Surely, there are grave and complex difficulties with doctrine that cause some to reject the authority of the Catholic Church, but oftentimes individuals offer reasons that are frivolous and misinformed. Rather than taking seriously the claims of an institution that has endured trials and persecutions for millennia, many swat away the doctrines resulting from centuries of careful deliberation as though they are trifles. In short, we often don’t know what we don’t know — nor do we seem to care.
Our rational minds are one way that we image God, and we would do well to apply them. When we hear words bandied about, we might want to stop and make sure we understand them. A case in point is the recent letter issued by the Vatican, clarifying guidelines for absolving those who regret their complicity in procuring abortions. Unfortunately (for many reasons) the message was immediately garbled by much of the media.
In the wake of the announcement, misinformation abounded, such as one writer’s praise for a pope who was helping to “evolve” the view towards sin away from “arcane and ancient opinions in regards to birth control, reproductive medicine, abortion and homosexuality.” Arcane can be defined as “unfathomable,” meaning that it’s mysterious and incomprehensible — which speaks more to the mind of the writer than the Church. The Church has been prolific in explaining the inner logic of her approach to sin and the sexual ethic, and each must be understood in order to grasp the meaning of mercy.
The “Catechism” defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (n. 1849). Thus, in order to “fathom” what the Church defines as sin, one must apply reason — concerning the nature of actions and the needs of the community, which are injured by sinful actions. It is baffling to see those who praise the logic of the material world and the rational methodology of science firmly dismiss the Church as irrational. In fact, it is precisely within the realm of “reproductive medicine” that those who refuse to acknowledge the wisdom of the Church offer arguments couched in the miasma of emotion and perverse attachments — which undermine reason and prudential behavior.
If one chose to be rational, it would be evident that each child — with his unique DNA — has his own integrity. His growth is along a continuum that we all share, and the dependence he has in his vulnerable state is similar to the dependence that abortion supporters easily recognize in other groups — especially as related to the poor and migrant communities. Shelter, sustenance, and a loving welcome are universal human needs, making the Church’s logic easily understandable and unswervingly consistent. If one chooses vacuity in such matters, then he has abandoned his reason, without which he will admittedly have grave difficulties understanding Church teachings.
The Vatican letter reaches out to those who have strayed, noting, “The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.” This shows that the Church is well aware of the breadth of circumstances leading to the tragedy of abortion, but this doesn’t change the fact that each abortion ended the life of a very small person — someone who shared God’s image and likeness, and whom He loved as much as all the rest.
And that’s what leads to the one truly unfathomable concept — the mercy of God. St. John Paul II wrote: “It becomes more evident that love is transformed into mercy when it is necessary to go beyond the precise norm of justice” (Dives in misericordia, 5). Miraculously, when Divine love — the unalterable essence of God — encounters injustice, suffering, injury, and sin, it doesn’t draw back, but is transformed. To receive it, all that remains is to name our offences, repent of them, and be transformed in turn. There is nothing frivolous about this Divine reality, nor is there a reason for it to evolve. It’s the one marvelous truth that has transfixed great minds and humble souls over the ages, and for anyone who will take a moment to think rationally, it is surely a gift worth taking.