by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
During the pilgrimage with our seminarians this summer, we asked each of the men to share with the group something about their experience during the summer. Most of them are involved in some sort of ministry, e.g., Totus Tuus, Prayer and Action, camp counselors at Prairie Star Ranch, internship at a par- ish, etc.
This summer, one of our seminarians, because of some health issues during the regular school year, needed to take some classes at a local community college. One of the courses was on biology.
During one of the very first classes, the professor was speaking about the AIDS epidemic and the importance of preventing transmission of the disease. She told the class that the best way to protect against AIDS was the use of condoms.
The seminarian was uncomfortable with what she was telling the class, but he hesitated to challenge the professor, not knowing how the teacher might react. He wondered if perhaps he should express his concerns after class. However, he was concerned that the entire class had been given bad information that needed to be challenged. In the end, he decided that he could not remain silent.
The seminarian raised his hand and, when called upon, asked: “Wouldn’t the best way to protect yourself from contracting AIDS be abstinence from premarital sex and fidelity in marriage — not having extramarital sex?” The professor asked our seminarian: “What is the basis for your question?”
The seminarian replied: “It is based first of all upon reason. If the principal means for the transmission of the HIV virus is sexual intercourse, it makes sense if you only engage in sexual intimacy with your spouse, then you will have dramatically reduced the possibility of contracting AIDS. Secondly, it is based on the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
The professor asked him: “What qualifies you to speak for the Catholic Church?” He replied: “First of all, any baptized, confirmed Catholic should be able to tell you the moral teaching of the church.” He added: “I also happen to be a Catholic seminarian studying to become a priest.”
The professor paused for a moment and then acknowledged what our seminarian said was true. The best way to protect yourself from AIDS is to refrain from having premarital or extramarital sex.
After class, the seminarian and the professor had a follow-up conversation. The teacher was a devout Christian, a member of the Assembly of God Church. She actually agreed scientifically and theologically with the intervention of our seminarian. The professor acknowledged that she was just teaching what was contained in the textbook for the class.
I was very proud of the courage of our seminarian. I admired his willingness to take a personal risk of possibly offending his teacher to prevent his classmates from receiving incorrect and really dangerous misinformation.
He was not only right scientifically about the best means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but he was also correct that any baptized, confirmed Catholic should be able to articulate the church’s moral teaching on this matter as well as many others. There are frequent opportunities in the workplace, with neighbors and friends, and at family gatherings, to help others understand what our church teaches and why. Remember that not to say anything is to say something. Silence is often interpreted as consent or approval.
I am no suggesting that we engage in arguments about some of these culturally neuralgic issues. The way we express ourselves is as important as what we express. One of our youth ministers told me recently that her father often counseled her: “Nobody is going to care about what you have to say until they know you are about them.” Pope John Paul II challenged Catholics to speak the truth, but always with love. It must never be our intent to embarrass or put down those who do not agree with us.
Next time you are in a situation where one of these culturally controversial issues comes up, I suggest you say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire you about what you should and should not say.
As our seminarian discovered, you may find out that people are more sympathetic and open to the truth than you think. Who knows? Our Lord may use you to help prevent someone from making some very bad decisions.
Be not afraid!