Friday, January 11, 2008

Duties and Rights

Last Tuesday I had the great privilege to meet and hear a talk from Benedict Nguyen, the Chancellor of the Diocese of La Crosse. His topic was on denying the Eucharist to a pro-choice Catholic politician and the canons of canon law which support it.

His first issue in the talk was to distinguish canon law from civil law. The difference comes from our understanding of the legal relationship between duty and rights. In civil law, we have rights and therefore the government has a duty to uphold them. In canon law, however, the duty comes first. We have a duty to go to Mass each weekend and therefore we have a right to a properly celebrated Mass.

So what do we do if things aren’t going well at all? Where does it say we have the right to speak up in defense of our duty?

Canon 212 §3: They [Catholics] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

When you think about it, this isn’t about protecting our rights that we naturally possess (as was the case with the civil rights movement), rather it’s about trying to do the jobs we were put here to do. Imagine if you were a soldier and had no bullets. You shouldn’t be blamed for asking your buddy (or a superior) for more ammunition. Just as ammunition saves the lives of soldiers, the Eucharist allows us to survive the battlefield upon which we now fight. We need to go to Mass and we have the right to have it celebrated properly.

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