of far too many modern women. This emptiness and pain can be avoided or redeemed and healed by the love of Christ and adherence to His teachings. The Catholic Church believes in such dreams because God wrote them on the human heart. And there are men who long for such a woman to love and cherish.
Real lovers want to give without reserve in God's own superabundance creating more hearts and lives to love. Contraception is like kissing through a screen door and real love cannot tolerate obstacles. Contraception breeds selfishness and separation that drives a wedge between husband and wife that kills love. Real lovers want their love to explode into the posterity of future generations for all eternity. This is the kind of passion and fulfillment God wants for His children. Contraception limits what should be boundless. It spits in the face of this glorious passion and love's true abandon; and that is why it is a sin. It seeks to "tame" love, thus killing it. The Catholic Church is the last bastion on earth of true romance. The modern world has suffocated love and made sex a thing of deadness.
I am thinking of all this because of the recent confrontation between Father Thomas Euteneuer and conservative talk show host Sean Hannity over Hannity's public dissent on contraception. As Providence would have it, just days before this confrontation I was visiting with Father Euteneuer at the Headquarters of Human Life International discussing various ways to raise the profile of HLI in order to help the mission. Imagine my surprise a few days later when I looked up from my dinner at home to see the face of my host on a "coming up" announcement on Fox's Hannity & Colmes program.
That confrontation is now history and, in my view, it is a milestone, a breakthrough for the pro-life movement because the evil of contraception is an essential element of the pro-life message. Contraception is the very core of the Culture of Death. With out "The Pill" in the early 60s there would have been no Roe v. Wade in the early 70s.
Until now it has been nearly impossible to break through the wall of silence the media has in place regarding an intelligent presentation of the Catholic position on birth control and the scandal that so many Catholics reject that teaching. Father Euteneuer, by the Grace of God, unexpectedly broke through that barrier.
What is shocking is that as a leader in American conservatism, Sean Hannity seems to have been blissfully unaware that there is a significant movement in the Catholic Church of people who refer to themselves as "orthodox" Catholics, meaning they accept Church teachings — all of them — not out "blind obedience" as is often charged, but out of love, conviction and principle. Not to mention coming to see the truth of them and agreeing with them through hard life's experience. Many of these Catholics also refer to themselves, somewhat imprecisely, as "conservative Catholics" mistakenly using the terms "orthodox" and "conservative" interchangeably.
So it was a shocker to hear Sean, whom many of these Catholics may have seen as a champion, behaving in such a hostile way towards a priest presenting Magisterial Church teaching. It was also a shock to hear a professional debater stoop to the red herrings and other tactics Hannity resorted to in attacking the priest, barely letting him speak.
Further, orthodox Catholics had reason to think of Sean as "one of them" judging from this comment in an article by William F. Buckley:
Sean Hannity said that he was himself Catholic and that he attends a church which on Sundays is standing room only. He attributes this in part to God, but mostly to his pastor, who, says Hannity, is rigorous in his defense of Christian doctrines, forswearing temptations to truckle to modernism ("Churchbound?" December
19, 2003, National Review Online).
I wonder what Sean's pastor is thinking now. Has he been rigorous in his defense of Humanae Vitae? If so, where was Sean?
But for all this, this is not about Sean Hannity. It is about the crisis of the Church in the West. It is a crisis that this current generation of affluent, educated Catholics can smugly think they "know better" than 2000 years of pastoral wisdom, Divine Revelation and the "expertise in humanity" of the Church of which the Second Vatican Council spoke. (Cf. Pope Paul VI- Address to the United Nations, 5 October 1965)
This is a crisis the Church Herself must answer for one day before the Lord.
The point is not to pick on Sean, who is a good man, albeit mistaken about his faith, but this incident throws into relief the problem of so many Catholics who share his view. The question for Sean and other Catholics, who are under the impression that this teaching is optional, is: If your moral compass is not calibrated to the True North of the Magisterium, what is it set to? From whom do you take direction? What is the authority you have set above that of the Church's divinely established teaching authority? "Conventional wisdom?" A "climate of opinion?" Or is it a smug attitude of what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery" following the naïve assumption that the Church is "behind the times" on these questions and needs to catch up with the "modern world?" If nothing else, any conservative ought to recognize that the "modern world" is a train wreck, due to what Pope Paul VI called "a general lowering of morality" that would ensue if contraception became widespread (Humanae Vitae, No. 17).
In fact, the Church does not need to get into the modern world; the modern world needs to get into the Church if there is to be any true human progress rather than the decline and degradation we have witnessed over the last 40 years.
But it gets worse. Nothing could have vindicated Father Euteneuer's questioning of the depth of Sean's faith more than remarks he reportedly made on his radio show:
If that makes me unwanted in the Catholic Church, then I'll have to just call my buddy Jerry Falwell, and Thomas Road Baptist Church, here I come. I will accept that taking this position publicly could result in me being thrown out of the Church. If that's the case and they don't want me, that's fine.
The level of wrong-headedness this statement demonstrates, which is an attitude found in so many modern Catholics, is enough to make one hang one's head.
No one is "unwanted" in the Catholic Church but this is a tiresome charge often made by those caught up in the ideologies of homosexual activism, feminism, and others who don't wish to recognize that being Catholic means that we at least try to be in conformity to Christ. It is the first lesson of Philosophy 101 that something cannot be and not be at the same time: the law of non-contradiction. Active homosexuality and its promotion, abortion advocacy and contraception all contradict the teachings of Christ as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit mediated through the Pope and Magisterium which Christ promised would be free from error in matters of faith and morals. One cannot be a Pagan and a Catholic simultaneously.
Furthermore, excommunication is not a statement that one is "unwanted" by the Church. On the contrary, it is an act of the Church's pastoral love to warn a soul that he has strayed from the truth and is in deep water and needs to rethink some things. Being admitted to Communion means that one is in communion with the Church, not subscribing to some other gospel.
Whatever Sean studied in the seminary it clearly wasn't ecclesiology or sacramental theology if he could so glibly abandon the Eucharist by going to a Protestant church over this matter. Indeed where does he take his cues? With all due respect to Protestants, Catholics do not "church hop" until they find one that suits them. A Catholic may seek out a Catholic parish they prefer, but no church not in communion with the Chair of Peter — the Pope — fulfills a Catholic's Sunday obligation (with emergency exceptions for some Eastern Orthodox — capital "O" — churches). No Protestant church believes what the Catholic Church believes about the Eucharist. Does Sean believe in transubstantiation and the Real Presence? If so, is he prepared to walk away from the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ over this? It is a chilling thought for any believing Catholic to contemplate.
Why chilling? Consider the following quote from the Second Vatican Council: "Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it" (Lumen Gentium, No. 14).
The question is, as a Catholic, is Sean a believer? Does he believe what the Church teaches about the Papacy, that Jesus established it when he told Peter "I call you Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church. What you bind on earth is bound in Heaven" (Cf. Matt. 18:18)? Or when He promised the Apostles, "I will send you the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth" (Cf. John 16:13-15) and "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16)?
Obviously, Protestants don't interpret these verses as the founding of the Papacy and Magisterium, but does Sean? As a "seminary trained" "devout Catholic?" Being a devout Catholic involves a willingness to be taught by the Church, a willingness to change when mistaken, and above all, a willingness to repent. Contraception is a serious sin and to claim to be Catholic and publicly declare otherwise is to give serious scandal.
Many present day conservatives were once liberal and underwent a "conversion" to conservatism because they saw the error of liberalism's inherent relativism, which rejects objective truth. It is no accident that there is an alliance among believing Christians (derisively referred to as the "Religious Right.") My "conversion" to political conservatism followed upon a religious conversion, which convinced me of the Truth of the Catholic Faith in which I was raised. In the Hannity/Euteneuer confrontation Sean showed a serious inconsistency in the philosophy in which he makes his living, showing himself, to the dismay of his Catholic fans, to be politically conservative but a liberal — a dissident — Catholic.
I'm a Fox News junkie. I watch Hannity and Colmes nearly every night. When I see Sean on TV I see him as a friend. I agree with him and admire him on most things, but Sean, you're wrong on this one.
Father Euteneuer is not your enemy. He is not an ideologue but a good man and the kind of priest who genuinely cares for souls. Your soul. He has already proved that. He would be a great friend to you from whom you could learn much. He asked to speak with you in 2004, not to argue with you or embarrass you, but out of concern for you. Contraception does real damage and you owe it to yourself to hear him out, because you are a good man who would not wish to spread harm. True friends tell us the truth even when it hurts and it is a wise man that listens to such friends. These opportunities are all too rare in this life and I urge you to avail yourself of his friendship.