Monday, 4 May 2009
God's wrath, sin, fires and flu
Once upon a time (up to about say fifty years ago) it was pretty widely accepted that human actions that were contrary to God's will - such as immoral laws - typically resulted in a divine reminder to repent. A warning to the many, sometimes seemingly at the cost of the few, that better chastisement now than an eternity of hellfire. These days saying so gets you crossed off the list of potential bishops, as Fr Wagner of Linz discovered!
In Mexico, many catholics have seen the outbreak of flu there as perhaps a reaction to laws legalising abortion, and have embarked on processions and other acts of reparation.
So its been interesting to see the reports of a priest preaching a parish mission in Canberra get some coverage on this topic in relation to Swine Flu.
Cath News reports that Archbishop Coleridge has now spoken up to clarify the story:
"The visiting missionary priest, Fr Wade Menezes CPM, has been badly misreported as claiming that swine flu is the punishment of God for immoral legislation and behaviour, Archbishop Mark Coleridge says.
"In his talk during a parish mission, entitled 'The Forgotten Sacrament? The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation', Fr Menezes was speaking of the Church’s biblically based teaching concerning the four consequences of sin: personal, social, ecclesial and cosmic. He cited #1469 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which discusses these consequences of sin and cites the still more explicit teaching of Pope John Paul II in his 1984 Apostolic Exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance (31,5).
"In reflecting upon the cosmic consequences of sin in particular, Fr Menezes made the point that, when human beings fail to respect the natural law, understood as the moral ecology set by God deep within reality, then there can be consequences as disastrous as they are unforeseen – just as love, understood as fidelity to the natural law, has its own consequences as wondrous as they are unforeseen. This relates to the more general point that reality is interconnected in ways we can scarcely imagine, as both the ecological movement and quantum mechanics tend to show. [So yes, sin can lead to floods, fires, global warming, diseases and other disasters.]
"It was within this very particular context that Fr Menezes took the example of swine flu and asked whether 'perhaps' its roots may lie in a failure to respect this inbuilt moral ecology which has its source in God.
This is not to say that individuals who contract swine flu are being punished by God [The consequences of sin affect the innocent as well as the guilty - just as the sins of our first parents affect us all through Original Sin, and the things our parents and grandparents did affect us! This is one of the reasons why we all have a vested interest in laws that permit abortion, promote homosexuality and so forth.] nor that communities are being punished for misguided laws that might be passed. [OK, this bit I struggle with. If sin has social consequences, doesn't it make sense that those consequences are visited first and foremost on the community that is responsible for the sin? Of course there might be some spillover to others not directly responsible, and perhaps that is what the Archbishop is trying to get at here? Of course, if this current flu were connected to abortion, the culture of death certainly extends well beyond Mexico!] Indeed, Fr Menezes made a point of saying that he was in no way passing judgement upon individuals or communities. Rather, he was claiming that things which may seem like natural calamities that just happen can in fact have moral connections which are not immediately evident. This is what the Catholic Church teaches; it was not what Fr Menezes was reported as saying. The example he took may have been poorly chosen at a time like this [But isn't it precisely at times when we might be moved to repentance that we should think about the particular sins that might have been the root cause of the calamity?], but the fundamental point holds good at any time. This is not in any way to justify the absurdities wrongly, indeed unjustly attributed to Fr Menezes; it is simply to clarify what he actually said....
"Of more concern to me than anything Fr Menezes may or may not have said is that there were some, or one, who came to the parish mission determined to find fault. You can always find fault if you want to - all the more so if listening with an ear that hears what it wants to hear, not what is said. The ear of faith listens humbly, openly and positively; the ear of malice listens in a way that is proud, closed and negative. That is the way of spiritual death not new life, and it is reason for urgent repentance, especially in these Easter days when we celebrate new life in Christ."