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Voices Online Edition -- Vol. XXII, No. 2
Pentecost 2007

Inside Voices
Discipleship Has a Cost

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“April is the cruelest month”, begins T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland. I could not help thinking of this line when I looked at my hydrangea bush a few days ago. Enticed to unfurl its new leaves and tender buds by unseasonably warm days in early April, after a long harsh winter, its efforts were zapped to the ground by a prolonged freeze mid-month. No blooms this year, for certain. Will the bush survive? And what will become of the fruit trees? Time will tell.

But the ups and downs during April were not just metrological, and the pressures not only barometric.

On April 18, The US Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision to uphold the “Partial-birth Abortion Act” outlawed the grisly procedure of sucking out the contents of an infant’s skull after it is almost completely born.

This decision was great good news.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Philadelphia, who heads the US bishops’ Respect Life Committee stated, “Today, after a decade of struggle in legislatures and courts, the US Supreme Court finally upheld a federal law prohibiting the brutal and inhumane partial-birth abortion procedure. This is the first time in thirty-four years that the Court has upheld a ban of any type of abortion.

“The Court’s decision does not affect the legal status of the great majority of abortions, and does not reverse past decisions claiming to find a right to abortion in the Constitution”, Cardinal Rigali noted. “However, it provides reasons for renewed hope and renewed effort on the part of pro-life Americans. The Court is taking a clearer and more unobstructed look at the tragic reality of abortion, and speaking about that reality more candidly, than it has in many years.…

“We hope today’s decision marks the beginning of a new dialogue on abortion, in which fair-minded consideration will be given to the genuine interests of unborn children and their mothers, to the need for an ethically sound medical profession, and to society’s desperate need for a foundation of respect for all human life”, he concluded.

The five Catholic justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Alito) affirmed the PBA Act. This spurred a wave of anti-Catholicism from militant pro-abortion activists (a peculiarly nasty example was a newspaper cartoon showing the five Catholic justices smiling triumphantly and wearing enormous bishops’ mitres, while the other four looked at them in dismay).

Two days after the Supreme Court decision was handed down, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a superb address on religion and the common good at a conference Cardinal Rigali held in Philadelphia.

“The ‘common good’ is more than a political slogan”, Archbishop Chaput said. “It’s more than what most people think they want right now. It’s not a matter of popular consensus or majority opinion. It can’t be reduced to economic justice or social equality or better laws or civil rights, although all these things are vitally important to a healthy society”.

“The common good is what best serves human happiness in the light of what is real and true”, he continued. “That’s the heart of the matter: What is real and true? If God exists, then the more man flees from God, the less true and real man becomes. If God exists, then a society that refuses to acknowledge or publicly talk about God is suffering from a peculiar kind of insanity. What can the ‘common good’ mean in the context of Nietzsche’s superman or Marx or Freud or Darwin? These men became the architects of our age. But they were also just the latest expressions of a much deeper and more familiar temptation to human pride.…

“Only one question really matters. Does God exist or not? If He does, that has implications for every aspect of our personal and public behavior: all of our actions, all of our choices, all of our decisions. If God exists, denying Him in our public life — whether we do it explicitly like Nietzsche or implicitly by our silence — cannot serve the common good, because it amounts to worshiping the unreal in the place of the real.

“Religious believers built this country. Christians played a leading role in that work. This is a fact, not an opinion. Our entire framework of human rights is based on a religious understanding of the dignity of the human person as a child of his or her Creator. Nietzsche once said that ‘convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies’.

“In fact, the opposite is often true. Convictions can be the seeds of truth incarnated in a person’s individual will. The right kinds of convictions guide us forward. They give us meaning. Not acting on our convictions is cowardice. As Christians we need to live our convictions in the public square with charity and respect for others, but also firmly, with courage and without apology. Anything less is a form of theft from the moral witness we owe to the public discussion of issues. We can never serve the common good by betraying who we are as believers or compromising away what we hold to be true.…

“We most truly serve the common good by having the courage to be disciples of Jesus Christ. God gave us a free will, but we need to use it. Discipleship has a cost. Jesus never said that we didn’t need a spine. The world doesn’t need affirmation. It needs conversion. It doesn’t need the approval of Christians. It needs their witness. And that work needs to begin with us....”

(Archbishop Chaput’s entire address is on the Denver archdiocesan web site)

A few days after Archbishop Chaput’s encouraging address, a brother bishop was challenged to witness to the common good. On April 25, Saint Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke held a press conference explaining his actions when he learned that a singer, Sheryl Crow, a pro-abortion and pro-embryonic stem-cell research activist, had been engaged to perform at a benefit for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Despite Archbishop Burke’s urgent pleas, the Catholic hospital’s fund-raising foundation (of which he was chairman of the board), was adamant. He resigned from the foundation’s board. His video and print statements explaining his action were posted on the archdiocesan web site).

The reactions from abortion supporters were — well — intemperate. During the 2004 election campaign, Archbishop Burke had not endeared himself to abortion proponents by his strong stand on the obligations of citizens — and especially of Catholic politicians — to support the common good of protecting human life.

Women for Faith & Family wrote the following letter to the hospital’s foundation on April 27:

“We are deeply dismayed that Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital’s long tradition of care for even the most disabled and vulnerable children was betrayed by its Foundation in the choice to showcase the singer Sheryl Crow at the benefit dinner. Ms. Crow is well-known for her vigorous and very public advocacy both of abortion and of embryonic stem-cell research. Her strong, though deeply misguided, stand for choosing death for ‘unwanted’ and utterly defenseless children flies in the face of the most basic human moral beliefs; reflects a perverse reading of ‘women’s rights’ that finds unborn children expendable; and denies the intrinsic worth of embryonic human life — the first phase of development of each one of us.

“It is incomprehensible to us that your decision-makers for this event (e.g., Allen Allred, Bob Costas) chose to undermine the hospital’s long history of service to children and their families (including many of our own) by insisting on this choice of entertainment to promote its work. It is even more incomprehensible that a hospital owned and operated by a Catholic institution, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, is blind to the message this choice conveys, and to the effect this will have on the very community it serves.

“We agree wholeheartedly with Archbishop Raymond Burke in his criticism of this choice by the Board of Governors, and who, as leader of the Catholic community in St. Louis, was compelled to voice opposition to your action — to the point of resigning as chairman of your Foundation’s Board. He was right, and we are grateful that he did not hesitate to say what is true.

“It is deeply ironic, also, that your decision openly conflicts with the Cardinal Glennon Hospital’s own commitment and long tradition of reverence for all human life, and the incalculable good the hospital has done for the countless children it has served throughout the years.

“As an organization representing about 50,000 Catholic women and their families in the United States, we must protest”.

(The letter is also posted on the WFF web site. We had not received a response as of press time.)

In her op-ed column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch April 29, our friend Colleen Carroll Campbell observed that “Ever since Archbishop Raymond Burke resigned as board chairman of the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation last week, he has been clobbered with criticism. Detractors have labeled him a bigot and bully, slammed him for mixing religion and politics, and accused him of allowing personal bias to trump concern for sick children”.

“Today’s religious leaders increasingly face a double standard when it comes to their public pronouncements”, she pointed out. “They can say what they want as long as they express politically correct views or stay mum on hot-button social issues. This stifling of religious voices is intended to prevent religious conflicts in the public square. But it also prevents the most fundamental form of deliberation necessary to the functioning of a pluralistic democracy: honest debates about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood”.


Robert P. George addressed this theme in his speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life, reprinted in this issue of Voices. Nearly every article in this issue takes on the serious matter of the Christian’s responsibility to confront what is evil and false and wrong with what is good and true and right.

Another sort of witness of religious believers is recorded in an unusual photographic book, reviewed in this issue. Both our front and back covers contain striking examples of a kind of visual Christian witness that is distinctly American. (WFF has a particular interest in the Bible Road book. The author-photographer, Sam Fentress, is the son-in-law of one of WFF’s founding members, the late Anne Connell — and the Hitchcocks’ godson.)

Witness has never been easy. Fierce opposition to truth is hardly a new phenomenon. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this in his homily last year on Pentecost: “Human pride and egoism always create divisions, build walls of indifference, hate and violence. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, makes hearts capable of understanding the languages of all, as he re-establishes the bridge of authentic communion between earth and heaven. The Holy Spirit is Love”.

When the Lord spoke to His disciples in the Upper Room on Pentecost, He told them about the world’s hatred of Him and His followers. And He promised them that the Holy Spirit would console them, inspire and strengthen them for their mission: to bring Christ’s love to the world.

Their mission is also ours. Discipleship has a cost.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle within them the fire of your love!”  

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