Faith, Hope and Life
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly -- John 10:10
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Easter - hope - life. During this season of hope in Christ’s Resurrection, we face continued in fact intensified challenges to the most essential truths about human life and love. Is there any hope that you or I, or even the next generation, can transform the society in which we live the “culture of death”, as Pope John Paul II called it into a “culture of life”? What do we do about it? What can we do?
In his encyclical Spe Salvi (in hope we are saved) Pope Benedict XVI stressed that faith and hope are closely linked. The Gospel, he wrote “is not merely a communication of things that can be known it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life” (§2).
“All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action”, Pope Benedict writes. He urges us to act on our faith to witness to others. “This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad” (§35).
“The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer”, he writes. “A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society” (§38).
The concept of “freedom” and “rights” has become so confused and distorted that these noble words are used to justify even the most inhuman and inhumane actions. The witness of Bernard Nathanson, the atheist founder of the militant pro-abortion group NARAL, is an eminent example of the power of truth to overcome profound evil. Dr. Nathanson, who died February 21, came to understand the utter horror of abortion the “silent scream” of children killed in their mother’s womb. It was this truth that compelled him to become a persuasive public opponent of the very evil that he had promoted, revealed to him the mercy of God, and drew him to the Catholic faith.
Last December, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix declared that a hospital that performed a direct abortion and violated other moral and ethical principles on contraception and sterilization “is not committed to following the teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore ... cannot be considered Catholic” (His statement was posted on the diocesan site, arizonacatholic.org/statements). The US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine supported the decision. (See Statement in this issue, page 14.)
If abortion is the most extreme evidence of the “culture of death”, it is not the only one. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are facets of the same devastating attack on human life.
Not unrelated is the attempt to redefine marriage. Aimed at abolishing the “restrictive” concept of the natural union of a man and a woman, this effort undermines the very concept of the family, which fosters and nurtures life, and which is and has always been the foundation of society.
The 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act” responded to this threat to the family. Fifteen years later, on February 23, the US Attorney General announced that President Obama believes the law is unconstitutional because it limits the federal definition of marriage to “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”, so the president “instructed the department not to defend the statute”. What has changed in fifteen years? When are “rights” wrong? Who decides?
The US bishops’ conference immediately responded with a statement decrying the president’s decision (usccb.org/ comm/archives/2011/11-037.shtml). The statement observed that “The principal basis for today’s decision is that the president considers the law a form of impermissible sexual orientation discrimination”. In their 2009 Pastoral Letter on marriage, Love and Life in the Divine Plan, the US bishops forthrightly addressed these challenges to the marriage and the family (usccb.org/loveandlife/MarriageFINAL.pdf).
It is our bishops’ responsibility to defend the faith. As the Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium §25 states:
[B]ishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers ... endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old (cf. Mt 13:52), making it [faith] bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock (cf. II Tim 4:14).
We strongly support our bishops who must confront the serious challenges to essential Christian doctrine and moral teaching. And we aim to follow their example. All Christians are obliged “to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him ... and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference”, as Pope Benedict said in a 2006 interview in Germany.
But it is important to remember that the truth about life is not just for Catholics or religious believers, as Pope Benedict stressed in his message to the Pontifical Academy for Life February 26. He said, “the moral nature of human action is not an extrinsic or optional value, nor is a prerogative only of Christians and believers; rather, it unites all mankind. Through moral conscience God speaks to each of us, inviting us to defend human life at all times, and in this personal bond with the Creator lies the profound dignity of moral conscience and the reason for its inviolability”.
There is no freedom without truth. The message of the Church is a message of life and love manifested by Jesus, the Son of God. Living our Christian faith carries with it a serious obligation to witness to and act upon the truth of Christ. One highly encouraging sign of faith in action is the participation of so many thousands young people in pro-life marches a sign of lively faith, hope and love that can transform the world.
In the Gospel of John Chapters 9 and 10 we read of how Jesus’ love and mercy were revealed in His miraculous healing of a blind man. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus, He warned against evil thieves and robbers who come to destroy, and gave this assurance: “I am come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” ... “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:10,14-15).
This is our faith. Herein is our hope.
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