Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Matt Birk's Stance

Matt Birk’s Stance

          Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk is an NFL All-Pro.  Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk is a Superbowl champion.  But Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk is also a serious Catholic.  So last week, when the Superbowl champion Ravens went to the White House for the customary photo op, center Matt Birk politely declined.
          He didn’t call a press conference or try to make himself out to be some kind of hero, but when asked, he responded, “I would say this, I would say that I have great respect for the office of the Presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’…Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year.  I am Catholic; I am active in the Pro-Life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way ... For God to bless a place where they’re ending 330,000 lives a year? I just chose not to attend.”
          Birk will likely take some heat for bringing politics into sports (though one could make the case that the White House did that first).  I suspect he’s tough enough to handle that.  A man with the courage to make such a public stand isn’t likely to be cowed by some criticism.
          But there will be some even on his side who will question his decision.  In January of 2009, Barack Obama had his first inauguration.  I teach at a Catholic school which decided to hold an assembly to watch the event live.  After making sure my class was properly supervised, I inconspicuously walked out of the assembly, returned to my classroom, and prayed the rosary.  Like Birk, I wasn’t trying to call attention to myself, but I wasn’t about to celebrate the election of a man who stood diametrically opposed to the fundamental moral teachings of the Church and the Natural Law, especially with regard to the Right to Life.
          Some of my coworkers, Catholic and presumably pro-life, apparently took offense at my decision and questioned whether I was showing the proper patriotism and respect for the office of the Presidency.
          I believed then that I did the right thing, and I believe today that Matt Birk did the right thing, but it is a point worth considering.  We are supposed to have respect for legitimate authority, after all.  It’s true that we are called to disobey unjust laws, but what of the leaders themselves?
          We can respect the office of the Presidency without having personal respect for an individual President.  Would it have been wrong for Catholics to refuse to shout “Heil Hitler!” in 1930s Germany?  Was it wrong for my grandfather to stand up to the Communists in Spain, who were, after all, duly elected?  Of course not.
          I’m not making a direct comparison between those situations and Mr. Obama.  No leader is completely perfect, but there comes a point at which we can say that a certain leader’s is reign is hostile to the Faith.  I would characterize the Obama presidency as such.
          Like all faithful Catholics, I’m sure Matt Birk obeys just laws that stem from this White House, even those with which he disagrees.  I suspect he prays for Mr. Obama, as I do, and does not wish him evil.  But he is under no obligation to make a trip to Washington to shake his hand and provide him with a photo op.  I do not suggest the men who attended, including the Catholics, committed a sin, but given the demands of Birk’s conscience, he was obligated to give respect to God rather than Mr. Obama.
          May all Catholics, especially public figures, demonstrate the same courage of conviction.