Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

"Fiscal cliff" is the term being used to describe the drastic consequences of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that will go into effect unless the White House and Congress can reach some solution by the end of this month.

Among the laws set to change at midnight on Dec. 31, are the end of last year's temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a 2 percent tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses and other tax cuts, and the beginning of taxes related to the new federal health care law.

At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. According to Barron's magazine, over one thousand government programs — including the defense budget and Medicare — are targeted for "deep, automatic cuts."

Among the possible effects if the fiscal cliff is not avoided, the impact on the economy could be dramatic. The Congressional Budget Office reported an increased risk of recession during 2013 if the deficit is reduced suddenly, while indicating that lower deficits and debt would in time improve long-term economic growth. At the same time, it predicts unemployment would rise by almost a full percentage point, with a loss of about two million jobs.

While concern about the "fiscal cliff" is certainly warranted, it pales in comparison to the "moral cliff" over which many weak souls are in danger of tumbling. The "fiscal cliff" threatens economic hardship in this world, but falling over the "moral cliff" lands one in eternal torment in the life to come.

I don't have any solutions to the "fiscal cliff," but I certainly consider it part of my job description to help you avoid plunging over the precipice of the "moral cliff."

Fortunately, I don't have to create the solutions myself. Jesus has given us all the remedies we need to escape eternal damnation. Those remedies are principally the sacraments. Baptism brings forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. Confirmation gives us the Holy Spirit to strengthen our commitment to that new life and fortifies us in the fight against temptation. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation renews our life in Christ when we confess our sins and receive sacramental absolution. Going to Mass every Sunday keeps us close to Christ, especially when we receive him into our hearts frequently in holy Communion. God has also given us the Ten Commandments to teach us in practical terms how to love him and our neighbor.

Unfortunately, getting people to use these divine remedies is not simple. The culture around us does not make this easy. While we live in the greatest nation on earth, our country has also had deep moral flaws from the very beginning.

The first Constitution of the United States of America institutionalized racism by giving legal status to the immoral institution of slavery. This national scandal did not come to an end until hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost in the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln pushed for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which once and for all ended slavery in America.

However, our nation would continue to suffer the sad effects of racism for decades in the form of segregation and even today in some quarters in the form of unjust discrimination.

There are additional immoral scourges that hasten the heathen towards the moral cliff: abortion, euthanasia, murder, fornication, adultery, sodomy, lust, greed, pride, envy, anger, gluttony, dishonesty, and thievery. These are among the most pernicious.

The reality of sin is nothing new. Thankfully, God is generous in his grace and mercy to help us to face this reality. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote about the mercy of God the Father in his encyclical letter, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy): "The concept of 'mercy' in the Old Testament has a long and rich history. We have to refer back to it in order that the mercy revealed by Christ may shine forth more clearly. ... Israel was, in fact, the people of the covenant with God, a covenant that it broke many times. Whenever it became aware of its infidelity — and in the history of Israel there was no lack of prophets and others who awakened this awareness — it appealed to mercy. ... In the preaching of the prophets, mercy signifies a special power of love, which prevails over the sin and infidelity of the chosen people."

So, first we must acknowledge our infidelities, then we must appeal to God's mercy, which Christ has revealed to us, and then we will be saved from falling over the edge of the moral cliff.

May God give us this grace. Amen.