by Helen Hull Hitchcock
“Walk as children of light … and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8,10-11).
This admonition of Saint Paul to the Christian community in Ephesus is certainly as urgent for Christians in 2009 as it was when he wrote it in the 1st century. We are called to bring the light of Christ into a world of darkness. Indeed the call to transform the culture in which we live a culture of radical individualism, which Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism”, and which Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death” can hardly be more urgent than it is today. Or more difficult.
Almost daily we are confronted with serious conflicts over the most fundamental truths about human existence the very meaning of human life. Abortion and euthanasia are perhaps the most dramatic examples, but this conflict includes essential attitudes about the nature of human beings as male and female, with all its implications for relationships among people within society and within the Church, and about the family and the begetting and raising of children the future of the human race.
This relativism, so often expressed as “you have your truth, and I have mine”, is a distortion of human freedom that can only lead to conflict and cultural chaos. If it doesn’t matter what you choose, so long as it’s “right for you”, how can we establish a coherent society? Logically, there can’t be two conflicting truths. One cannot maintain simultaneously that an unborn child has a right to life, and that its mother has the right to kill it. One view is right and the other is wrong. To maintain that both killing the child and defending its life are interchangeable, equally valid, is, literally, nonsense. It is futile to search for “common ground” that would address both assertions.
Especially dramatic signs of this “dictatorship of relativism” and how it undermines cultural coherence have been revealed in the last two presidential elections, where prominent Catholic politicians have publicly supported policies that directly conflict with core Catholic doctrine notably the fundamental dignity and worth of every human life.
The founders of our country believed that government should be for the protection and defense of freedom and justice for all not just for the powerful or any particular group. Their idea was based on a concept of the “common good” the good of all people, excluding no individual or group. But what do we understand today by the “common good”?
Can we re-establish, in our increasingly complex and diverse society, a common understanding of the “common good”? One that will overcome the “dictatorship of relativism” and unite us in a common cause for the good of all? Is this even possible today? What is the responsibility of Christians to work in concert with people who do not share our religious beliefs? Can we hope to overcome conflicting opinions about such fundamental questions in our fragmented culture of today? Where to begin?
At the end of the Wednesday general audience on February 18, Pope Benedict greeted the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. It is not at all unusual for various dignitaries to meet the pope in this way. But this meeting assumed greater significance because of Mrs. Pelosi’s high political office and because she is a self-described “ardent Catholic” whose public opposition to key Catholic teaching, notably on abortion, is even more ardent.
Because of this, the Vatican News Service briefly reported what the pope said to this important member of the US government. Pope Benedict, the report says, “took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development”.
Mrs. Pelosi’s own report on the meeting omitted any reference to what the Holy Father said to her, but her spokesman assured reporters that she would not change her “pro-choice” views. Did what Pope Benedict said have any effect on her beliefs or her future actions? Probably not. But what if he had refused to meet her, or had not put this burden of truth on her Catholic conscience? It was a necessary teaching moment, even if this particular pupil refused to be taught.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness”, Saint Paul wrote, “but instead expose them … for when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible…. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:11,13,15-16).
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II spoke of the critical need to transform our culture. The first and fundamental step, he wrote, “consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life. It is of the greatest importance to re-establish the essential connection between life and freedom.”
He did not minimize the difficulty of the work ahead: “The challenge facing us is an arduous one”, he wrote: “only the concerted efforts of all those who believe in the value of life can prevent a setback of unforeseeable consequences for civilization”.
Indeed. And we must prepare ourselves to meet this challenge with renewed conviction.
This year Women for Faith & Family is observing the 25th anniversary of our pledge to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church, consistently and publicly, in season and out of season. We renew this pledge in the Affirmation for Catholic Women. And we pray that we may faithfully accept the call to “walk as children of light” and help to dispel the “works of darkness”.
May you have a blessed Eastertide, rejoicing that Jesus our Savior has overcome the world!
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