Father closed the homily yesterday by quoting the second verse of "America the beautiful"
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
He started by discussing the Gospel reading (Luke 10:1 - 20) - Jesus sending out the 70 disciples, 2 by 2. They were to carry nothing with them, not even shoes. Faith for the journey would be their only luggage, faith and the name of Jesus. Father then talked about those who came to North America to bring the Gospel and to try to live a life of faith. How we were once a beacon of hope, and have now become so much a target of scorn. How we need to pray, and act, and pray, and live such that our ultimate destination is heaven.
I was struck by the words of the song, "Confirm thy soul in self-control". So much of our current woes have come from the lack of self-control. I was talking with the nurses at the hospital the other day, and we were discussing how different expectant moms are now than they were 20 years ago. Then, many moms were willing to bear pain to protect their babies from drugs, and it was sometimes difficult to help them through labor. Now, most come in wanting and expecting a painless childbirth, and even for the easiest of labors they want all the drugs available. One nurse pointed out that on TV, the ads for painkillers talk about not wanting to wait even 10 minutes for the drug to take effect. Made me really think, too.
The problem of pain and suffering is one that has plagued believers. We Catholics have an explanation of the salvific value of suffering that has helped me personally. But I can see that for so many other people, pain and suffering are useless burdens that could and should be relieved no matter the cost (and I am not talking just money here). It is not that big of a step from saying that all pain needs to be eradicated to saying that we have a right to physical (and other) pleasure all the time, anytime.
Don't get me wrong here, I am not saying that it is wrong or evil to use painkillers or to relieve suffering (physical, mental, or emotional). But I am saying that this comes at a cost, and that sometimes the cost is higher than the pain that is relieved. And even more, I think our culture of perfection is what has led to the culture of death, because in death all pain is relieved (or so they say).
I just had 2 post-abortive women tell me that they don't feel guilty about their abortions (though they grieve for themselves that they won't be mother to that child) because by aborting the child they saved the child from pain. And the euthanasia advocates, well they are also about saving people from pain. "confirm thy soul in self-control" - is this not a recipe for preventing pain? in some ways? self-control in not seeking out the short term pleasures that contribute to the long-term pain?
Another seeming paradox - (confirm) "thy liberty in law". How much does our culture say that true liberty is freedom to act according to ones' own desires, free from such artificial constraints as 'law'? How often have we denied that there are universal moral laws, that there is a natural law that is written on our hearts? A false understanding of liberty is so akin to a false understanding of conscience - and both of these false understandings so permeate our culture that I am unsure if their effects can be reversed.