Monday, April 30, 2012

An Evil Killer's "Good Intention"

In a trial filled with theatrics and sensations, the Norway mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, declared with firm conviction that his cold-blooded terrorist act “was a minor barbarity to prevent a larger one.” For Breivik, his country and Europe were on the verge of falling into the hands of the Muslim immigrants and their descendants. If left unchecked, the Muslim movement would soon take over the whole European continent, so he believed.

Forget about the insanity of Breivik’s horrific crime for a moment; forget about his bigotry. What do we make of his claim that his act, while barbaric, was a lesser evil needed for preventing a larger one? Doesn’t that sound familiar? Haven’t we seen the same argument being made in many different shapes or forms, on many different levels of our society, and in regard to many different issues? Like robbing the rich to feed the poor (Robin Hood); or administering a medically induced death in order to reduce a dying patient’s suffering (euthanasia); or implementing coerced abortions for the “good” of controlling a nation’s population growth (totalitarian regimes); or imposing a secular view of sex and marriage – the so-called “equity and inclusive sex education” - on young Catholic students whose moral values are still in need of nurturing, in the name of preventing bullying in schools (Bill-13 of the Ontario Liberal government)…The list goes on and on.

Regardless of their sources, what all of these freely chosen evil acts have in common is that the person or institution or government initiating the act begins with a good intention. Breivik, for example, sincerely and passionately believed that his barbaric act – the indiscriminate killing of 77 people – was necessary to stem the tide of Muslim immigration. He believed his "good intention" – the end or goal of “saving Norway and Europe” - justified the evil means – the massacre of 77 innocent young people. A doctor who administers euthanasia to his patient probably believes his evil deed – killing a person – is justified because his intention - allowing his patient to die comfortably – is good and noble.

It is important to understand that a good intention does not make behaviour that is intrinsically disordered good or just. The end does not justify the means (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #1753). St. Paul says just as much in his letter to the Romans: “And why not… do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve” (3:8). Interestingly, an act that is in and of itself good (such as almsgiving) can become evil if it’s associated with a bad intention (such as vainglory).

But what about self-defense? According to St. Thomas Aquinas since the intention in using violence against an unjust aggressor is self-defense, it is permissible even though injury or even the death of the aggressor might result (R. Hamel and K. Himes, Introduction to Christian Ethics, p.517).

We are venturing into the field of moral theology. I know the few points I made above are just the basics, enough perhaps to scratch the surface of a big barrel. If you have more insights to add, please feel free to comment!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heading to Our Graves Slowly But Surely

A church friend in his early fifties has just been diagnosed with cancer and is awaiting medical tests and therapies. The news was rather shocking and disturbing to say the least, not only because of his relatively young age, but also because he is a very well-respected and popular figure in the Chinese Catholic community here in Toronto, known particularly for his charity and holiness. The heartbreaking news came only one year after another beloved church friend of about the same age had succumbed to lung cancer and passed away.

Anytime an unfortunate incident happens, our immediate reactions are inevitably sadness, disbelief, or for some people even anger or a refusal to accept. As emotions subside, our inquisitive instinct kicks in and we begin to ask ourselves questions with the earnestness of a philosopher caught in deep and perplexing reflection:  Why do righteous people suffer from misfortunes? Why doesn’t God give them special protection? Is He incapable of doing so? If yes, how can we say He is almighty? If no, how can we say an almighty God who allows the righteous to suffer is just?

Similar questions have been explored elsewhere in my talks and in other articles previously written. Being not quite in a philosophical state of mind at this moment, I am not going to revisit these issues here. What crosses my mind though is the very real possibility that one day similar misfortunes might just happen to me. The thought of dying is never pleasant. And yet there’s no denying that with each and every passing day we are inching closer and closer to our graves.

Far from living in the grip of fear, the realization of the imminence of death is actually making me work harder to ensure that the years that the good Lord gives me are used as productively and meaningfully as possible. I am already in my late fifties. The youthful days when death was like a foreigner from a distant land who had nothing to do with me were long gone. What has once seemed so remote is now breathing down my neck; what has once been written off as essentially irrelevant is now a stark reality.

Let’s face it; anyone at my age will readily admit that the good and productive years still left in them probably can be counted with just two bare hands. Beyond that, the years of visiting doctors and taking medical tests, of being rushed in and out of hospitals; and the endless idling moments of gazing at a fish bowl in a senior home just may not be too far away. People often suggest that my early retirement has given me more time. With this new perspective in mind, I actually feel like I have less time! This explains the urgency of my personal ministry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

RCIA Presentation Is Not Just Any Presentation

A new and inexperienced RCIA catechist (RCIA = Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) told me she had to spend a great deal of time to prepare for each RCIA presentation. Worse still, if the preparation was painstaking, the actual presentation was nerve-wrecking. She asked if I had any helpful suggestions to offer.

To me, the differences between preparing for an RCIA presentation at church and preparing for a project presentation in school or at work are significant and unmistakable both in terms of the presenter’s mindset and of his motivation.

For example, when I was preparing for, say, a budget presentation at work, I was motivated to perform well so that my board members would not only approve the budget, but also would have confidence in me as the person entrusted with the important task of looking after the company's finances. Obviously I also needed the success to please my boss. It's all part of the hard work required to pave the way for a good performance evaluation, for getting a good bonus or salary increase, and for strengthening my position as a key member on the management team. Notice that my motivations were mostly people-oriented, and my desire was for financial gains and people’s recognition.

When I’m preparing for an RCIA presentation, none of the above-mentioned human factors and self-serving desires are applicable - at least not to the extent that my intent is pure. If I want to please my audience - in this case the catechumens instead of the board members - it's because I want my message to get across effectively so that they will benefit from the word of God. If I want to please my co-workers or my "boss" (if the pastor happens to be in the audience), it's not because of monetary considerations or vanity, but because of the need to build good rapport and to promote team work.

But the most important difference, I think, is this: in the case of an RCIA presentation or, for that matter, any other ministry-based presentations, the one thing that really drives me is an urge to spread the Good News of Christ. I can really feel its power: it’s a heart-warming sensation, a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment enticing enough to drive me to work non-stop, and rewarding enough to make all my hard work worthwhile. It is, I suppose, the same urge that St. Paul had felt so irresistible because of "the love of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Depending on the depth of the catechist's personal relationship with God and the personal encounters with Christ that they have had in their journeys of faith, the urge may be weaker or stronger. But it should be there somehow, hidden in the background like an invisible force that drives and empowers, simmering beneath the surface like a source of energy that stimulates and propels. As long as the love of Christ is urging us on, the preparation will be a happy ride, not hard labor; the presentation will be a passionate and engaging discourse on religious convictions and experiences, not a nerve-wrecking exercise.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Test of Fire

Like Jesus, our Lord and Master, we Christians are first and foremost ambassadors of love and peace. But promoting peace doesn't mean just sitting back passively and letting the truth be trampled upon without doing anything. How did Jesus react when the scribes and Pharisees tried to mislead people by discrediting him? He confronted the transgressions of his opponents head on and called them "hypocrites", "whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth", "serpents",  "brood of vipers" (cf. Mt. 23:27-33). Yes, we don't resort to violence. But we must also stand firm on our ground when it comes to defending the truth.

I like this commercial. It makes my apologetic blood boil! Whether it's in the upcoming U.S. election, on our home turf of Canadian politics, or in this world at large, the uncompromising Catholic values of life, marriage, and freedom of religion must be vigorously defended.

If you agree with what I said above, you will love this video "Test of Fire"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

March for Life on Thursday, May 10!

The March for Life event this year will take place on Thursday, May 10.

Pilgrims in support of this event will be departing from the Chinese Martyrs Catholic Church on May 10, Thursday at 7:30 a.m. after attending a 7 a.m. mass. By 12 noon the bus will arrive in Parliament Hill. There will be talks by MPs, a walk through Ottawa downtown and back to Parliament Hill, for talks by women who will share the aftermath of abortion. At 3:30 to 4 p.m. the bus will head back to Markham, arriving at around 9 p.m. at the Chinese Martyrs Catholic Church. The fees for adults and students are $20 and $10 respectively.

With the kind of world we are in these days, planting the seed of life is like cultivating arid grounds: it takes a lot of hard work. To me, joining the March for Life is akin to promoting Church teachings on sex and marriage year in and year out: both are very difficult and unpopular undertakings, but undertakings that must be carried out with perseverance nonetheless if we truly believe that the Gospel that we preach is not a Gospel of death but a Gospel of life; and that the God who oversees this world is not a God for the dead but a God for those who are fully human and fully alive!

Hope some of you would join Jeannie, me, and many others on Thursday, May 10. We'll have plenty of time to chat and catch up with one another on the bus and during the trip. Please contact Jeannie Wu at directly if you are interested.

Praising and proclaiming the Risen Lord on this Easter Saturday!