The Prophet Thomas Merton On The Archdiocese of New York’s HHS Mandate Problem

Problem? What problem? So the Archdiocese of New York provides healthcare to unionized employees of ArchCare through SEIU 1199′s  National Benefits Fund, which provides coverage for contraceptives and abortion services. What could it hurt?

You mean aside from the deaths of aborted babies, and the anguish of post-abortive mothers, these past 12+ years in which the Archdiocese stopped worrying itself about standing up for the Church’s teachings? How about the possibility that this apparent duplicity completely undermines the credibility of the Archdiocese, and by extension the USCCB, and therefore the Church, to effectively fight the HHS Mandate?

“No, no, Frank,” you may soothingly say, “don’t get yourself in a tizzy over this. It’s, how can I put this, morally complicated. In fact, we even have top people, who are way smarter than you, and oh so more sophisticated, arguing that everything is just fine.”

Interestingly, I remembered that one of the folks that helped me along the path to becoming a Catholic, a monk named Thomas Merton, wrote down a few ideas worth remembering regarding sincerity and truth from a little book he wrote entitled, No Man Is An Island. Bold highlights are mine.

Truthfulness, sincerity, and fidelity are close kindred. Sincerity is fidelity to the truth. Fidelity is an effective truthfulness in our promises and resolutions. An inviolate truthfulness makes us faithful to ourselves and to God and to the reality around us: and therefore it makes us perfectly sincere.

Sincerity in the fullest sense must be more than a temperamental disposition to be frank. It is a simplicity of spirit which is preserved by the will to be true. It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it. And this in turn recognizes that we are free to respect the truth or not to respect it, and the the truth is to some extent at our own mercy. But this is a terrible responsibility, since in defiling the truth we defile our own souls.

Truth is the life of our intelligence. The mind does not fully live unless it thinks straight. And if the mind does not see what it is doing, how can the will make good use of its freedom? But since our freedom is, in fact, immersed in a supernatural order, and tends to a supernatural end that it cannot even know by natural means, the full life of the soul must be a light and strength which are infused into it supernaturally by God. This is the life of sanctifying grace, together with the infused virtues of faith, hope, charity, and all the rest.

Sincerity in the fullest sense is a divine gift, a clarity of spirit that comes only with grace. Unless we are made “new men,” created according to God “in justice and the holiness of truth,” we cannot avoid some of the lying and double dealing which have become instinctive in our natures, corrupted, as St. Paul says, “according to the desire of error.” (Eph. 4:22)

One of the effects of original sin is an intuitive prejudice in favor of our own selfish desires. We see things as they are not, because we see them centered on ourselves. Fear, anxiety, greed, ambition, and our hopeless need for pleasure all distort the image of reality that is reflected in our minds. Grace does not completely correct this distortion all at once: but it gives us a means of recognizing and allowing for it. And it tells us what we must do to correct it. Sincerity must be bought at a price: the humility to recognize our innumerable errors, and fidelity in tirelessly setting them right.

The sincere man, therefore, is one who has the grace to know that he may be instinctively insincere, and that even his natural sincerity may become a camouflage for irresponsibility and moral cowardice: as if it were enough to recognize the truth, and do nothing about it!

How is it that our comfortable society has lost its sense of the value off truthfulness? Life has become so easy that we think we can get along without telling the truth. A liar no longer needs to feel that his lies may involve him in starvation. If living were a little more precarious, and if a person who could not be trusted found it more difficult to get along with other men, we would not deceive ourselves and one another so carelessly.

But the whole world has learned to deride veracity or to ignore it. Half the civilized world makes a living by telling lies. Advertising, propaganda, and all the other forms of publicity that have taken the place of truth have taught men to take it for granted that they can tell other people whatever they like provided that it sounds plausible and evokes a kind of shallow emotional response.

Americans have always felt that they were protected against the advertising business by their own sophistication. If we only knew how naive our sophistication really is! It protects us against nothing. We love the things we pretend to laugh at. We would rather buy a bad toothpaste that is well advertised than a good one that is not advertised at all. Most Americans wouldn’t be seen dead in a car their neighbors had never heard of.

Sincerity becomes impossible in a world that is ruled by a falsity that it thinks it is clever enough to detect. Propaganda is constantly held up to contempt, but in contemning it we come to love it after all. In the end we will not be able to get along without it.

This duplicity is one of the great characteristics of a state of sin, in which a person is held captive by love for what he knows he ought to hate.

In that same chapter, Fr. Louis notes the following about truth.

We make ourselves real by telling the truth. Man can hardly forget that he needs to know the truth, for the instinct to know is too strong in us to be destroyed. But he can forget how badly he also needs to tell the truth. We cannot know truth unless we ourselves are conformed to it.

We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us. But we make ourselves true inside by manifesting the truth as we see it.

The Catholic Church’s teachings are true. It is sad that we so easily undermine this fact through actions that point to another conclusion: recognizing the truth is not enough. We have to do something about it.

Pray that Cardinal Dolan, and all the other bishops with similar problems, have the fortitude to address these issues truthfully, and charitably.

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  • Andy

    Frank – I agree with you wholeheartedly. I mentioned in another blog that the bishops of New York did not put up a major struggle with NYs rules about covering contraception. I was told the following:
    1. I didn’t understand the politics of the situation-they, the bishops were faced with a no-win situation
    2. I wasn’t capable of knowing the deth they fought against the rule, because I was a CINO, and didn’t trust the church fully
    3. My favorite – the bishops weren’t supporting birth control, the unions forced them.
    I am glad that the story hasn’t changed, but I have for one lost faith in the ability of the bishops to speak to this issue – by the way the rule of paying for contraception exists in 15 other states to one degree or another. Like you I hope the bishops address tis issue in a catholic fashion.

    • Maggie Goff

      That last paragraph of yours there, Andy, that’s how I feel right now. I was so disheartened by this, however I will do what I always do…and that’s what Frank asks in the last paragraph of his post. Ceaselessly.


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