Deacon Rohrbacher

Confronting the false god of human relativism

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” (117)
                           Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home

Over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to have listened to talks by Filipino Bishop (now Cardinal) Luis ‘Chito’ Tagle. A tireless advocate for the poor and voiceless, his talks are usually characterized by a kind of gentle, self-deprecating humor combined with great theological and pastoral depth. A tireless teacher and preacher, even today, as the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, he broadcasts a weekly reflection on the Sunday Mass readings, “The Word Exposed,” in English and Tagalog.  

In one of his talks that I was able to attend, he spoke about the long struggle in ancient Israel against the deeply rooted practice of idolatry. He pointed out that idolatry continues to be an ongoing spiritual evil in every generation. Becoming quite serious, he said that the false gods, that the idols, always demand human sacrifices. He concluded by saying that if you want to identify the idols in any society, look for those institutions or ideas or systems that sacrifice the lives of the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless.

I thought about the words of Cardinal Tagle over the past couple of weeks while reading about the disclosure of Planned Parenthood’s repellent trafficking of the body parts of unborn children murdered in its abortion clinics around the country. Not that anyone should be particularly surprised or shocked that the medical staff of an organization that has performed many, if not most of the estimated 58 million abortions in this country since 1973 would be revealed to be callous, greedy and indifferent to the lives and human dignity of their defenseless victims.

What is revealed in those secretly taped interviews with these abortion doctors is abortion as a devouring ‘Moloch’ that demands the sacrifice of enormous numbers of our society’s unborn children. In return, the idol holds out the promises of personal emancipation, individual autonomy and a happy, fulfilled life unencumbered with the ‘burden’ of a child. But this blood-spattered idol, like every other false god, brings those in its thrall only grief and regret or hardened hearts and consequent spiritual blindness, corruption and death.

This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." The long-anticipated encyclical was released at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) See stories slugged ENCYCLICAL- June 18, 2015.
This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” The long-anticipated encyclical was released at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Because abortion is an intrinsic evil (that is to say, the direct and deliberate killing of the innocent is in every circumstance gravely sinful) it is easier to see its malign consequences for individuals and for society. But as the Holy Father points out in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, there are many other ways in which we have placed ourselves and our immediate interests in that place reserved for God and God alone.

As Pope Francis writes: “When human beings place themselves at the center, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.” (LS 122.) He goes on to point out that: “The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. This same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.” (LS123.)

In modern political culture and society, those who cherish and defend the lives of unborn children and those who cherish and defend the world that is our common home are oftentimes pitted against each other. The former is labeled a “conservative” cause while the latter is labeled a “liberal” or “progressive” cause. But in Laudato Si’, the Holy Father, drawing on sacred scripture, tradition and magisterial teaching, teaches us that the sacredness of human life, advocacy on behalf of the poor and the powerless, and an abiding love for and stewardship for the entire creation, are indivisible.

The primary demand of Pope Francis’s encyclical is not a drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases (which he strongly supports and encourages national and international leaders and organizations to undertake). Rather, the encyclical challenges the societies and people of the industrialized world to a change of heart, to conversion. He writes: “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality.”(LS 204.)

A short-sighted world economic system based on fossil fuels, an ideology of endless and unsustainable growth—a wasteful throw-away culture of “compulsive consumerism”—not only threatens to make our world increasingly unlivable for the poor and for future generations but ravages our hearts and souls by making us self-centered, and increasingly indifferent to God, and to the needs of our neighbor and to the common good. The Holy Father notes: “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample His creation underfoot.”(LS 75.)

As a Church we have been faithful witnesses to the dignity and sacredness of life, from conception to natural death. We have not hesitated to confront the evil of abortion and have worked together to change our society and its laws and institutions. Just as importantly, we have articulated and live out a better alternative: a world and a society in which everyone belongs and flourishes including unborn children, the elderly and infirm, and those with disabilities.

Just as in the face of the terrible moral evil of abortion, I am grateful that the Church is taking the lead as we are faced with the worldwide crisis of a warming planet, a rapidly changing climate and the environmental threats to the people, animals and plants with whom we share this world. In his encyclical, the Holy Father invites the universal Church, the local Churches and each of us as disciples of Jesus to take the lead in “replac[ing] consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing and an asceticism which entails learning to give and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs.” (LS 09.)
Read or download the newest papal encyclical at:

Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau.
Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23.


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