October 7, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The true meaning of freedom and justice is lost without God

As we were reminded on Respect Life Sunday, our Church continues to stand up for the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of death. Some­ times it may seem like ours is a lonely voice. My thanks to so many of you who hold fast to your pro-life commitment in a culture drifting more and more from its source, the Creator of our human dignity, God himself.

The culture of life is challenged in many ways. Recently, the Holy See brought to the attention of us bishops a document that is currently being circulated under the title “Religious Declaration on the MDG’s, (United Nations Millennium Development Goals) Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health.” It asserts “A Faith-Filled Commitment to Development Includes a Commitment to Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health.” It is sponsored by the “International Interfaith Network on Development and Reproductive Health” and is endorsed by (self-styled) “Catholics for a Free Choice.”

The intent is to send the statement with signatures from “religious scholars, clergy and advocates” to heads of state, United Nations chiefs and religious leaders. The purpose is to ensure that reproductive health and rights are included in the discussion of the “Millennium Development Goals” Summit that was to be held in September at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

The terms “reproductive health and “reproductive rights” are so ambiguous as to include abortion, contraception and other illicit means of family planning that are clearly contrary to our Church’s teaching. I have not heard the results of the summit, but if the initiative succeeds, it would render useless the efforts of the Holy See to foster a culture of life in this area. And in the eyes of international authorities, the position of the Catholic Church in defense of basic moral values such as the dignity of human life would be discredited.

Since the initiative targeted people closely associated with religious organizations and communities, we are rightly concerned that well-intentioned individuals, including faithful Catholics, could mistakenly have been led to endorse this initiative without truly understanding the repercussions of their support.

One hates to think it, but perhaps this initiative was largely eclipsed by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, I cite it as an example of the manner in which erosion of the culture of life is intentionally fostered under the rubric of “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights.”

We continue to struggle to understand a mature definition of human freedom and individual rights. In our milieu that is grounded in a culture of individual freedom and democracy, it is difficult to have a perspective that includes the common good. Democracy is a good, but not an absolute good. Individual freedom is a good, but it goes wrong if the good of the individual does harm to the common good of society. It goes wrong if truth is determined by democratic vote or a personal choice.

What is happening in the cultural struggle over the dignity of human life is another example of the “dictatorship of relativism” described by Pope Benedict. If there is no absolute truth, then human values are up for grabs. Then an individual person can determine in any given instance whether or not human life has the right to exist. When the sole determination of what is morally true or good is left up to an individual’s choice, then that individual arrogates the role of God to himself or herself.

I believe it was in his homily before the conclave that the future Pope Benedict said, “Where man is no longer seen as one who is under the particular protection of God, there begins the barbarism which tramples on humanity. Where the sense of the singular dignity of each person, in the light of God’s design, is lost, there the project of mankind is horribly deformed and his freedom, devoid of rule, becomes monstrous.” Pope John Paul II called it the “culture of death.”

The appeal to human rights speaks to our sense of justice. Only weeks before his election, Pope Benedict said, “To be workers of this true justice, we must be workers who are being made just by contact with him who is justice itself: Jesus of Nazareth. The place of this encounter is the Church, nowhere more powerfully present than in her sacraments and liturgy.”

We sometimes forget that justice includes our responsibilities toward God himself. There is something fundamentally wrongheaded if we insist on certain human rights while not giving due reverence and worship to God. After all, we owe everything to God. That includes respecting his image and likeness mirrored in all of human life.

Perhaps we need to expand our understanding of the virtue of justice. If God is absent, it is meaningless. †


Local site Links: