Delivered by Fr. Michael Miller, President of the University of Saint
by Fr. Michael Miller, President of the University of Saint Thomas
We gather for the annual commemoration of Roe v. Wade to pray in a special way that America will ever more fully embrace a culture of life: that attacks on life will cease, that the minds and hearts of legislators will be convinced of the dignity of the human person, and that we will not flag in our efforts to protect all life from the moment of conception until natural death.
This evening I would like to offer some specific reflections on the role of pro-lifers in the public arena. I will do this in light of the Note published last week by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a document which reminded Catholics of the need to participate in the political process and to do see in a way coherent with their faith.
I. FIRST READING: CAIN AND THE CULTURE OF DEATH
The biblical account of Abel's murder by Cain (Gen 4:2-16) is a
story that involves everyone: it is, unfortunately, "a page rewritten daily, with
inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of human history" (EV 7).
At present, let us not be deceived: "we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the 'culture of death' and the 'culture of life'" (#28). Today's attacks on life are both more serious and more numerous than in the past. When looking out on the world, God asks us the same question that He addressed to Cain: "What have you done?" (Gen 4:10) What indeed have we done as Americans and as Catholics? How has it come to this?
We force untold millions into dire poverty by unjustly distributing wealth between peoples and social classes. We shed blood in war and scandalously trade arms. We spread drugs, recklessly tamper with the world's ecological balance, encourage immoral sexual activity involving grave risks to life, denigrate the natural meaning of the family, and toy with cloning other human beings.
Even this list, however, does not tell the whole story. Science and technology have come up with "systematically programmed threats" against life (#17). Among the symptoms of death infecting society, we can note especially the following:
· abortion Enormous sums of money are now being spent to fund research and promote drugs which make it possible to kill an unborn child without recourse to physicians.
· infanticide Equally worrisome is the increase in infanticide. Children born with serious handicaps or diseases are denied the most basic care, so as to hasten their death.
· artificial reproduction Techniques of artificial procreation also lead to new assaults on life. Because the number of embryos produced is often greater than what is needed for implantation in the womb, such practices expose many embryos to grave risks. These so-called spare embryos are either destroyed or used for research. In the latter case, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, life is reduced to the level of simple biological material to be freely disposed of (#14).
· anti-birth campaigns Faced with a high rate of population increase, some nations are enacting anti-birth programs which deny parental rights to procreation, enforcing immoral methods of birth control.
· euthanasia Today the incurably ill and the dying are also exposed to serious risks. People are more and more succumbing to the temptation to resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death so that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable (#15). In some nations, causing the death of the severely handicapped, terminally ill, or elderly is, if not legalized, at least tolerated.
This truly alarming spectacle of assaults on life is lent support by
broad strata of public opinion which now justify violence against life. Human beings are
attacked at the dawn and dusk of life. Often such actions are no longer held to be
"crimes," but are claimed as "rights." Many demand not only exemption
from punishment for these offenses but also State authorization and financing.
The "conspiracy against life" unleashed after man's banishment from Eden continues unabated. Cain's murderous act is repeated daily. The ill, handicapped, or "burdensome" pose a threat to a comfortable way of life. These unwanted individuals, born and unborn, are regarded as "enemies" to be defended against, and even destroyed.
ABORTION: A SPECIAL CASE
The sacred value of human life is under siege. Among the many crimes against life abortion is "particularly serious and deplorable" (#58). According to Vatican II, it is truly an "unspeakable crime" (Gaudium et Spes, 51).
Procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing of a human being, by whatever means it is carried out, at any time between conception and birth. It includes the killing of human embryos "produced" for medical experiments or for tissue used to treat certain diseases.
Who is guilty of this crime? Besides the mother, moral responsibility lies with all those who directly or indirectly influence her to kill the unborn child.
The child's father may be to blame. This would be the case if he either exerts pressure on the mother to have an abortion or leaves her to face the pregnancy alone. Guilt for the sin can also extend to parents, other family members, and friends. Furthermore, complicity in abortion involves legislators and those who have encouraged "the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for motherhood" (#59). Doctors and medical personnel are likewise responsible, "when they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting life" (#59).
II. READING: LIFE AND THE LAW-OBEY GOD, NOT MAN
Contemporary attacks on life differ from those of earlier generations. Today many people demand the legal recognition of such attacks. How should citizens and politicians act when faced with laws against life?
Embrace the Public Square
Above all, I encourage all of you to participate in the political life of the nation. From the earliest days, Christians have been encouraged to take part in public life. Precisely as citizens of a democracy we seek political and legislative solutions which will serve the common good of all citizens. Despite the often discouraging results, we are called upon to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world."
How? As Catholics Armed with Faith and Reason
When Catholics take part in political life they must do in a way which conforms to their beliefs. We cannot abandon our faith in the voting booth or on the floor of the legislature. Catholics, like all human beings, seek to be coherent; that is, to manifest no split between their life of faith and their daily life-a daily life that includes our political activity. We take part in the political arena in a twofold way: both as human beings endowed with reason and as believers guided by faith. To leave either faith or reason aside is to break asunder what God has joined together in the unity of his truth.
I want to be clear on this point. Catholics do not bring their confessional beliefs into the public square, asking that their religious views be given special consideration. No, in the matter of abortion-while we are given even greater surety and comfort by our faith-we enter the public arena because the inviolability of human life is rooted in human nature itself and in the law written in the heart of every man and woman. Only an intolerant secularism which, unfortunately, is found among some of nation's elites, would exclude people of faith from participating, as believers, in political life.
Natural Moral Law
Good laws must acknowledge, respect, and promote the authentic moral values known to human beings from creation itself. We call this higher law the "natural moral law." It is that law invoked by the judges at Nuremberg who sentenced Nazi war criminals not for breaking any civil law but for "crimes against humanity itself."
Good laws ensure that everyone enjoys the fundamental rights which innately belong to the person (EV 71). Foremost among these rights is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. Because the state is not the source of human rights, it may neither modify nor abolish them.
"The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law," observes the Holy Father in Evangelium Vitae, "is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church" (72). It is also the precious heritage of all civilization.
When Civil Law Contradicts the Moral Law
What are Catholics to do when the law oversteps its bounds? What if - as in America - it legalizes the direct killing of innocent human beings? In Evangelium Vitae, the Pope restates a firm principle of Catholic teaching: "A civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law" (72).
Anti-life legislation denies the equality of everyone before the law and contradicts the common good. Abortion and euthanasia are, therefore, "crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize" (73).
Neither invoking respect for the rights of others, nor appealing to the fact that civil law permits crimes against life, makes it morally licit to obey such a law. The refusal to take part in attacks on innocent human life is an absolute moral duty for Catholics who wish to remain in full communion with the Church.
Supporting and Voting for Anti-Life Legislation
Scientific progress in recent years-most notably in the possibility of cloning but also of a whole range of genetic issues-requires Catholics to understand clearly the fullness of the Church's teaching on human dignity and human life.
Is it not the task of Catholics to be prophetic? Do we not have both the right and the duty "to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard"? (Note, 4).
The Congregation's recent Note makes it clear that "those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them" (Note, 4).
It is all a matter of being consistent and coherent, of not leaving one's beliefs at the door of the church, home or school. It is, when you think of it, absurd to imagine that a well-informed Catholic would want to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts a belief as fundamental as the sacred value of human life.
The Church's doctrine is clear and unambiguous. Catholics have a right to engage in political life precisely as believers. They cannot use coercion or force, but they must raise their prophetic voice about matters they hold dear, especially those touching human life and dignity.
We should not be apologetic, nor feel guilty about such interventions, as if we were dragging religion into the public arena. In upholding the value of life we are defending the very essence of the moral law which builds all human beings: the need to defend the human person from the first moment of his or her conception.
Today in the United States some people are starting to rethink our permissive abortion laws, placing certain restrictions on them. This raises delicate questions for Catholic voters and politicians. How should they respond to a proposed law whose purpose is to replace an existing law with one aimed at reducing the number of legal abortions?
In carefully chosen words, the Pope answers: "When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality" (#73).
If a politician's opposition to abortion is publicly known - and hence the possibility of scandal is removed - he or she could vote for a more restrictive law, even if it does not fully protect all innocent life. To vote for such a law can be a legitimate way of striving to reduce the evil effects of more liberal legislation.
CONCLUSION: PEOPLE OF LIFE AND FOR LIFE
Amidst all the turmoil, the legislative agendas, the day-to-day dealings with assaults on life, let us remember that God has given us the mission to be "a people of life and for life" (#78).
We are people of life because God has saved us through Christ. We are beneficiaries of his mercy and called to share that mercy with others.
How can we do this in League City?
We preach the good news of Jesus, the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman, and to make it penetrate every part of society" (#80).
What is the core of this Gospel? The Gospel of life heralds that human life, as God's gift, is sacred and inviolable. Even if faced with hostility and unpopularity, the people for life must reject any compromise with an anti-life mentality.
We celebrate the Gospel of life means to celebrate the God of life, the God who gives life" (#84). He alone is the wellspring of existence. With gratitude for the beauty and grandeur of this gift. This entails the appreciation of every human life as a "wonder" created by God (Ps 139:14). When individuals cultivate an attitude of religious awe before the mystery of life, they are drawn to honor the face of Christ in everyone.
We promote human life through works of charity. Individual acts of mercy, volunteer work, social activity, and political commitment all manifest the "faith working through love" (Gal 5:6) of the people for life. They care for "all life and for the life of everyone" (#87).
Only a common effort of all people for life believers and non believers alike will lead to "a civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, Creator and lover of life" (#106).
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