ARCHBISHOP JEROME LISTECKI
When missionaries reached the shores of newly discovered lands, they were confronted with the culture of people who had no relationship to Christianity. In fact, some still practiced the brutal custom of human sacrifice to the gods they worshipped. Of course, this appalled the missionaries and adventurers who considered themselves both “enlightened and progressive.” However, in their zeal for the conversion of the native people, they used the message of Christianity to expunge this barbaric practice. It seemed simple on its face that human life demanded respect and this pagan practice did little to support the “imago dei,” the teaching that every life has the imprint of God on their being.
A couple of weeks ago, the state of New York passed legislation that allowed the extinction of a human life up until the moment of birth. As some have explained, even if the attempted abortion is botched and the baby born alive, there would be a right under the law to “euthanize” the baby. Is this the witness to Christianity and its teaching that our forefathers envisioned for our nation?
I have been part of the pro-life debate since my college and law school days, respectfully listening to those that defended the killing of the unborn. They put forth various arguments such as the right of a woman over her own body, the freedom to choose, the child is unwanted and becomes a burden on the society, the avoidance of back-alley abortions making it safe for a woman to terminate pregnancies, the necessity for a doctor and the patient to achieve privacy and, of course, this is not really a person but the collection of tissue.
The so-called Roe v. Wade decision issued by the Supreme Court (1973) was intended to settle the issue. Usually, most Supreme Court decisions bring a settlement to arguments in about a decade. Unfortunately, in the case of legalized abortion, the issue has only grown more intense. One of the reasons was the failure to establish when human life begins. For those of our Catholic faith, the teaching is clear: it begins at the moment of conception. But, for those who depend upon science to answer the question of when human life begins it would surprise many to realize that today there is little argument to counter the fact that the child in the womb is anything but human life. Discoveries in DNA research, ultrasound technologies and advancements in neonatology have allowed us to view the unborn child’s development and understand that all of us share in that human growth.
When Pope Benedict XVI was elected pope, one of the aspects that he warned society was the problem of “relativism.” There are no objective standards; moral absolutes do not exist. What is right is what people feel or think is right.
When I returned to teach moral theology at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, I knew I faced individuals who had received their ethical and moral education from colleges and universities that treated moral questions as argumentative. Many of my students would enter a moral or ethical class being informed by their teacher or professor that there were no right or wrong answers, it’s only your opinion that counts and no one can judge you as being right or wrong. It was a matter of persuasion. I knew I needed to impress upon the seminarians, our future priests, that there were certainly right or wrong answers. So I asked them is there any action that they could think of that could never be permitted or may never be justified. As they responded, it was evident that “the destruction of innocent life” found its place as an absolute. I informed them that they did not qualify as “relativist” but certainly had an absolute understanding, which acted as an objective standard apart from how I feel or what I think.
When Abraham Lincoln was asked about slavery, he stated if slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong. It seems to me Lincoln had an objective standard that demanded everything else be measured by it.
We have been losing the battle on college and university campuses for decades. They often feed their students a steady diet of “moral relativism.” For many individuals, political correctness has become the new “pseudo righteousness.” In our speech, we are offended by non-inclusive language, historical figures are judged by 21st century standards and the improper use of plastics receives legal sanctions. We praise our indignation of these social activities yet turn a blind eye to the yearly destruction of more than a million human lives.
It’s terrible that we in 2019 find our society in this position but even more so that we celebrate the horrific act of legalized “infanticide” popping champagne corks and lighting buildings to acknowledge the furtherance of the culture of death.
In our own personal lives, when we choose to do evil, there are consequences. It is called “sin.” When we choose to do evil as a society, there are consequences. There is a collective responsibility. The Old Testament prophets warned their communities that they were turning their backs on God’s will; unless they return to God there would be a reckoning. It is a fact that more than 50 million human lives have been denied birth since 1973. Doctors, scientists, engineers and saints were prevented from helping the human condition. Do you believe that our community has become more sensitive to the struggles of human life or has the creeping “culture of death” enshrined in our laws caused us to pursue other areas such as euthanasia or the discussion of eugenic sterilization (the creation of a master race) limiting human dignity? What was attributed to the callousness of the Nazis is now being embodied in the law of our nation.
What steps do we take to stem this ugly trend? Some would advocate the imposition of canonical sanctions (excommunication) upon the political leaders who support and promote this activity. Excommunication should be both a punishment but also medicinal. Many are Catholic in name only; any true Catholic would never think the taking of an innocent life would be tolerated by our faith. Others would desire that communion be denied these public figures and enforced by the local authorities, but many ignore Church authorities and I wonder how many are attending Church on a regular basis. Do you think these politicians are going to confession? Many call themselves Catholic but do they really understand the teachings of the Church? But the real problem lies with our Catholic community that justifies the voting for candidates who would support anti-life actions. Therefore, it begins with us making our voices heard as politicians vie for our votes and refusing to accept the rationalization that we can make these heinous actions rare and limited. Human life demands our respect, protection, and nothing less.