Curtail our culture of violence by addressing abortion

Archbishop Aquila

Many people are worried about the increasing levels of violence in our country, and over the past week, three states passed laws that address a key contributor to our culture of violence. I am speaking about what Saint Mother Teresa called the “greatest destroyer of peace today” — abortion.

This past week, three states moved ahead with bills that recognize this reality by limiting abortion. I applaud these laws, which attempt to deliver justice to the most vulnerable among us — defenseless, unborn children. Every child has the right to life and should not have this right cast aside by his or her mother or father, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception. We must not accept the illogical argument that unborn children do not have the same human rights as those of us who are born. It is an easy step to say that other classes of people have lesser rights if we accept this flawed reasoning.

When St. Mother Teresa addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she boldly decried abortion. She told the assembled lawmakers, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child ….”

Instead, mother and fathers, she said, should be helped to love, which involves being “willing to give until it hurts,” including by respecting “the life of their child.” The Christian community should be the first in line to help expectant mothers and fathers, but all of society has a stake in this matter.

Many people today rightfully lament the plague of gun violence that has taken the lives of so many innocent people. We have reacted with horror to the tragedies that have cut short young lives, but we have not examined the reasons this is happening. There are many complex factors behind the violence that has gripped our country and many other places in the world, but one factor that must not be overlooked is what our laws and society teach people, especially the young. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

Abortion violently takes the life of an unborn child, and it introduces death into our hearts and the heart of our society. Murdering an adult does the same thing. To a lesser degree, turning away someone in need harms us and those we disregard. Big and small, sin impacts us and everyone else. We must ask, “What are we teaching our people when we allow the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the defenseless unborn to be harmed?” Laws that sanction this only reinforce what Pope Francis calls “a throwaway culture.”

Rather than enabling mothers and fathers to choose not to love their children, our states and country should be leading the way in providing parents every opportunity to welcome them with love. At its core, the issue of abortion is about either choosing to love — to give until it hurts — or to not love.

One person who understood this in a profound way was Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community, who died on May 7 at the age of 90. Vanier never married but dedicated his life to giving the gift of friendship to the intellectually disabled.

Vanier realized that, “Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.”

What Vanier discovered in his work with the disabled is also true of the unborn and of any person. We need to love others and to be loved by others; without this exchange, we wither, and society is weakened.

“I strongly believe,” Vanier wrote, “that God is hidden in the heart of the smallest of all, in the weakest of all, and if we commit ourselves to him, we open a new world.” Unless the laws of our society value the smallest of all, we will continue to teach the next generation that only certain people deserve love and dignity, while others can be killed.

Pope Francis noted in a recent interview when questioned about abortion and civil law, “My question comes before civil law, before Church law, to the human: Is it just to eliminate a human being to solve a problem? Is it just to hire an assassin to solve a problem? Everything else stems from that. That is the basic question.”

The basic question is: Do we respect the dignity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death? A culture that has embraced abortion up to the time of birth has only deteriorated to accepting physician-assisted suicide on the other end of life. Essentially, society communicates with its laws that life has little meaning or value. Therefore, it is certainly also blind to the inherent God-given value of every human life.

May God give our country the grace it needs to turn away from the evil of abortion and accept all life as a gift from him, regardless of the circumstances. May the hardened hearts of those who support abortion up to birth, be open to the truth of the dignity of human life and the unborn child.

COMING UP: Faith and politics in the United States

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Cherished principles of the American revolution include religious freedom and the separation of Church and State. These principles should have benefited Catholics, who sought refuge from the persecution of the formally established Church of England. Catholics, however, could only vote in Pennsylvania and Maryland after the founding of the United States. Despite the original purpose of these principles, they have now falsely come to mean popularly that religion should have no role in public life. Not only did the Founding Fathers not intend this, but the Church also calls us to active engagement in political life by living out our faith in society. A number of books published in the last few years shed light on this call.

Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Faith and Politics (Ignatius, 2018)

This volume collects a number of distinct writings on the topic of politics from the life of the retired Holy Father. It addresses some of the most foundational elements of society: the relation of personal freedom to truth, how human dignity undergirds law and justice, and how faith gives reason a more expansive view of the goal of human life. Ratzinger explores the relation of faith and politics in the early Church for insights into the problematic secularism that now dominates our political life. In the end, he proposes that society depends upon an ordered freedom that directs government toward the fulfillment of shared goods. We need a genuine freedom that contains “the ability of the conscience to perceive the fundamental values of mankind that concern everyone” (101).

Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived (Crown Forum, 2017)

Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia represented a strong Catholic voice in the public square, though not without controversy. This volume offers a collection of his speeches, dealing not only with law, but also with education, the arts, virtue, and friendship. In his talks touching on faith, he contrasts Jefferson’s supposed sophisticated rejection of miracles with the wisdom of St. Thomas More; encourages us to live a distinct and even weird life in the eyes of the world; exhorts Catholic universities to fidelity; navigates the thorny issue of separation of Church and State; speaks on the importance of going on retreat, and the necessity and limits of faith in public life. He advises: You must . . . not run your spiritual life and worldly life as though they are two separate operations” (147). A Catholic justice, he clarifies, fulfills his office not by seeking to legislate opinion or belief from the bench, but by interpreting the Constitution and the law with integrity and precision. These speeches capture his living voice, in a compelling and accessible manner, which can continue to inspire Catholics to enter public service.

Daniel J. Mahoney, The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity (Encounter Books, 2018)

Mahoney, a professor at Assumption College, examines the trajectory of politics since the French Revolution and proposes that a humanitarian religion has supplanted the Christian faith and undermined the integrity of local, participatory politics. Favoring an abstract globalism that promotes individual rights and autonomy, “we increasingly despise meditation and the political expression of our humanity. In truth, human beings experience common humanity only in the meeting of diverse human and spiritual affirmations and propositions that arise from the concrete human communities in which we live” (8). This abstraction has also entered the Church, as Christians “increasingly redefine the contents of the faith in broadly humanitarian terms. Christianity is shorn of any recognizable transcendental dimension and becomes an instrument for promoting egalitarian social justice” (13). Mahoney draws upon key thinkers who have pointed to the dangers of humanitarianism — Brownson, Soloviev, Solzhenitsyn, Ratzinger — and the book is worth reading simply as an introduction to their thought. He concludes that in embracing the Church’s rich tradition of faith and reason, we can also return to a genuinely human political life, through “the humanizing discernment made possible by conscience” (124).

Timothy Gordon, Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish without Rome (Sophia, 2019)

Gordon’s thesis seems to follow Mahoney’s in that Catholic Republic argues that the Catholic faith is necessary for the future of the American republic. Insofar as the flourishing of any republic depends upon an acknowledgement of the truth and virtue for its realization, Gordon’s thesis is correct: The Church can and should help our society to reach its true good. The details of Gordon’s assertion of a crypto-Catholicism underlying the Constitution and American life, however, overplays its hand. He contends that a so-called Catholic Natural Law, the Church’s development of the law of reason accessible to all people, uniquely supplied the vision for American government. In this, I find that Gordon overlooks the unique (and problematic) contributions of the Enlightenment to the American founding, as well as how the Catholic tradition teaches natural law and good politics as natural realities, not something that the Church owns and transmits in an exclusive fashion. While Gordon does note some instances of indirect consultation of Catholic sources, there are too many jumps of assertion that require more detailed explanation and proof. The book would have worked better as an exhortation to approach American politics from a Catholic perspective rather than a largely unproven accusation of plagiarism.