Dr. Peter Kreeft, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College and a Contributing Writer to the Integrated Catholic Life, wrote an important book a number of years back titled, Back to Virtue, in which he argues that the civilization in which we live is in crisis and that we are faced with two roads. One road leads to life and the other to death. As the book’s subtitle suggests, we need to replace modern moral confusion with traditional moral wisdom. We need to replace the practice of vice with the practice of virtue. This is even truer today than when Dr. Kreeft published his book in 1986.
Are We Wise or Confused?
The moral condition of our nation and our world is perilous because the moral condition of so many of us individually can, at best, be described as on life support. And all around us, voices are clamoring for the feeding tubes and life support systems to be unplugged. There exist good and evil, right and wrong, but apparently we have lost our knowledge of their existence. I say “apparently” because our behavior indicates this to be true. But the fact is that many of the laws we transgress are of the Natural Law that our God has placed into our very being. We may never claim ignorance of such laws. Our God does not permit such a claim.
I do not propose to examine the virtues specifically, but rather to remind us of the Church’s Social Doctrines, particularly the foundation on which these teachings are built — the foundation of respect for human dignity and life. For the behavior of our nation as a society of individuals demonstrates that we have forgotten the importance of this foundation.
As, Dr. Kreeft indicates, modern knowledge has replaced ancient wisdom. Why? Could it be due to the fact we have not understood that knowledge divorced from love leads to pride. The sin of pride, the first of the Seven Deadly Sins, impedes our pursuit of wisdom. It takes humility, a humility born of our love of God, to pursue wisdom. Only the humble know they depend upon God and that wisdom is from God alone. So, what are we to do? We must turn away from our sin and ignorance, set aside our pride through humility and turn towards the Lord and the Church He gave us as teacher.
Knocking At Death’s Door
Jesus taught us to ask and we would receive, to seek and we would find, to knock and the door would be opened. But it is not at Heaven’s door we find our nation knocking, it is at Death’s door. Don’t expect to find Jesus behind this door. It is only the demons of the abyss you will find here. Do we need evidence this is true?
The Guttmacher Institute (AGI), originally founded as a division of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA is described by National Right To Life as the largest abortion provider in the United States) reports on its website that, as of January, 2008, half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended and that forty percent of these pregnancies will end in abortion.
Let’s use clear language here: twenty percent of all babies conceived in the United States during 2008 will be killed by surgical or pharmacological abortion (i.e., induced abortion). That translates into 1.2 million babies killed in the United States per year at current pregnancy rates and abortion ratios. These estimates may be understated by as many as 400,000 induced abortions according to estimates by other organizations. According to AGI for 2003, 23.8% of all pregnancies, excluding those ending in miscarriage, ended in abortion. Again, let’s use clear language here: for every 1,000 babies born alive in the United States in 2003, more than 312 babies were killed by induced abortion. We have become a nation of abortion survivors.
According to the National Right to Life Committee and based on statistics reported by AGI and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more that 48.5 million babies have been killed by abortion since the start of 1973 in the United States. This is a holocaust of immense proportions with no end in sight. Do we need more evidence of the demons unleashed through the door at which our nation knocks? There has existed no moral depravity in our nation’s history that has killed so many innocent and defenseless victims.
Now, before anyone argues that this is a religious issue and not a secular one, let’s put this argument aside. I could easily argue from science and common sense that this moral issue can be defined without resorting to religious beliefs. But I do not intend to because I address the following question to people who profess to believe in Jesus Christ and belong to His Church. How can Christians who profess to celebrate the Incarnation, the moment Almighty God became man in the womb of Mary, i.e., at the moment of His conception, stand down and allow this holocaust to continue? How can this not be for us, at least, the issue that trumps all other issues of the day?
Catholic Social Teaching Sets Our Priorities
There is no question that we live in a time of much moral confusion and decay. The problems facing human beings are many and varied. Racism, violence, poverty, immigration, inadequate health care, hunger, under and unemployment, war and terrorism are serious moral challenges of the day that any just society must address. And our Holy Father teaches that a wealthy nation should be able to figure out how to protect society from criminals without resorting to capital punishment. We are not allowed to be indifferent to these challenges that attack human dignity, no matter how much we oppose abortion.
But, our Church teaches us that being right concerning these moral questions does not excuse being wrong about the fundamental right to life that flows from our dignity as human persons.
Two Themes of Catholic Social Thought guide us:
- Principle of Human Dignity – “Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and is therefore invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family” (Reflections, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, p 1, USCCB)
- Principle of Respect for Human Life – “Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and the right to life consistent with that dignity” (Reflections, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, p1 and 2, USCCB)
Living the Gospel of Life, the USCCB’s companion to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, states very clearly that a failure to defend the most vulnerable from the attacks of abortion and euthanasia “renders suspect any claims to the rightness” of our positions in these other questions. The Church tells us that abortion and euthanasia attack the foundations of our house. Living the Gospel of Life adds three points regarding abortion and euthanasia:
- Abortion and euthanasia attack the most basic and first right of the human person – the right to life.
- Neglect of our defense against these attacks is the equivalent of building a house on sand.
- Abortion and euthanasia “lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.”
How can we be surprised that children murder one another when our nation promotes mothers killing their children in the womb, where they should be most secure and safe? Our children today know that but for the choice of their mothers, they would have been killed in the womb or artificially contracepted. The 48.5 million and counting aborted children cannot benefit one iota from all the progress in the world made towards ending these other attacks on human welfare and solving other social and moral problems. Indeed, our bishops teach that a failure to defend life at its most vulnerable stage contributes to the continuation and worsening of these other moral issues.
Solidarity With The Unborn
Another Theme of Catholic Social Thought is that of Solidarity. Solidarity is more than a feeling. It is not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #193). Solidarity demands that our distress at the killing of the unborn and infirm of the nation lead us to concrete action to defend them against these attacks.
A Course of Action
Hopefully, I have persuaded you, if that was necessary, to recognize the course our nation has taken on the road of abortion. And make no mistake, that road will lead to the destruction and death of this once great nation just as surely as it has led to the deaths of so many of its most defenseless citizens. Also at stake are our souls and our attainment of Heaven if we behave in a way that demonstrates an indifference to the plight of the unborn. So hopefully, I have also persuaded you, if that was necessary, to demonstrate your solidarity with them. What can we do?
- First, remember that we are a people of God, a people of love. Many of those who do not believe as we do are victims themselves, victims of ignorance and the propaganda of the pro-death culture. They need our prayers for their conversion and our patient, charitable correction. We must work diligently to change their hearts and minds and lead them to salvation.
- Commit yourself to daily acts of prayer and reparation for this holocaust to end. Pray for the babies who are victims and for those who deny them their right to life. Ask Almighty God for forgiveness and reconciliation, that the grace of His great mercy and justice will wash our land of this crime.
- Do not despair. Be persistent and expectant in your prayer.
- Educate yourself; learn to be an effective promoter of life by the witness of your words and the way you live. Do not sit quietly by and pass up opportunities to speak out against abortion. Do not pass up opportunities to reach out and minister to those who may depend on your compassion and ministry to choose life over abortion.
- Never tire of demanding pro-life policies and an end to abortion of your elected and appointed government officials.
- Join with others in your family, your parish and your community in this noble cause.
- And last, but really most important of all, devote yourself to God, daily seeking through the sacraments, prayer and good works to conform yourself to Christ.
Let yours be the voice that is heard for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let yours be the voice that resounds in this nation that might once again be great. It is not yet too late, but the final hour is near.
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