A Wound at the Source
In its relationship with the civil governments throughout the world, the Holy See sometimes enters into agreements which are called concordats. The concordat clearly defines the roles of both Church and State in their relationship with one another and imposes upon both parties certain obligations. When one or another of those obligations has not been fulfilled or the relationship is harmed at a very basic level, it is said that a wound has been inflicted on the agreement. In other words, something at the very core of the agreement has been affected and it disturbs, in a fundamental way, the relationship that had been entered into.
In creating us according to His own image, God has brought us into the fundamental relationship of creatures with Him as our loving Creator. As Christians we also know that the God who "wonderfully created us", "even more wonderfully redeemed us" (Opening Prayer, Mass of Christmas day). This act of Redemption also affects the entire human race and offers salvation even to those who are not aware of its source. However, a serious and fundamental wound has been inflicted upon this relationship in our own country, which we love so much, as well as in many other countries throughout the world: the wound of abortion. The work of God's creation and the work of man and woman called to cooperate in that work of creation are fundamental to who and what we are. This terrible act upon human life inflicts a serious wound at the very foundation of our relationship with our Creator and we must see it for what it is. This wound has also spread to other aspects of human life, always bringing with it its destructive force.
In 1975, the Bishops of the United States set aside the first Sunday of October as Respect Life Sunday, as part of their response to what was occurring in the United States and elsewhere. The faithful are encouraged to place particular emphasis during this time on recognizing the sanctity of human life at all stages, from conception until natural death. Since we have just begun Respect Life Month and this Sunday, October 7, is Respect Life Sunday, we will make this issue the topic of our reflection this week.
Recognizing a Wound
We all know that when we see or feel the symptom of a wound or an illness, there is a temptation to ignore it or dismiss it, hoping that it will just go away. We also know that this delaying mechanism, while understandable, can ultimately be harmful and even fatal. A wound must first be recognized for what it is. Then, it must be treated.
What we might call "smoke screen terminology" has attempted to blur the realities we are dealing with here. "Terminating a pregnancy" has become the euphemism for abortion. "Mercy killing" or "euthanasia" have become the euphemisms for taking the life of another. A physician who does not detect, or who detects but does not reveal, possible major physical or mental challenges in an unborn child can be sued for "wrongful birth." If allowing the birth was wrong, what was the desired alternative? We must first recognize these realities for what they are. Only then can we properly treat them. Otherwise, we are in danger of falling into that modern error, so often pointed out by our Holy Father, which denies our ability to know what is objectively true or false.
In a statement which I recently issued as Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, I pointed out the theme of the 2007 Respect Life Program in the context of recognizing the truth we are confronting with these issues. I would like to share a portion of that Statement with you at this time: "The theme of the 2007 Respect Life Program — ‘The Infant in My Womb Leaped for Joy'-calls to mind an extraordinary scene in Luke's Gospel (1:39-56). Mary, newly pregnant with the Lord Jesus, is visiting her elderly cousin Elizabeth whose son, John, will soon be born. The moment Mary's greeting reaches Elizabeth's ears and John's, the tiny prophet announces to his mother the Messiah's arrival, as if his entire being were exclaiming: Behold! The Lamb of God! There was no confusion as to what and who were nestled under their mother' hearts. Yet 2,000 years later, many well-educated people do not know — or claim they do not know — the truth about human life before birth."
It is curious to note that even an organization such as Planned Parenthood, at one time acknowledged the basic truth of life within the womb in its materials recommending "birth control." They wrote of their recommended means of artificial birth control: "Is it an abortion? Definitely not. An abortion kills the life of the baby after it has begun" (Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness, Planned Parenthood — World Population, 1963). In Psalm 33, we read: "But the plan of the Lord stands forever, wise designs through all generations. Happy the nation whose God is the Lord the people chosen as his very own" (Psalms 33: 11-12). What is eternally true concerning God's plan does not suddenly become untrue.
This blurring of truth, willingly or unwillingly, often eventually leads to a denial of reality that asserts that the infant in the womb is not a human person because we cannot really know "when human life begins," as the New Jersey Supreme Court recently claimed; or that the sick who lack conscious awareness can be denied food and hydration because they are not fully human but "vegetative;" or that human embryos can be used for stem cell research because they are "no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence." In the physical order, blurred vision can lead to tragic consequences; so also in the moral order.
What Is the Remedy?
In order for a serious wound to heal, a remedy must be applied. We are not powerless creatures who are mere bystanders or victims of circumstance. The remedy for a return to virtue is always offered to us. In the first place, we must make clear that we are friends of all true science. The marvels of modern medicine and scientific research and discovery have been among the wonderful blessings of our age. However, when the creature, regardless of intelligence and ability, confuses himself with the Creator we have gone beyond beneficial scientific progress. A couple of weeks ago, addressing another topic, I quoted from a homily Pope Benedict XVI gave during his pilgrimage to Mariazell, Austria. We can continue here with some additional words of the Holy Father from that same homily: "If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: They can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a horrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world. We need truth" (Homily at Mariazell, Austria, 8 September 2007).
Some may wish to portray the Church as being obsessed with the question of abortion or they may wish to turn it into a political issue. As we have stated many times in previous topics: It is the dignity of the human person that the Church is concerned with and any acts of violence against that dignity concern the Church. If the issue has become politicized, it is not due to the Church but to the unfortunate state of society that would even make these basic issues of human dignity and the natural law questions for the political forum.
This is also a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the work of the Catholic Church, in the United States alone, that reflects the wide application of our teaching concerning the dignity of the human person. Our activity is by no means limited to a single issue. Here are some statistics, not including Catholic educational institutions, for one recent year alone, that show forth the application of this teaching in so many ways:
556 Catholic hospitals treated 84,736,305 patients
More than 1,673 local Catholic Charities agencies provided the following:
– Services that build strong communities to 3,411,470 people
– Food Services (food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens) to 5,677,257 people
– Services that strengthen families to 1,150,226 people
– Housing related services to 591,757 people
– Other basic needs (financial, clothing, utilities assistance) to 1,578,579 people
– Disaster services to 99,863 people
I will close here with the closing paragraph of the Statement I issued on behalf of the Bishops' Pro-Life Committee in preparation for this year's Respect Life Sunday:
"On this Respect Life Sunday, we ask Catholics and all people of good will to witness to the truth about the incomparable dignity and right to life of every human being. This is no sectarian creed. The ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world' (Preamble, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). And that is the truth."