Saturday, January 21, 2012
A Shepherd’s Voice
Fully Pro-Life As you read my column today, I am likely on a bus with scores of other Catholics from our parish and from the Cape headed to our nation’s Capitol for tomorrow’s annual March for Life. This is always such a powerful experience bringing often around a million Americans together to stand up for the cause of life and to be promoters of what Blessed John Paul the Great so famously coined the “Culture of Life.” So, please pray for all of us making this journey today.
We all know the church’s stand against abortion. We all know the statistics about this scourge that has been such a polarizing issue in our country for just shy of 30 years now. We all know that our hopes and prayers continue to be that every child is a wanted child and that all people can come to understand the inherent, God-given dignity of every created human life. But, where we continue to need to grow is on extending our understanding of that dignity outside of the womb. And perhaps that is our current and constant challenge.
It is perhaps highlighted every four years as we end up in a presidential election cycle. Right now, our airwaves are filled with candidates who claim to be Pro-Life, but even a casual glance at their websites or campaign materials show us that most often, this isn’t true. They may have a good record on the issue of abortion – and thank God for that. But, when it comes to the poor, when it comes to the sick, when it comes to the immigrant (both legal and illegal), when it comes to the prisoner on death row, too many of them – too many of us – fail to uphold the same worthy and holy standard on life.
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of happy memory, famously coined the phrase “the seamless garment” when it comes to the pro-life teaching of the Catholic Church. It is a phrase that reminds us that there are no gaps, no loopholes, no exceptions when it comes to the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death and at all the moments in between.
The classic divide is that we often find people who are against abortion and in favor of the death penalty or vice versa. If we are one of these people then we have no real understanding of what the Church teaches and believes. Those who fall into these discordant categories are approaching the cause of life situationally and not theologically and without consistency. The logic goes like this – who could harm an innocent baby? So, no abortion. And, who couldn’t harm a guilty criminal? So, yes to the death penalty. The flaw is that this mindset assumes (perhaps unconsciously) that we somehow earn our human dignity. In other words, the baby hasn’t done anything to lose the dignity and the criminal has. But, God says something different – the dignity of the human person is not a reflection of our action (when you’re good it is strong, when you’re bad it is weak). The dignity of the human person is inherent in us and given to us, not earned by us, from God. It is His divine imprint on us. We can accept and embrace it or we can deny it, but it cannot be taken away from us – ever. When we disrespect even the dignity of the criminal, we disrespect God’s presence in them.
It is easy to stand up for the defenseless baby in the womb and thank God we do. It isn’t so easy to stand up for the criminal, the life-long poor, the illegal immigrant and so on – and yet it is our call. It is in the end what it means to be truly and to be fully pro-life. The key is in always understanding and embracing that human dignity wherever we find it. And, we find it whenever we find another human being. If we don’t see it in others, how can we ever expect others to respect the dignity God has placed in us?