Building a Culture of Life
For it was you who created my being,
Knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
For the wonders of all your creation.
Already you knew my soul,
My body held no secret from you
When I was being fashioned in secret
And molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions,
They were all of them written in your book,
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being. (Psalm 139: 13-16)
I find the words of this psalm to be so very consoling. No matter what, God is by my side. He knows what‟s in my heart. These above-cited verses of the psalm are particularly inspiring when we reflect on the gift of life. I couldn‟t help but think that one verse seems to have been forgotten by many of us today: I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation.
We have, in so many ways, forgotten how to say „thank you‟ because, perhaps, we no longer consider human life as a wonder-full gift. If I don‟t embrace human life as a gift, then I need not treat it with any particular respect. The body becomes merely an object that I can do with as I please. Enter: pornography, contraception, euthanasia, abortion. My life is my life-- period. I am not beholden to anyone for it. It‟s my right to do with it as I see fit, as I choose.
Just a few verses further on, we hear the psalmist say: O search me, God, and know my heart. O test me and know my thoughts. See that I follow not the wrong path and lead me in the path of life eternal. The psalmist knows that he doesn‟t have all the answers, but seeks the Lord‟s constant guidance so that the wrong way is never taken. Sometimes we think we know better, we have all the answers and the guidance and direction offered by God‟s laws are ridiculed, at the least, ignored. Enter: the Culture of Death.
My sisters and brothers, we must read the signs of the times. The Catholic Church is often criticized for her supposed neglect of such a read. Yet, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, do not the signs scream out to us that these, too often, conscience numbing, self-serving times are becoming more and more self-destructive?
Back in 1994, in his Letter to Families (12), Pope John Paul II wrote: the signs of the times which we see today are providing new reasons for forcefully reaffirming the Church teaching on the sanctity of human life. St. Paul, himself so attentive to the pastoral demands of his day, clearly and firmly indicated the need to be “urgent in season and out of season and not to be daunted by the fact that sound teaching is no longer endured” (2 Tim 4:2-3).
This year our Church in the North Country is making a concerted effort to focus on the importance of our families. Tragically, in too many ways, we find ourselves deeply imbedded in a culture of death where the very fabric of our family is coming unwoven. Issues of life mean everything to the family.
So what do we do? Throw in the towel? Leave it all up to God? Ours is an urgent moral challenge. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough. The progress of society should not be confused with the growth of the Kingdom of God. As Catholic Christians we must be leaven in our world. We must be about the business of informing and forming our culture based on the Gospel and Church teaching, not the other way around. It‟s not a question of when will the Church “get with it” and change. It‟s a question of when will we, our culture, “get with it” and change, particularly when it comes to issues that continue to feed our culture of death.
In his homily at the Vigil for all nascent life on the First Sunday of Advent, the Holy Father said: Cultural trends exist that seek to anaesthetize consciences with spurious arguments. Science clearly indicates that the unborn child is not an accumulation of biological material but rather a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new individual of the human species.
In his encyclical of 2005, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict reminded us that it isn’t the Church’s responsibility to make its teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences…The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the state. Yet, at the same time, she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice (28). In all humility, he writes, we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we (35).
So what can we do? What must we do? I know that it might sound like a cliché to some or a cop out to others. But, first and foremost, what every person can and must do is: PRAY. Please, please persevere in prayer. At Mass, at Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, in personal prayer at home, while praying the Holy Rosary, consciously pray for life. I often find it helpful to focus my prayer on a given occasion because there are so very many facets of our pro-life efforts that need divine intervention. For instance, at one time my prayer may focus just on the woman contemplating an abortion, or the father. At another time we may wish to focus our prayer on parents who have chosen to have an abortion, or on the abortion providers. We can focus our prayer on children who must struggle with end of life decisions for their elderly parents. We must pray for those who promote a culture of death, such as Planned Parenthood and those lawmakers, particularly those Catholic politicians, who are more concerned about the winds of political correctness than protecting the gift of human life.
And, most importantly, we must pray for ourselves…for our own ongoing personal conversion. When our language and behavior become mean-spirited and self-righteous in our own Pro-Life efforts, we become a walking contradiction to what we say we believe about the dignity of all human life. So, you see, there is a whole lot of room for prayers—prayers for all of us. Our prayers will not go unanswered. Be strong. Be persistent. Be patient. It is the Lord‟s work. There is but one Messiah. Invite others, family members and friends, to pray with you.
Another concrete action that we can take as individuals is to regularly celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to do acts of penance for the many times that we attack the
dignity of the persons with whom we come in contact. Perhaps, most especially we need to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the ones with whom we live and take for granted the most—our family members.
Several weeks ago, I wrote to all of our pastors asking them to submit to me names of parishioner contact persons who can serve as life liaisons with our diocesan Pro-Life Office. I believe this is a way that the Diocese can better focus our efforts to promote life issues. There has been much written out there. And, as you know, some of that correspondence is way out there. It‟s one thing to be passionate, another to be un-Christian. I cannot and we must not support the use of vitriolic, self-righteous and condemnatory language to make the faithful see things our way…whether it‟s from the far left or the far right of the ideological spectrum. Such communication is self-defeating, falling on deaf ears, even many times „turning off‟ pro-life ears. While everyone has the right to communicate his or her thoughts, I have the responsibility to ensure that the local Church speaks with one united voice. A major responsibility of the bishop is to promote the unity of the faithful. I‟m hoping that we enable our parishes to become even stronger advocates of the Church teaching on life issues through the ministry of these contact persons. If you don‟t know who it is, ask your pastor for the name of the life contact person for your parish. Communication of the Church‟s teaching and pro-life efforts will be channeled to the pastor and local parish through this contact person.
What else can we do? Continue what you have been doing so faithfully—encourage people to write to our legislators, sign up online with the New York State Catholic Advocacy Network. If you‟re able, participate in the annual March for Life in Washington. Consider participating in peaceful prayer vigils where abortions are being performed. Be faithful. Not any one person can do everything and be involved in all Pro-Life activities. However, every person should be contributing in some manner. The Pro-Life ministry is working on many, many fronts because the mission is not an easy one today.
For instance, back in 1998, our nation‟s bishops wrote that bringing a respect for human dignity to practical politics can be a daunting task. There is such a wide spectrum of issues involving the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. Good people frequently disagree on which problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem. In other words, the choice of certain ways of acting is always and radically incompatible with the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in His image. Direct abortion is never, never a morally tolerable option (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n.21).
We need to reawaken the spiritual energy that seems to have lain dormant over the last generation or two. We Catholics need to make a life-long commitment to religious education and formation. It is no secret that so many Catholics of the last couple of generations are ignorant of the Catholic faith, of the very basics. Parents, adults must first look to our own faith formation in order to better prepare our young people with their own faith. It is our sacred responsibility.
We began an adult education series in a couple of my previous parishes entitled: LIFE MATTERS. I presented Church teaching on life issues such as abortion, contraception, capital punishment, euthanasia, stem cell research, cloning, among other current life issues because life matters. Why Catholic? sessions in our parishes were another excellent opportunity for our parishioners to learn about the essential teachings of our faith using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the source book.
Perhaps, too often we have lacked the courage to live and proclaim our faith. Why? We don‟t know it. We are not educated in the truths of our faith. We either don‟t know it or we have an incomplete understanding of why the Catholic Church teaches what it does. For many of the faithful, our education in the faith ended on the day of our Confirmation. So, when, as adults, we are questioned about our faith, we are silent because the answers we learned in grade school seem inadequate or we are silent because we just don‟t know the answer.
Our Catholic Church must be more than something we just attend on the weekend. It must inform my behavior once I leave the sacred walls on Sunday. For instance, with the great advances in medical technology, comes the responsibility to apply Church teaching to the proper use of this technology. Because we can do something doesn‟t mean we ought to. And, again, I must not only seek to learn Church teaching, but, most importantly, its motivation, the reasons behind the teaching.
Years ago, in 1995, Pope John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, wrote: Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh, is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore, every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God…
The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life. (3) Adult faith formation helps us to form correct consciences.
Our prophetic responsibility of forming the culture has been hijacked. Instead, we are clearly being conditioned, “formed” if you will, by today‟s societal “values.” In his book, Credo for Today (2009), Pope Benedict provides an insight as to why this hijacking is taking place. Our culture today insists: “It‟s all about me!” The Pope tells us: We all necessarily find ourselves, time and again, construing and seeing other things and people solely in relation to our own selves, regarding them as satellites, as it were, revolving around the hub of our own self. Becoming a Christian is something quite simple and yet completely revolutionary. It is just this: achieving the Copernican revolution and no longer seeing ourselves as the center of the universe, around which everyone else must turn, because instead of that we have begun to accept quite seriously that we are one of many among God’s creatures, all of whom turn around God as their center.
Being Christian means having love; it means achieving the Copernican revolution in our existence, by which we cease to make ourselves the center of the universe, with everyone else revolving around us. Who among us would not have to admit that he is more or less living in the pre-Copernican illusion and looking at other people, seeing them as real only in their relationship to our own selves? (pp 11-12)
My sisters and brothers, every day a new opportunity presents itself to witness to the faith and to be a herald of a Culture of Life. Every day we can be instruments of a revolution—conversion—where we recommit ourselves to again making God the center of our lives, not ourselves. The heart of our society is gravely wounded. The heartbeats of millions of unborn babies have been extinguished in the guise of freedom of choice. The heartbeats of future babies depend on such a personal commitment and ongoing conversion. It‟s time for such a revolution