Summary: There is a good reason to avoid the near occasions of sin, but not even that is enough to make us the image of Christ.

“What’s bothering you so much? After all, I didn’t kill anybody!” That lame excuse is often given to people who have seen another doing wrong. The wrong action could be anything short of murder. Maybe it’s a so-called “white lie,” told by somebody to get out of a self-created jam. Perhaps it’s a minor larceny, like stealing office supplies or short-changing the Church offering. Whatever the offense, the perpetrator compares it with the worst crime imaginable, and then it doesn’t seem so bad. “After all, I didn’t kill anybody!”

Jesus is pretty strict in his commentary on the fifth commandment, isn’t He? To offend against Christ, all you need to be is angry with a fellow Christian. Worse than that is insulting him, and when you call him a fool, you are liable to hell fire. Your righteousness, the Lord says, must be greater even than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And that, we must admit, is a strong standard. Scribes were those who read and interpreted the law; Pharisees were those who strove toward strict adherence to all the letter of the Mosaic law, even those directed at the levitical priests. In the classical example, Exodus 23 and 34 prohibit Hebrews from boiling young goats in their mothers’ milk. It’s not known why this is prohibited, but the rabbis constructed a fence around the statute by banning the mixture of dairy and meat products. So a kosher kitchen, if it prepares both kinds of dishes, is really two–a dairy kitchen and a meat kitchen. And the two kinds of dishes are never mixed in a meal. Veal Parmesan is never served, just as shellfish are never served. This process, then, involves adding new regulations to the revealed rules of the Bible so that it is difficult to get even close to disobeying those commands. In Jewish tradition it’s called “building a fence around the Law.”

Recently a priest at one of the CMAA Colloquium Masses told a story from the feast of the Visitation that I’d like to elaborate for you. Recall the situation: Mary has just said her “fiat” to the angel, her acquiescence to the Father’s plan that the Holy Spirit would make incarnate the Son in her womb. She learned then that her relative, Elizabeth, though elderly, was pregnant. It’s about six to eight days later. Elizabeth’s child, who will be called John, leaps in her uterus at the presence of the Lord within Mary, just as David leapt and danced at the presence of the ark of the Covenant. Now biology tells us that the tiny zygote that was Jesus probably hadn’t implanted in the endometrium. We know from studies done in the past quarter century that after a baby is conceived, the zygote sends out chemical messages to the uterus, signaling its presence. It’s like the tiny child is chemically yelling, “I am here; help me.” And the uterus responds chemically: “ I know, and I will receive and protect you.” Grace builds on nature. Can we be surprised that in the realm of the spirit, of the super-nature, John becomes aware of the nearness of his Savior, and jumps for joy? Of course, our corrupt culture would retranslate the Scriptures to have Elizabeth proclaim, “blessed is the zygote in your womb. . .when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the fetus in my womb leaped for joy.”

Just one day before that July 2 feast–last Monday–the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that closely-held corporations whose owners object to providing poisons in their employees’ health plans, poisons that control birth by preventing the uterus from receiving tiny babies, were not obliged to provide those poisons. The present U.S. Administration purposes to force all employers to pay for them. They are relying on a corrupt medical establishment which says that these poisons are just contraceptives. They think they can get away with this lie by a simple expedient–they define conception as the implantation of the zygote in the uterus. This farce ignores the scientific reality that a human being exists from the time of fertilization, not implantation. Instead of building a fence around the biblical and natural law injunction not to kill the innocent human, they redefine what an innocent human is. You know what will happen if we go along with this fiction–they’ll be forcing everyone to pay for surgical and medical abortions of babies all the way up to the time of birth and beyond. And they’ll call it health care, and with their tortured, truth-evading rationalization, have the audacity to claim, “after all, I didn’t kill anybody.”

Instead of looking for loopholes that enable us to violate the operating rules God wisely gave to us for our persons and our families, we should be developing habits that keep us far away from sin. The last promise we make in our act of contrition during the sacrament of penance is to do that: to avoid the near occasions of sin. The gambler would avoid the racetrack and those special websites that ask “do you feel lucky.” I suppose pornography addicts would have to avoid even the grocery check-outs these days. The gossip knows what friends to avoid; the husband and wife know what hot-button words to keep from saying to their spouses.

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