LAST NOVEMBER, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed and reissued its document on political responsibility, titled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Accompanying it was a letter that read in part: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
Our bishops are right: The ongoing destruction of innocent human lives — more than 50 million since Roe v. Wade — must be “our preeminent priority” if Catholic social justice teaching is to retain its coherence.
It has been suggested that more attention should be given to the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete et Exsultate.
“Our defense of the innocent unborn,” the pope writes, “needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.” He then adds, “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (101).
The decision in Roe v. Wade mandates the opposite. It insists that unborn children be treated unequally.
In recent years, the abortion lobby has argued that pro-life advocates care only for the unborn and ignore the plight of others. But Pope Francis rightly opposed this lie in Gaudete et Exsultate.
The Knights of Columbus likewise refutes this argument every day, by a thousand acts of charity that help “the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged.”
The Second Vatican Council reminded us that “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Lumen Gentium, 31). The Knights of Columbus seeks to do this through our fraternal life insurance program, our charitable activities, and our advocacy of basic human rights.
St. John Paul II provided further guidance in his apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission of the laity: “The inviolability of the person … 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).
And Pope Francis affirmed this in his encyclical on human ecology, Laudato Si’: “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings,” the pope asked, “if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away’” (120).
When speaking of these matters during our Supreme Convention in Minneapolis last August, I noted that, for us, charity is a matter of principle, not politics.
In our pro-life efforts and in our acts of charity, we must resist the tendency to politicize every activity — a tendency that leaves everything prey to the partisan question, “Who benefits politically?” We should not have to calculate political costs in our acts of charity and defense of the vulnerable, for as Catholics, we are called to apply a calculus different than politics.
That calculus was articulated by St. John Paul II 25 years ago, when he wrote that the Gospel of Life “is the proclamation that Jesus has a unique relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face the face of Christ” (Evangelium Vitae, 81).
Pope Benedict XVI, during his 2008 visit to the United States, further reminded us that praying for the coming of Christ’s kingdom also means “working for its growth in every sector of society.”
As we begin 2020, let us continue to build this kingdom “in every sector of society” by seeing Christ’s face in all those we meet.
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