Objective Truth, Popular Opinion, and the Schiavo Case
October 26, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Jeremiah 31:7-9) Reading II (Hebrews 5:1-6)
Gospel (St. Mark 10:46-52)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about a man named Bartimaeus. His name means “the son of fear” or “the son of honor”. He is a man who had the proper fear of the Lord and the proper honor for God. He would call out to Christ and the people would tell him to be silent, but he just called out all the more until the Lord called him. And it is interesting to see how the people shifted. After telling him, “Be silent! Be silent!” suddenly they said, “He’s calling you. Get up! Go to him!” How quickly the political winds can change when we see just one decision made by an individual and everyone falls in line with it, whereas Bartimaeus recognized what was right and he simply called out in the face of the silence of all the people.
This is an example to each and every one of us because in the face of many evils we have to stand up for our faith. We have to put our faith into practice and we have to live it everyday. It is not enough to be able to say that we believe because Our Lord told us, “Not everyone who cries out, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.” It is not enough to know the faith and it is not to believe the faith – we must live the faith. That is becoming increasingly difficult in our society. This week there have been all kinds of publicity about a tragic case in Florida of a woman whose husband wanted to remove her feeding tubes and allow her to die of dehydration, and the courts approved of this measure.
We need to be very clear about what our Catholic faith teaches us. There is a distinction between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary when it comes to biomedical morality. What is ordinary must always be done, and what is extraordinary does not have to be done but can be. There are four things that are considered ordinary and this is something you need to know in case one of your relatives winds up in the hospital. The four things that are absolutely necessary are nutrition, hydration, oxygen, and painkillers. Now you need to be very careful when you go into the hospital because I have heard stories about how they will push the food tray in, place the food tray way down by the opposite end of the bed near the sink, and then say, “Well, we brought him food. He couldn’t get out of bed to eat it. That was his problem, not ours. So I guess he’s going to starve. We didn’t keep food from him!” These are the sorts of things that are going on.
Here is a woman in Florida who has nutrition and hydration tubes placed in her. Her mind is active: she can laugh, she can cry, and she can communicate to some degree. But because her life was deemed to be unworthy for whatever reason it was decided that they were going to remove the feeding tubes and the hydration tubes and let her die in a most excruciating manner from dehydration. What is even more ridiculous about the whole concept is that they call that euthanasia. “Euthanasia” means good death. That is supposed to be dying a good death, allowing someone to die in excruciating pain because of one’s own selfishness. We cannot do that.
What is even more tragic about this situation is that when the laypeople tried to contact the bishops to ask them to intervene for this poor woman, the bishops refused to lift a finger to help. When the USCCB was contacted (that is the national office for the bishops), their response was “It’s a local problem.” And the local bishop, he forbade his priests to even speak about it. Now when we look at the second reading today, we hear that the high priest is taken from among men to be the representative for the people before God. But as we saw last week, priesthood is a two-way street; and so he is to be also the representative of God before the people and he is to be the spokesman for the Lord. Pope Gregory the Great, many years ago, talked about the problem of bishops not speaking out, of being “dumb dogs” (as he called them) who do not bark when they are supposed to. It is amazing that priests and bishops will make stands on all kinds of inane topics, but we refuse to stand up and speak the truth when it is necessary. Oh, we will give general principles to people as long as it is not going to cause anybody much problem; but if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, it is funny how we become suddenly so silent. This is something we are going to be condemned for and the Lord has made that very clear.
But, at the same time, the fact that many who are in positions of leadership are not doing what they are supposed to do does not give the rest of us any excuse for not doing what we should do. All of us have to stand up and we have to live that truth. There are many who say, “I don’t want to know because then I’m not responsible.” I must say that if that is the attitude then you are completely responsible because the Church teaches us that each and every one of us has an absolute obligation to learn our faith. Now it is certainly true that from a moral perspective if one is truly ignorant of something, meaning simply that the person does not know, they are not held responsible for it. However, if you could have learned the truth very easily then you are fully responsible because it is by your own choice that you decided to remain in ignorance.
Bartimaeus was a blind man who wanted to see. Many of us are blind and do not want to see. And as Our Lord Himself said, “There is none so blind as the one who does not want to see.” That has become a problem in our society. We do not want to see the truth; we do not want to know the truth; we do not want to have to get involved; we do not want to make decisions. I find it very interesting that in the Gospel reading Our Lord heals Bartimaeus and tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And in the very next line we are told that Bartimaeus followed in the way of Jesus. Bartimaeus wanted the truth; he did not want to walk his own way. He did not want to walk away from the truth; he was seeking the truth. And when he was given sight, he followed Christ.
Now all of us know where it is going to lead if we follow Jesus: right up the hill to Calvary. The stands we are going to have to make will not always be popular ones, but the nice thing is that we know the stands we will make are true. They are not our opinions, but rather they are objective truth. That is what the Church teaches. When you get into an argument with someone over issues such as life and death, euthanasia (mercy killing, as they would call it), abortion, contraception, whatever it might be, the wonderful thing that you have is you can stand up and speak objectively about the truth and when the person tells you, “Well, that’s just your opinion,” you can honestly say, “It is not my opinion. While I agree with it one hundred percent, it is objective truth. It is the teaching of Jesus Christ, not my personal opinion that I am presenting.” And when two people want to pit opinions against one another then that is all it is; it is two varying opinions. You can have your opinion and I can have mine, and, by golly, we just do not agree but that is okay. But when it comes to objective truth, it does not matter what anybody else’s opinion is. When you have the truth, you have an absolute knowledge that what you believe is correct. When it is only your opinion, you have no assurance that what you believe in is absolutely correct.
And so if we are going to follow in the way of Jesus, the first thing we need to do is ask Him to take away our blindness. We have been so blinded by the society in which we live, blinded by sin, that many of us do not even see what the problems are that surround us. We give into them by saying, “Well, this is just the way things are done in our society. Everyone else is doing it; it can’t be that bad,” even though we know better. We give into ideas that are contrary to the truth because we want to fit in. We want to be liked; we do not want to have to rock the boat; we do not want to be rejected. Bartimaeus kept calling out when the people said, “Be silent.” When Jesus took a poll and said, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” they gave Him all kinds of different answers. None of them were right. The truth is objective not subjective. We live in a society which wants to tell us that everyone can have their own truth. We cannot. That would simply be called anarchy, everyone going their own different direction, everyone caught up in their own little world, everyone doing their own thing.
That is a huge American problem. In many American homes now, everyone has their own TV set. Heaven forbid that you might have to watch the same show as someone else! Everyone has their own little thing to stick in their ear so they can be caught in their own little world if they have to leave from their TV. Everyone can do their own thing and be entertained – then we do not have to deal with the issues because “It doesn’t affect me, I’m listening to my music, I’m watching my sitcom. I don’t need to worry about the problems in the world because I’m in my own little world, and I’m the one who is the arbiter of truth in my own little world.” Look at the results of that kind of thinking. We kill people in horrendous ways and we call it mercy. We kill babies and they call it compassion for a woman. All we have to do is change the language slightly and we make it sound real good – and it is a lie!
Jesus Christ is the truth. Satan is the father of lies. If we are giving ourselves over to lies then we are giving ourselves over to Satan while giving lip service to Jesus. We cannot be doing that. We have been called to live the truth. We have been called to live the truth in love, but always to live the truth and to bring that truth into the world. That is part and parcel of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So each one of us needs to look at that Gospel reading and ask ourselves, “Would somebody be able to call me ‘Bartimaeus’? Blind, yes, but … ‘a son of honor’, ‘a son of the fear of the Lord’? Would someone be able to say that? Or would somebody just have to call me a servant of servile fear? I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to make a decision. People might not like me. What would they think? I might be rejected. What if I’m different from everyone else?” That is not filial fear; that is servile fear. The fear of the Lord is a filial fear: the fear of offending God because we love Him so much. That is the kind of fear Bartimaeus showed. He showed honor to Jesus Christ and he walked along the way of Christ.
God made very clear in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah that it is He Himself Who is going to lead His people to the brooks of water. It is He Himself who is going to deliver His people from the captivity and the bondage that they found themselves in at Babylon. It is He Himself Who is going to bring them back to the Promised Land. And I dare say that is the exact same promise we have today. It is God Who is going to deliver us. It is God Who is going to lead us to green pastures and still waters. It is God alone Who will teach us the way of truth because God is the truth. And if, like Bartimaeus, we want to see, if we are willing to come to Jesus Christ and call out to Him like Bartimaeus did, and when He calls to us to respond in the same way: “Lord, that I may see” – that is, that I may see what is right, that I may see the truth – if we are willing to do the same, when Jesus tells us to go our way, we will get on the way because He Himself is the Way and the Truth and the Life, and there is no other.
But notice that Jesus gave Bartimaeus the choice of which way he wants to travel. You have a choice. In our society, we say, “Do it your way. Have it your way. Walk your own way.” In the Catholic faith, we say, “Jesus is the way, and the only way.” So the choice is ours. There are ultimately only two ways, even though everyone thinks they can do it their own way. The one way is wide and smooth, and many they are who are on it. The other is rough and narrow, and few they are who are on it. The choice is entirely ours. Pray and ask the Lord to see, then get on the way and walk the way of Jesus Christ to salvation.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.