By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The three core issues facing America and the world today are life, marriage and religious liberty, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki told Kansas City’s Catholic lawyers.
Delivering the homily at the annual Red Mass for attorneys Oct. 23 at Visitation Parish, Bishop Paprocki, himself a member of the Illinois bar and also a canon lawyer, said it is also important for Catholics “to find common ground to work with our fellow brothers and sisters baptized in Christ.”
As such, he was delighted to read Russell Moore, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tell the Wall Street Journal that he wants to refocus the evangelical Protestant movement “as a religious example battling in the public square on ‘three core issues’ — life, marriage and religious liberty.”
He also noted that Moore joined Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty, in condemning the Department of Health and Human Services insurance mandate to require coverage for “contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“As I see it, the biggest obstacle in the way of promoting and protecting the three core issues of life, marriage and religious liberty is sin,” Bishop Paprocki said — specifically, he said, the sin of acedia, which is often called sloth.
“Sloth, properly understood, is at the root of many other sins,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“Sloth is often mistakenly understood to mean laziness,” he said. “It is also more than the lethargy or inertia that a person may experience who would rather just stay home than go to church.
“The capital sin of sloth refers to a spiritual sluggishness also known as acedia, which refuses the joy that comes from God and is repelled by divine goodness,” the bishop said.
Bishop Paprocki noted that in the journal First Things, Duke University theology professor Reinhard Hutter called acedia “the very foregoing of friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person.”
“The reason acedia is so deadly,” Bishop Paprocki said, is that this capital sin creates a void at the center of our being that we try to fill with transitory rushes of pleasure — primarily sexual — hence, its connection to other deadly sins such as lust and vices such as pornography,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“These pleasures can never fill the void caused by the loss of our transcendent calling to the love and friendship of God,” he said.
“That is why such vices are so addictive, because they never leave us satisfied and this vicious circle of unfulfilled compulsion ultimately leads to acedia’s most dangerous offshoot: despair,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“If we wish to grow in holiness and in our commitment to the Christian life, we must first acknowledge, confront and overcome the sin of acedia,” he said.
“A good starting point in this process of conversion would be to deal with the reality of acedia that the devil will undoubtedly use to try to deter us from our spiritual goal of friendship with God,” Bishop Paprocki said.
Bishop Paprocki also said that “too many Catholics” have a mistaken concept of “conscience” and have used that to justify “their rejection of Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage and family life.”
“Conscience means to share knowledge with someone else about what is right or wrong,” he said.
“Conscience does not act in isolation on some sort of personal intuition disconnected from someone or something else,” the bishop said.
“For a Catholic, a properly formed conscience means to share God’s knowledge and the church’s teaching about right or wrong. So those who invoke ‘conscience’ to justify their rejection of divine law as taught by the Catholic Church are saying that they have chosen to follow the thinking, knowledge and values of someone or something other than the pope or the Catholic Church,” Bishop Paprocki said.
The bishop noted that St. Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers, “invoked his conscience in refusing to sign Henry VIII’s Oath of Supremacy declaring the king to be the head of the Church of England.”
“Thomas was not just following a personal preference, but was declaring that he was thinking with the pope and would follow him, not the king. Others chose instead to think with the king and follow him,” Bishop Paprocki said.
But Jesus himself “from the moment of his birth” showed that he was “outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.”
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted, “one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path,” Bishop Paprocki said.