Father Paul's Homily, October 31, 2021
Dear friends in Christ, by now most if not all of you are aware that our friend and brother, Coach Nick Rolovich has been fired as the head football coach for the Washington State Cougars. I will address his situation in greater detail momentarily, but I want Nick to know how much we love and respect him.
These events have caused me to think about this situation in light of the Church’s understanding of two key concepts that keep arising as we struggle with the pandemic: the Common Good and Freedom of Conscience.
Proponents of vaccine mandates tell us that we have a moral obligation to get vaccinated to promote the Common Good. Let’s see how the Church defines the Common Good and see if this is a proper way to apply the term.
Taking its cue from Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Common Good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” Another way of saying it is that the Common Good encompasses everything in life and in society that helps human beings become the people God made them to be. As Catholics, we are obliged to work for the Common Good which requires us to understand it properly and then take action to enact it to the extent we are able. Every person has inherent dignity and we as individuals and as a society should promote acts and policies that are consistent with that dignity.
Those who support vaccine mandates argue that getting the shot is an act of charity that helps stop the spread of a deadly disease that has reached pandemic proportions. For the sake of argument, the next—and essential – question is whether it is the ONLY way to fulfill our obligation to contribute to the Common Good. Many people of good will sincerely believe that it is not. They believe they can contribute to stopping the spread through other means including frequent testing, social distancing, hand sanitizing and wearing masks; Coach Rolovich is obliged to do these things and is willing to do them because they do not violate his conscience; what he is not willing to do is get the vaccine because he says it violates his religious beliefs, his conscience. This leads us directly to the next issue—Freedom of Conscience which, when properly understood, never conflicts with the Common Good.
This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of all of the Church’s moral teachings. Most Catholics correctly understand that we must obey our conscience. It is a moral obligation. But there is more to it than that. We are called to obey our conscience AFTER we have put in the work to properly form it according to the God’s Word as understood and taught by the Church. Only after we have properly formed our conscience by serious study and prayer are we obliged to follow it. On the issue of getting the vaccine, the Vatican, while urging people to get vaccinated, is clear that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary” (Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, 5) In other words, Catholics are not morally obliged to get a vaccine, even in the context of the Common Good.
So, we come to the current state of things in Washington. Under the rubric of public safety and invoking the concept of the Common Good, the Governor and many businesses and public institutions in the state have issued a far-reaching vaccine mandate. The consequences for non-compliance can be severe as we have seen in our own community this week.
So how do we come to grips with this issue as Catholics? What does God expect of us? It is good—even important—for us to ask these questions and I want to challenge you to reflect on them prayerfully and seriously, letting God’s Word as expressed in Scripture and taught by His Church guide you.
To get you started, here are a few things to consider:
The government that is demanding its citizens get a vaccine even when it conflicts with their well-formed conscience is the same authority that not only defends but promotes some of the most permissive abortion laws in the country. That’s why it’s especially offensive for our pro-abortion leaders to defend “freedom of choice” when it comes to destroying a defenseless baby in the womb while at the same time refusing that same choice to those whose consciences forbid them to receive the COVID vaccine.
The other point to recognize is that standing up for what we believe is right—and again, it requires effort on our part to determine what that is—may involve personal cost. Regardless of how anyone may feel about vaccine mandates, no one can argue that many including Coach Rolovich and four of his assistants have made an enormous sacrifice to be true to their consciences and without sacrificing their obligation to contribute to the Common Good.
Movie: Man for all Seasons
- Sir Thomas More, who has been friend and Chancellor for King Henry VIII is now being investigated for his refusal to sign the “Act of Supremacy” that Henry as King of England had supreme authority over the Church in England. Thomas More refused to sign the Act.
In one scene following Thomas enduring the ordeal of being questioned as to why he refused to sign (Thomas was silent regarding the reasons for his refusal until after his trial and sentencing), is met by his good friend the Duke of Norfolk. The duke tries to persuade Thomas to sign the Act: it was a simple thing just sign his name, sign just to go along, and get along with the king, sign for the sake of friendship and good fellowship, as so many of his friends had done. At this point, Thomas reminds the duke that we each have the responsibility of following our conscience, as a matter of fact each of us will be judged by God on whether we have followed our conscience. Therefore, Thomas asks the duke, when they each stand before the Judgement Seat of God and the duke and friends are granted entry into heaven for having followed their consciences, but Thomas is condemned to hell for going against his conscience, will the duke for the sake of friendship and good fellowship accompany Thomas to hell?
As we take time this week to reflect on these both timely and timeless issues, let us ask God for the grace to respond courageously when confronted with demands that defy our well-formed consciences. Let us always remember that love is the highest law, the highest calling; bitterness, anger, hatred have no place in the heart of a Christian no matter how one feels about any particular issue.
For we know that if we remain faithful to Jesus, then we will hear those beautiful words spoken to Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”