"The Transcending Issue of Our Day"
If an issue involves the common good of the American people or the resolution of a moral question, the bishops of the United States have been willing to be of assistance to the state. However, the affirmation of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania, contained in our recently-issued public statement, remains true: “We bishops do not endorse any candidate or party. Our role is to teach and form consciences”.On a Series-related note, cowbells might be all the rage down in Rays Country, but the ringing of consecration bells is now particular law in the River City.
You know how often I have addressed the dignity of the human person in this column. I have done so in many different circumstances. One aspect of the dignity of the human person is the ability to reason and to know. Another aspect of human dignity is the affirmation of the rights of the individual’s conscience. However, if we fail to acknowledge any natural or revealed norms to guide and properly form our consciences, each of us could wind up justifying almost anything.
The human conscience is always at the service of truth and virtue, but it must be properly formed in order to function properly. We believe that because we are made in God’s image we have within our very nature a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. To us as human persons, this “law of the heart,” as it is sometimes called, requires a responsibility beyond laws enacted by governments.
We have seen an example of this very recently. One hundred Philadelphia police recruits were taken on a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The leadership of the Philadelphia Police Department wanted these recruits to see examples of cases in which the police in Nazi Germany carried out policies which were legal in that country at that time but immoral and unjustified in the eyes of civilized human persons, whose consciences told them that this was evil.
The conviction of Nazi war criminals after the Second World War was not based on the fact that what they did was illegal but that it was a crime against humanity, which can be recognized by any person of good will. Consequently, these leaders were held responsible for their actions, which had been legal but grossly evil and immoral.
Even in our own country, there were practices such as racial segregation or slavery, which were legal but evil and immoral. We are all familiar with the photographs of Catholic priests and Religious Sisters, as well as many members of the Catholic lay faithful, marching side by side with African-Americans to end the discrimination that was legal but evil and immoral. The Church is not only permitted to proclaim moral truths in the face of opposition but is obliged to do so as a proclamation of the dignity of the human person.
Our own common sense tells us that not every issue is of the same importance. At various times in history, a people or nation is confronted with an issue that transcends others in importance and that demands a courageous response.
The transcending issue of our day is the intentional destruction of innocent human life, as in abortion. We wish with all our hearts that no candidate and no party were advocating this heinous act against the human person. However, since it is a transcending issue, and even supported in its most extreme and horrific forms, we must proclaim time and time again that no intrinsic evil can ever be supported in any way, most especially when it concerns the gravest of all intrinsic evils: the taking of an innocent life.
We bishops of Pennsylvania quoted from the late Pope John Paul II’s Post Synodal Exhortation on the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful and I quote him again here: “The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici, 38).
At this moment in our country’s history, defense of innocent human life is a moral responsibility for all of us. The same God who thundered from Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt not kill,” thunders still. When life in the womb is destroyed, God thunders: “This is a child!” When by the most barbaric means, unworthy of any civilized people, the brain of a child is sucked out of his or her head by a vacuum, God thunders: “This is a child!” When a baby is left to die of exposure on a shelf because of a failed abortion, and this is considered a “right” by any leader, God, the Source of all law and authority, thunders: “This is a child!” When we are faced with every modern means of education and communication, in addition to the law placed in our hearts at creation, no one, and most especially, no Catholic, can ever say: “I did not know.”
The human dignity that we proclaim works two ways: it affords us a great privilege but it also demands a responsibility. The feeble defense “I did not know” cannot be used by any responsible person in our time when confronted with the reality of abortion. We do know. We know because we can reason and think and see. Along with this position, which is confirmed by modern science, comes a command: “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not a question of politics but a question of the gravest of intrinsic evils; and just as the reality of what it is cannot be explained away, neither can our responsibility.
For the record, the decision had nothing to do with baseball... then again, every little bit of heaven-storming helps.