Friday, October 19, 2012
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
October is Respect Life month in the Catholic Church. It is also the month of the rosary. In an election year it is helpful to reflect on what our faith teaches about our commitment in society. Our faith is not a purely private faith. It is meant to be lived in community. This is our understanding of God-the Trinity-Father, Son, and Spirit, is a communion of persons. At the core of Catholic social teaching is the "Dignity of the human person." What does this mean? Today is the feast of the North American martyrs, Oct. 19th. St. Isaac Jogues and companions brought the faith to North America and gave their lives for the faith. What would compel someone to do such a thing? Today's gospel gives the answer: " I tell you friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you: be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." (Lk 12:1-7) Fearlessly St. Isaac Jogues and his companions taught the native North Americans about the one true God. They taught them that they were created in His image and that they were and are "Fearfully and wonderfully made" as the Psalmist says. This is what the church means when it speaks about the "dignity of the human person." It is not based on what we do. It is based on who we are, children of God. Cardinal Wuerl of Washington DC has a book titled The Gift of Blessed John Paul II. In this book Cardinal Wuerl notes: "The dignity of the human person does not derive from any achievement, accomplishment, productivity, or external talent or attribute. We are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to a divine destiny, which transcends earthly life. As such, every human from the moment of conception to natural death is to be cherished and considered worthy of reverence and respect. It is for this reason that the Church defends so intensely the dignity of persons against all forms of slavery, exploitation, manipulation, and domination, whether these be inflicted in the field of politics, economics, medicine, science, or from cultural or ideological demands." (p. 160). This is why it is not accurate to call the Catholic pro-life position anti-abortion. At every stage of life from embryonic stem cells to workers in society, to the poorest of the poor, those on death row, and those about to enter eternity-all have an innate dignity which must be respected. Blessed John Paul II spoke about some of the threats to this teaching in modern society in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). If you have never read it, please do. It is an epic work that shows how the teachings of the Catholic church on life are not just "one issue" among many. The church teachings on life are the only teachings that matter. He says quite boldly in the opening paragraph: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message." Note, he does not say it is one issue among many...he says it is at the heart of the gospel message. The following passage I will quote at length. Pope Benedict XVI in one of his opening addresses as Pope noted that our current age is facing a "dictatorship of relativism." Here are his predecessors words: "Freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion, or indeed, his selfish interest and whim. This view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society. If the promotion of self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds." Don't we see this happening on the evening news every day? People are living in fear of one another. By rejecting objective truth and promoting "freedom of choice" we end up creating a society where everyone is wary of and fearful of their neighbor. Blessed John Paul II cuts through the rhetoric of contemporary politics with the wisdom of a prophet. Listen to these words:" The democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations:'How is it possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations practiced: some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and others are denied that dignity?' When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the state itself has already begun. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and to recognize that right into law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom." As long as abortion is legal in the United States we will not be free individuals. Plain and simple. The Pew research forum last week published results of a poll showing that a majority of Americans see themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious." This is consistent with sociological models that have showed a greater distrust of institutions and organized religion among the Generation X'ers and Busters (basically the young people in our society). What was disturbing was the stat that 52% of those feel the Church has no moral authority to speak on the issues of the day. Blessed John Paul II touched upon this in Evangelium Vitae:" But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity (abortion) has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self deception In this regard the reproach of the prophet is extremely straightforward: 'Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness' (IS 5:20) Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as 'interruption of pregnancy,' which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the direct and deliberate killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth." Strong words. How do we change from a "culture of death" to a "culture of life?" Simple. We need, each and everyone one of us, to stop and thank God for creating us in His image and likeness. We need to first realize that "we are worth more than many sparrows," that God's spirit lives in us. When we realize that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" we will recognize that our neighbor is as well. We will change our language and no longer call an innocent unborn child a "choice." We will have networks of support groups to help women overcome their fears and make the right decisions. "Nothing is impossible with God."