Mike’s Meditations: Courageously Ask for God’s Opinion


by Mike Van Vranken

Someone recently asked me what he could do differently for Lent. I suggested he think of a moral issue about which he’s always had a definite opinion, and to courageously and open-mindedly ask for God’s opinion on the same issue. I gave him the following example. (Remember, this is only an example; you’ll have to prayerfully come up with your own issue).

Suppose you have always supported capital punishment for the worst offenders. For Lent, let’s take that issue to God and see what He thinks. First, pray for the grace of an openness of heart to be able to accept whatever God reveals to you with no preferred outcome of your own.

Next, begin to review some of the positions of the Church over the last 50 years and look for any suggestions that the death penalty is no longer a legitimate form of punishment. An example might be that Pope Paul VI removed the death penalty from the laws of  Vatican City in the 1960’s. You might also read in Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, that justice must be in line with human dignity and with God’s plan for man and society. He further states that because of improvements in the organization of the penal system any specific cases requiring the “absolute necessity” for the need for capital punishment are “very rare, if not practically non-existent (56).” So, we have one pope saying that the need is practically non-existent, and another pope removing the death penalty from existing law.

You might check the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read that “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of person, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete condition of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person (2267).” Again, a common priority in all of these teachings is the dignity of the human person.

Then there is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (27) that continually stresses the reverence for the human person. It states that whatever is opposed to life itself, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, whatever insults human dignity – these are all infamies. “They poison society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.” This Vatican II document was influenced by the hand of Pope John Paul II, and was approved by 2,307 votes of the world-wide bishops at Vatican II.

Now you might be reminded that when Thomas Aquinas was teaching on the death penalty, he dismissed the idea that it robbed a person of their possibility of repentance. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the tradition of the Church cannot be kept in mothballs like an old blanket. In speaking of capital punishment, Francis also says it is like a torture inflicted on someone – not only death itself, but the long period, sometimes years, of waiting for their own execution can be an excruciating agony.

There are other resources you can find, but it’s now time to take this to God on a daily basis during Lent; sit with Him and allow Him to penetrate your heart. Pay attention to how you feel about the issue. Talk to Him with frank openness and love. Tell Him what you’ve learned and ask for His opinion. Then just sit quietly. Notice if He is bringing any teaching in particular to your consciousness. If so, sit with it and struggle with it if necessary. Ask Him what He wants you to learn from this prayer session.

Now remember, this issue of the death penalty was just an example. Find your own concern that you would like to lay before God and beg Him to update your opinions and beliefs. Each day during your Lenten journey, keep going back to God with this and try to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day on it. If you don’t have that kind of time, it’s fine. Just do what you can. Continually allow your conversations with Him, your reading and study of sacred scripture, and your research of Church teaching to help you form your own conscience. When you get to Easter, you may find that your former thoughts have been crucified and are now resurrected in a new and better understanding of God’s thoughts on the subject.

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