Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Radical Francesco d’Assisi: One with the Crucified Christ

The Confirmation preparation CCD class this year has both St. Augustine and St. Bernadette as its patron saints. I started dedicating my classes to the patronage of these two saints last year, the brilliant St. Augustine to emphasize learning and knowing the Faith in the head, and the lowly St. Bernadette to emphasize the equally important, if not more imporant, knowing Jesus in our hearts, both of which are necessary to join in the mission of the Church to be a witness for Christ, as we are called to be in Confirmation (Acts 1:8), both in words (truth) and in deeds (love).

In addition, this year the class also selected St. Francis of Assisi as a patron saint. As popular as he is, I did not know a whole lot about "Francesco," but what I have since learned has convinced me that he is an excellent choice for patron for students preparing for Confirmation. After enjoying a carefree life, he saw the need to radically dedicate the entirety of his life in the service of the Body of Christ, letting the light of Christ enthusiastically shine through him so that others might know Him and to renew the People of God.

The Wednesday General Audiences of Pope Benedict have been focusing, for a couple of years now, on various saints. This last Wednesday, the Pope spoke on St. Francis.

Catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI
Wednesday General Audience

January 27, 2010

Dear brothers and sisters,

In a recent catechesis, I already illustrated the providential role that the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers, founded respectively by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic Guzmán, had in the renewal of the Church of their time. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate very many people of every age and every religion.

"A son is born to the world." With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the greatest Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, alludes to Francis' birth, which occurred at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182, in Assisi. Belonging to a wealthy family -- his father was a textile merchant -- Francis enjoyed a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time.

When he was 20 he took part in a military campaign, and was taken prisoner. He became ill and was released. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began in him, which led him to abandon gradually the worldly lifestyle he had practiced until then.

Striking at this time of conversion are the famous episodes of the meeting with the leper -- to whom Francis, getting off his horse, gave the kiss of peace; and the message of the Crucifix in the little church of San Damiano. Three times the crucified Christ came to life and said to him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins." This simple event of the Word of the Lord heard in the church of San Damiano hides a profound symbolism. Immediately, St. Francis is called to repair this little church, but the ruinous state of this building is a symbol of the tragic and disturbing situation of the Church itself at that time, with a superficial faith that does not form and transform life, with a clergy lacking in zeal, with the cooling off of love; an interior destruction of the Church that also implied a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements.

However, at the center of this Church in ruins is the Crucified and He speaks: He calls to renewal, He calls Francis to manual labor to repair concretely the little church of San Damiano, symbol of the more profound call to renew the Church of Christ itself, with his radical faith and his enthusiastic love for Christ.

This event, which probably occurred in 1205, makes one think of another similar event that happened in 1207: the dream of Pope Innocent III. He saw in a dream that the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Mother Church of all churches, was collapsing and a small and insignificant religious supported the church with his shoulders so that it would not collapse.

It is interesting to note, on one hand, that it is not the Pope who helps so that the church will not collapse, but a small and insignificant religious, whom the Pope recognizes in Francis who visited him. Innocent III was a powerful Pope, of great theological learning, as well as of great political power, yet it was not for him to renew the Church, but for the small and insignificant religious: It is St. Francis, called by God.

On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St. Francis does not renew the Church without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at this moment to renew the Church. True renewal grows together.

Let us return to St. Francis' life. Because his father Bernardone reproved him for excessive generosity to the poor, Francis, with a symbolic gesture, and before the bishop of Assisi, stripped himself of his clothes, thus intending to renounce his paternal inheritance: As at the moment of creation, Francis had nothing but the life that God gave him, and into whose hands he entrusted himself.

Then he lived as a hermit until, in 1208, another fundamental event took place in the journey of his conversion. Hearing a passage of the Gospel of Matthew -- Jesus' discourse to the Apostles sent on mission -- Francis feels he is called to live in poverty and to dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions associated themselves to him and, in 1209, he went to Rome, to submit to the Pope the project of a new form of Christian life. He was given a paternal reception by the great Pontiff who, enlightened by the Lord, intuited the divine origin of the movement awakened by Francis.

The Poverello of Assisi had understood that every charism given by the Holy Spirit is placed at the service of the Body of Christ, which is the Church; hence, he always acted in full communion with the ecclesiastical authority. In the life of saints, there is no opposition between a prophetic charism and the charism of government and, if some tension is created, they must wait patiently for the times of the Holy Spirit.

In reality, some historians in the 19th century and also in the last century tried to create behind the Francis of tradition, a so-called historical Francis, just as there is a desire to create behind the Jesus of the Gospels, a so-called historical Jesus. Such a historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but a man linked immediately only to Christ, a man who wished to create a renewal of the people of God, without canonical forms and without the hierarchy.

The truth is that St. Francis really had a very immediate relationship with Jesus and with the Word of God, which he wished to follow sine glossa, exactly as it is, in all its radicalism and truth. It is also true that initially he did not have the intention of creating an order with the necessary canonical forms, but, simply, with the Word of God and the presence of the Lord, he wished to renew the people of God, to call them again to listening to the Word and to literal obedience to Christ. Moreover, he knew that Christ never is "mine" but always is "ours," that "I" cannot have Christ and "I" cannot reconstruct against the Church, His will and His teaching -- but only in communion with the Church, built on the succession of the Apostles, is obedience to the Word of God also renewed.

It is also true that he did not intend to create a new order, but only to renew the people of God for the Lord who comes. But he understood with suffering and pain that everything must have its order, that even the law of the Church is necessary to give shape to renewal and thus he inserted himself totally, with the heart, in the communion of the Church, with the Pope and the bishops. He knew always that the center of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body and Blood of Christ are made present. Through the priesthood, the Eucharist is the Church. Where priesthood, and Christ and communion of the Church go together, only there does the Word of God also dwell. The true historical Francis and the Francis of the Church speaks precisely in this way also to non-believers, to believers of other confessions and religions.

Francis and his friars, ever more numerous, established themselves in the Porziuncola, or church of Saint Mary of the Angels, sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Also Clare, a young lady of Assisi of a noble family, placed herself in Francis' school. Thus the Second Franciscan Order originated, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to bear outstanding fruits of sanctity in the Church.

The successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with his bull "Cum dilecti" of 1218, also upheld the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who were opening their missions in several countries of Europe, and even in Morocco. In 1219, Francis obtained permission to go to speak with the Muslim Sultan Melek-el-Kamel in Egypt, and also to preach the Gospel of Jesus there.

I want to underline this episode of the life of St. Francis, which is very timely. At a time in which there was under way a clash between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed deliberately only with his faith and his personal meekness, pursued with efficacy the way of dialogue. The chronicles tell us of a benevolent and cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It is a model that also today should inspire relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and in mutual understanding (cf. "Nostra Aetate," 3).

It seems, then, that in 1220 Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed that was to bear much fruit: his spiritual sons, in fact, made of the places in which Jesus lived a privileged realm of their mission. With gratitude I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Returning to Italy, Francis entrusted the government of the order to his vicar, Friar Pietro Cattani, while the Pope entrusted the order, which continued gathering more followers, to the protection of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part the founder, totally dedicated to preaching, which he carried out with great success, wrote a Rule, later approved by the Pope.

In 1224, in the hermitage of La Verna, Francis saw the Crucified in the form of a seraphim and, from the encounter with the crucified seraphim, he received the stigmata. He thus became one with the crucified Christ: a gift, hence, which expresses his profound identification with the Lord.
Francis' death -- his transitus -- occurred on the evening of Oct. 3, 1226, at the Porziuncola. After blessing his spiritual sons, he died, lying on the naked earth. Two years later, Pope Gregory IX inscribed him in the register of saints. A short time later, a large basilica was raised in Assisi in his honor, still today a destination for very many pilgrims, who can venerate the tomb of the saint and enjoy Giotto's frescoes, a painter who illustrated in a magnificent way the life of Francis.

It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, he was truly a living icon of Christ. He was even called "Jesus' brother." Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus; to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate His virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching it also to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount -- blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3) -- found a luminous fulfillment in the life and in the words of St. Francis.

Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; they, incarnating in their lives the Word of God, render it more than attractive, so that it really speaks to us. Francis' witness, who loved poverty to follow Christ with dedication and total liberty, continues to be also for us an invitation to cultivate interior poverty to grow in trust of God, uniting also a sober lifestyle and detachment from material goods.

In Francis, love for Christ is expressed in a special way in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In Franciscan sources, one reads moving expressions, such as this:
"The whole of humanity fears, the whole universe trembles and heaven exults, when on the altar, in the hand of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. O wonderful favor! O sublime humility, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles Himself as to hide Himself for our salvation, under the low form of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padua, 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, it pleases me also to recall a recommendation addressed by Francis to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, certainly in a pure way, carry out with reverence the true sacrifice of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399).

Francis always showed great deference to priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in the case when, at the personal level, they are not very worthy. He cherished, as motivation for this profound respect, the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist asks us to be pure, to live in a consistent way with the mystery we celebrate.

From the love of Christ is born love of people and also of all God's creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal fraternity and love for Creation, which inspired his famous Canticle of Creatures. It is a very timely message. As I reminded in my recent encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," the only sustainable development is one that respects Creation and does not damage the environment (cf. No. 48-52), and in the Message for the World Day of Peace of this year I underlined that also the building of a solid peace is linked to respect for creation. Francis reminds us that in creation is displayed the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. In fact, nature is understood by him as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love of Christ, his kindness to every man and woman made him happy in every situation. In fact, between sanctity and joy there subsists a profound and indissoluble relation. A French writer said that there is only one sadness in the world: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at St. Francis' witness, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. We entrust ourselves to her with the same words of the Poverello of Assisi:
"Holy Virgin Mary, there is no one like you born in the world among women, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us . . . to your most holy favorite Son, Lord and Master" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 163).


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thank you AGAIN

The Lord is too good to me.
Better than I deserve.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Remembering the Evil of a Cult of Death

Message of Pope Benedict XVI
International Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27, 2010

Seventy-five years ago, on January 27, 1945, the gates of the Nazi concentration camp in the Polish city of Oswiecim - known to the world by its German name Auschwitz - were opened to the world, and its few survivors were liberated.

That event and the testimony of the survivors revealed to the world the horrors of the crimes, whose heinousness was hitherto unheard of, committed in the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany.

Today, we celebrate the Day of Memory in honor of all the victims of those crimes, particularly the planned annihilation of the Jewish people, and in honor of those who risked their own lives to protect the victims of persecution and opposed the homicidal folly.

With spirits moved by the memory, let us think of the innumerable victims of a blind racial and religious hatred who underwent deportation, imprisonment and death in those aberrant and inhuman places.

May the remembrance of such deeds, particularly the tragedy of the Shoah which struck the Jewish people, inspire an ever more solid respect for the dignity of every person, so that all men may feel themselves to be one big family.

May the almighty God enlighten hearts and minds so that such tragedies may never again be repeated.

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau

28 May 2006

To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible - and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?

In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.

Twenty-seven years ago, on 7 June 1979, Pope John Paul II stood in this place. He said: “I come here today as a pilgrim. As you know, I have been here many times. So many times! And many times I have gone down to Maximilian Kolbe’s death cell, paused before the wall of death, and walked amid the ruins of the Birkenau ovens. It was impossible for me not to come here as Pope.” Pope John Paul came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. “Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,” he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations, as his predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI had done before him, and added: “The one who speaks these words is ... the son of a nation which in its history has suffered greatly from others. He says this, not to accuse, but to remember. He speaks in the name of all those nations whose rights are being violated and disregarded ...”.

Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.

Yes, I could not fail to come here. On 7 June 1979 I came as the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, along with many other Bishops who accompanied the Pope, listened to his words and joined in his prayer. In 1980 I came back to this dreadful place with a delegation of German Bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged.

This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation - first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was He silent? How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes:
“You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness ... because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Ps 44:19, 22-26).

This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age - yesterday, today and tomorrow - suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan - we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No - when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence - so that His power, the power He has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of selfishness, pusillanimity, indifference or opportunism.

Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him. Let us cry out to God, that He may draw men and women to conversion and help them to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence - a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser.

The God in whom we believe is a God of reason - a reason, to be sure, which is not a kind of cold mathematics of the universe, but is one with love and with goodness. We make our prayer to God and we appeal to humanity, that this reason, the logic of love and the recognition of the power of reconciliation and peace, may prevail over the threats arising from irrationalism or from a spurious and godless reason.

The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. Like John Paul II, I have walked alongside the inscriptions in various languages erected in memory of those who died here: inscriptions in Belarusian, Czech, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Croatian, Italian, Yiddish, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Romani, Romanian, Slovak, Serbian, Ukrainian, Judaeo-Spanish and English. All these inscriptions speak of human grief, they give us a glimpse of the cynicism of that regime which treated men and women as material objects, and failed to see them as persons embodying the image of God.

Some inscriptions are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. Thus the words of the Psalm: “We are being killed, accounted as sheep for the slaughter” were fulfilled in a terrifying way. Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people which lives by migrating among other peoples. They were seen as part of the refuse of world history, in an ideology which valued only the empirically useful; everything else, according to this view, was to be written off as lebensunwertes Leben - life unworthy of being lived. There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold effect: they set the peoples free from one dictatorship, but the same peoples were thereby subjected to a new one, that of Stalin and the Communist system.

The other inscriptions, written in Europe’s many languages, also speak to us of the sufferings of men and women from the whole continent. They would stir our hearts profoundly if we remembered the victims not merely in general, but rather saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror.

I felt a deep urge to pause in a particular way before the inscription in German. It evokes the face of Edith Stein, Theresia Benedicta a Cruce: a woman, Jewish and German, who disappeared along with her sister into the black night of the Nazi-German concentration camp; as a Christian and a Jew, she accepted death with her people and for them. The Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as Abschaum der Nation - the refuse of the nation. Today we gratefully hail them as witnesses to the truth and goodness which even among our people were not eclipsed. We are grateful to them, because they did not submit to the power of evil, and now they stand before us like lights shining in a dark night.

With profound respect and gratitude, then, let us bow our heads before all those who, like the three young men in Babylon facing death in the fiery furnace, could respond: “Only our God can deliver us. But even if He does not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up” (cf. Dan 3:17ff.).

Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instill hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil. They want to make us feel the sentiments expressed in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: my nature is not to join in hate but to join in love.

By God’s grace, together with the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror, a number of initiatives have sprung up with the aim of imposing a limit upon evil and confirming goodness. Just now I was able to bless the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer. In the immediate neighborhood, the Carmelite nuns carry on their life of hiddenness, knowing that they are united in a special way to the mystery of Christ’s Cross and reminding us of the faith of Christians, which declares that God himself descended into the hell of suffering and suffers with us. In Oświęcim is the Centre of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. There is also the International House for Meetings of Young people. Near one of the old Prayer Houses is the Jewish Centre. Finally the Academy for Human Rights is presently being established. So there is hope that this place of horror will gradually become a place for constructive thinking, and that remembrance will foster resistance to evil and the triumph of love.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, humanity walked through a “valley of darkness.” And so, here in this place, I would like to end with a prayer of trust - with one of the Psalms of Israel which is also a prayer of Christians:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff - they comfort me ... I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Ps 23:1-4, 6).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Being a Personal Witness for Christ

In my Master Catechist certification class a few months ago, we learned a new word -- "kerygma."

Actually, it really is not a new word, I've read it or heard it many times before, but it is one of those "big" words that I have struggled trying to remember the meaning of. For instance, I had to look up the definition of "hermeneutics" a couple dozen of times before it stuck in my brain. I am more of a plain speaker, who likes to use more common words. I am not against using "big" words when appropriate, but I do not much care for the use of jargon. And then there is the problem of some people wanting to appear more impressive by their use of jargon and technical language -- have you ever read a dissertation? I'm not suggesting that our instructor used this particular word inappropriately -- after all, it is a course about both substance and methodology of catechesis (the latter being "pedagogy," to use another big word) -- I am merely pointing out my difficulty in remembering such technical language (the Greek words especially are Greek to me).

But when I read the following, the thought popped into my head, oh, this is about kerygma. Looking up the word just in case -- the proclamation, from a personal perspective, of the Good News, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ in forgiveness of sin, as distinct from teaching or instruction -- I think that I got it right.

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Second Vespers of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls
January 25, 2010

. . . Paul, although he kept an intense memory of his own past as a persecutor of Christians, did not hesitate to call himself an Apostle. The basis for such a title was, for him, his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, which became the start of tireless missionary activity, in which he would spend his every energy to announce to all peoples the Christ whom he had personally met. . . .

Paul's testimony would reach its peak in his martyrdom, when not far from here, he would prove his faith in Christ who conquers death.

The dynamic in the experience of Paul is the same that we find in the pages of the Gospel we just heard. The disciples of Emmaus, after having recognized the Risen Lord, went back to Jerusalem and found the Eleven gathered together with the others.

The Risen Christ appeared to them, comforted them, won over their fears and doubts, ate a meal with them and opened their hearts to the intelligence of the Scriptures, pointing out what should happen and what would become the nucleus of the Christian announcement.

Jesus affirmed: "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24,46-47).

These are the events that His disciples of the first hour, first of all, and then the followers of Christ in every time and every place, would bear witness to.

It is important, however, to underscore that this testimony, then as now, comes from an encounter with the Risen One, that it is nourished by a constant relation with Him, and inspired by profound love for Him.

Only he who has experienced Christ present and living - "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (Lk 24,39) - sits at table with Him, listens to Him with ardent heart, can be His witness.

For this, Jesus promised His disciples and each of us powerful assistance from on high, a new presence, that of the Holy Spirit, a gift of the Risen Christ, who guides us to the whole truth: "And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24,49), He tells the Eleven and us.

The Eleven would give their whole life to announce the good news of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and almost all of them would seal their testimony with the blood of martyrdom, the fertile seed that has produced such an abundant harvest. . . .

In teaching and preparing students for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, these remarks of Pope Benedict would seem to be especially apt. Whereas Baptism is about coming from the world into the Church, Confirmation is about being sent from the Church back into the world to be a witness for Christ. Confirmation is about being a complete Christian. Rather than being merely a member of the Church, the confirmed Catholic is joined to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News, both in words of truth and deeds of love.

As kerygma (?), this means giving witness by "testifying" about Jesus Christ. One can only "testify" to what one personally knows, about what he has personally seen and what he has personally experienced. And this is important, both for the catechist and for the person who is sent out to be a witness upon Confirmation.

Spreading the Gospel, teaching about the Faith, is more -- or at least it should be more -- than a mere academic exercise, a dry and purely intellectual provision of religious knowledge. The Christian Faith is more than a set of facts, ours is a living faith. It is more than inanimate words on the page, mere ink on paper, it is about the Living Word. Thus, in spreading the Gospel and teaching the Faith, it is essential that we include our own personal experience, we involve our own personal encounter with the Lord. We must let others see that we believe what it is that we proclaim -- that Jesus is the Christ and Lord who has reconciled man to God by the forgiveness of sins in His death, so that man might have eternal life in His Resurrection -- that it is true and that it is the way and the life, our life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Respect for Human Life and Contraception:
An Application of Theology of the Body

(Here is a reprint of a piece originally posted on July 28, 2008, with a few minor alterations)

Whenever you speak publicly about things like sex outside of marriage or contraception, you are likely to be addressing a lot of people who have done both of these things. So, it is not unusual that someone might respond defensively, accusing you of personally attacking them and pointing out that Jesus said not to judge others lest you be judged yourself. Now, without judging individual persons, per se, it is possible and proper and appropriate to judge in an objective way various actions, such as premarital sex and adultery and contraception and abortion, all of which tend toward treating the other as an object, not as a subject, as a means, not as an end in themselves, and yes, as a "thing," not as a person. Most extreme in this, of course, is abortion, which literally involves throwing away another person as if he or she were garbage.

But contraception and sex outside of marriage are not-too-distant cousins of abortion. They both involve, to some extent, a "using" of the other, a "taking" from them, rather than a pure and complete giving of self to that other. To be sure, there may be a great deal of love in such unions, extra-marital or contracepting in marriage. But it is not, and cannot be, a complete and total love. It always involves a withholding of self, if only just a little bit. It is a conditional love. It is a love that says "Yes, but only if you do such and such. Yes, but only this much."

It is not a perfect love, and it is a perfect love to which we are all called. All of us. And it cannot be pretended that extra-marital and/or contracepting couples is a perfect love.

It is also a true love to which we are all called. We are called to truth. And extra-marital sex and contraception and abortion are all contrary to the truth. Contraception, for example, is a lie against the truth and reality of our bodies. It is a lie against the procreative nature of the sexual organs that we use in sex, as well as the procreative genetic material involved. It is a lie against the intended union of man and woman into one.

Contraception is a corruption and distortion of human sexuality. Contraception, whether physical or mental, is a barrier between a man and woman, between husband and wife -- literally. Such a barrier obviously prevents a man and woman from becoming "one." Indeed, it prevents any real or authentic intimacy at all. Contraception presents both a physical wall -- of rubber, chemicals, or otherwise -- and an emotional and spiritual wall, a withholding of a part of yourself from the other.

Because of this barrier and this withholding of self, sex is no longer an act of mutual giving, that is, an act of love. Instead, it becomes an act of taking; an act of exploiting; an act of using the other as an object, as a sex toy. By this use of contraception, couples no longer see each other as a subject or even a person -- they see the other as object, a thing.

It is this objectification of the human person that is the real evil of contraception. It is the central evil because human beings are not things, they are not toys to be used and exploited by others and then tossed aside. Even if putatively "consensual," it is still by its very nature exploitive.

On the other hand, when a couple is married and non-contracepting, there is the possibility in sex of mutual giving of self -- total and complete giving of self, no matter what. It is a giving that is truly and completely intimate, open to the all natural possibilities that flow from sexuality. It holds nothing back, and it respects the other as a subject and as a person. And that leads to a greater and more authentic joy than can be imagined.

It is the truth of this unitive and procreative nature of human sexuality that His Holiness Pope Paul VI advanced in Humanae Vitae. In return for this exposition on human love and truth, Pope Paul received scorn and derision. Sadly, it appears that he might have been wounded to the heart by the contempt directed toward him because he never wrote another encyclical.

However, his successor, the rock who was and is the Venerable Servant of God John Paul the Great, was a great advocate of the cause. So when the bishops, priests and theologians failed to adequately defend the encyclical of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II published the following Apostolic Exhortation, expanding and further explaining the truths previously set forth in Humanae Vitae, as well as his own Theology of the Body:

Familiaris Consortio
His Holiness Pope John Paul II
November 22, 1981

Man, the Image of the God Who Is Love

11. God created man in His own image and likeness(20): calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love.

God is love(21) and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.(22) Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.

Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being "created in the image of God."

Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.

This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values. For the harmonious growth of these values a persevering and unified contribution by both parents is necessary.

The only "place" in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God Himself,(23) which only in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person's freedom, far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom. * * *

1. The Transmission of Life
Cooperators in the Love of God the Creator

28. With the creation of man and woman in His own image and likeness, God crowns and brings to perfection the work of His hands: He calls them to a special sharing in His love and in His power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life: "God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'"(80)

Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator-that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person.(81)

Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love, the living testimony of the full reciprocal self-giving of the spouses
: "While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day."(82)

However, the fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to the procreation of children, even understood in its specifically human dimension: it is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and to the world.

The Church's Teaching and Norm, Always Old Yet Always New

29. Precisely because the love of husband and wife is a unique participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God Himself, the Church knows that she has received the special mission of guarding and protecting the lofty dignity of marriage and the most serious responsibility of the transmission of human life.

Thus, in continuity with the living tradition of the ecclesial community throughout history, the recent Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my predecessor Paul VI, expressed above all in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, have handed on to our times a truly prophetic proclamation, which reaffirms and reproposes with clarity the Church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new, regarding marriage and regarding the transmission of human life.

For this reason the Synod Fathers made the following declaration at their last assembly: "This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life (Humanae Vitae, 11; cf. 9, 12)."(83)

The Church Stands for Life

30. The teaching of the Church in our day is placed in a social and cultural context which renders it more difficult to understand and yet more urgent and irreplaceable for promoting the true good of men and women.

Scientific and technical progress, which contemporary man is continually expanding in his dominion over nature, not only offers the hope of creating a new and better humanity, but also causes ever greater anxiety regarding the future. Some ask themselves if it is a good thing to be alive or if it would be better never to have been born; they doubt therefore if it is right to bring others into life when perhaps they will curse their existence in a cruel world with unforeseeable terrors. Others consider themselves to be the only ones for whom the advantages of technology are intended and they exclude others by imposing on them contraceptives or even worse means. Still others, imprisoned in a consumer mentality and whose sole concern is to bring about a continual growth of material goods, finish by ceasing to understand, and thus by refusing, the spiritual riches of a new human life. The ultimate reason for these mentalities is the absence in people's hearts of God, whose love alone is stronger than all the world's fears and can conquer them.

Thus an anti-life mentality is born, as can be seen in many current issues: one thinks, for example, of a certain panic deriving from the studies of ecologists and futurologists on population growth, which sometimes exaggerate the danger of demographic increase to the quality of life.

But the Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendor of that "Yes," that "Amen," who is Christ Himself.(84) To the "No" which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living "Yes," thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life.

The Church is called upon to manifest anew to everyone, with clear and stronger conviction, her will to promote human life by every means and to defend it against all attacks, in whatever condition or state of development it is found

Thus the Church condemns as a grave offense against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently, any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programs of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion.(85)

That God's Design May Be Ever More Completely Fulfilled

31. The Church is certainly aware of the many complex problems which couples in many countries face today in their task of transmitting life in a responsible way. She also recognizes the serious problem of population growth in the form it has taken in many parts of the world and its moral implications.

However, she holds that consideration in depth of all the aspects of these problems offers a new and stronger confirmation of the importance of the authentic teaching on birth regulation reproposed in the Second Vatican Council and in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.

For this reason, together with the Synod Fathers, I feel it is my duty to extend a pressing invitation to theologians, asking them to unite their efforts in order to collaborate with the hierarchical Magisterium and to commit themselves to the task of illustrating ever more clearly the biblical foundations, the ethical grounds and the personalistic reasons behind this doctrine. Thus it will be possible, in the context of an organic exposition, to render the teaching of the Church on this fundamental question truly accessible to all people of good will, fostering a daily more enlightened and profound understanding of it: in this way God's plan will be ever more completely fulfilled for the salvation of humanity and for the glory of the Creator.

A united effort by theologians in this regard, inspired by a convinced adherence to the Magisterium, which is the one authentic guide for the People of God, is particularly urgent for reasons that include the close link between Catholic teaching on this matter and the view of the human person that the Church proposes: doubt or error in the field of marriage or the family involves obscuring to a serious extent the integral truth about the human person, in a cultural situation that is already so often confused and contradictory. In fulfillment of their specific role, theologians are called upon to provide enlightenment and a deeper understanding, and their contribution is of incomparable value and represents a unique and highly meritorious service to the family and humanity.

In an Integral Vision of the Human Person and of His or Her Vocation

32. In the context of a culture which seriously distorts or entirely misinterprets the true meaning of human sexuality, because it separates it from its essential reference to the person, the Church more urgently feels how irreplaceable is her mission of presenting sexuality as a value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God.

In this perspective the Second Vatican Council clearly affirmed that "when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his or her acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced."(85)

It is precisely by moving from "an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation,"(87) that Paul VI affirmed that the teaching of the Church "is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning."(88) And he concluded by re-emphasizing that there must be excluded as intrinsically immoral "every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible."(89)

When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they then act as "arbiters" of the divine plan and they "manipulate" and degrade human sexuality -- and with it themselves and their married partner -- by altering its value of "total" self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.

When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as "ministers" of God's plan and they "benefit from" their sexuality according to the original dynamism of "total" self-giving, without manipulation or alteration.(90)

In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: it is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self- control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimension also. In this way sexuality is respected and promoted in its truly and fully human dimension, and is never "used" as an "object" that, by breaking the personal unity of soul and body, strikes at God's creation itself at the level of the deepest interaction of nature and person.

The Church as Teacher and Mother for Couples in Difficulty

33. In the field of conjugal morality, the Church is Teacher and Mother and acts as such.

As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm that must guide the responsible transmission of life. The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.

As Mother, the Church is close to the many married couples who find themselves in difficulty over this important point of the moral life: she knows well their situation, which is often very arduous and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind, not only individual difficulties but social ones as well; she knows that many couples encounter difficulties not only in the concrete fulfillment of the moral norm but even in understanding its inherent values.

But it is one and the same Church that is both Teacher and Mother. And so the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth: she is convinced that there can be no true contradiction between the divine law on transmitting life and that on fostering authentic married love.(91) Accordingly, the concrete pedagogy of the Church must always remain linked with her doctrine and never be separated from it. With the same conviction as my predecessor, I therefore repeat: "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls."(92)

On the other hand, authentic ecclesial pedagogy displays its realism and wisdom only by making a tenacious and courageous effort to create and uphold all the human conditions -- psychological, moral and spiritual -- indispensable for understanding and living the moral value and norm.

There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation.(93) Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life, including therefore their sexuality: the gift of the Spirit, accepted and responded to by husband and wife, helps them to live their human sexuality in accordance with God's plan and as a sign of the unitive and fruitful love of Christ for His Church.

But the necessary conditions alone in the knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self-control: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. In the Christian view, chastily by no means signifies rejection of human sexuality or lack of esteem for it: rather it signifies spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full realization.

With deeply wise and loving intuition, Paul VI was only voicing the experience of many married couples when he wrote in his Encyclical:
"To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort, yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring."(94)

The Moral Progress of Married People

34. It is always very important to have a right notion of the moral order, its values and its norms; and the importance is all the greater when the difficulties in the way of respecting them become more numerous and serious.

Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person's full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness.

But man, who has been called to live God's wise and loving design in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.

Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. "And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations. In God's plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God's command with serene confidence in God's grace and in his or her own will."(95) On the same lines, it is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae Vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm.

As the Synod noted, this pedagogy embraces the whole of married life. Accordingly, the function of transmitting life must be integrated into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole, which without the Cross cannot reach the Resurrection. In such a context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source of intimate joy.

This shared progress demands reflection, instruction and suitable education on the part of the priests, religious and lay people engaged in family pastoral work: they will all be able to assist married people in their human and spiritual progress, a progress that demands awareness of sin, a sincere commitment to observe the moral law, and the ministry of reconciliation. It must also be kept in mind that conjugal intimacy involves the wills of two persons, who are however called to harmonize their mentality and behavior: this requires much patience, understanding and time. Uniquely important in this field is unity of moral and pastoral judgment by priests, a unity that must be carefully sought and ensured, in order that the faithful may not have to suffer anxiety of conscience.(96)

It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church's teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord's commandment.

Instilling Conviction and Offering Practical Help

35. With regard to the question of lawful birth regulation, the ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way.

In this matter, while the Church notes with satisfaction the results achieved by scientific research aimed at a more precise knowledge of the rhythms of women's fertility, and while it encourages a more decisive and wide-ranging extension of that research, it cannot fail to call with renewed vigor on the responsibility of all -- doctors, experts, marriage counselors, teachers and married couples -- who can actually help married people to live their love with respect for the structure and finalities of the conjugal act which expresses that love. This implies a broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied.(97)

A very valuable witness can and should be given by those husbands and wives who through the joint exercise of periodic continence have reached a more mature personal responsibility with regard to love and life. As Paul VI wrote: "To them the Lord entrusts the task of making visible to people the holiness and sweetness of the law which unites the mutual love of husband and wife with their cooperation with the love of God, the author of human life."(98) * * *
Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, on the twenty-second day of November, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, in the year 1981, the fourth of the Pontificate.

Ioannes Paulus PP. II

20. Cf. Gn. 1:26-27.
21. Cf. 1 Jn. 4:8.
22. Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 12.
23. Cf. Ibid, 48.
80. Gn. 1:28.
81. Cf. Gn. 5:1-3.
82. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
83. PROPOSITIO 21. Section 11 of the encyclical HUMANAE VITAE ends with the statement: "The Church, calling people back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life (ut quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanan procreandam per se destinatus permaneat)": AAS 60 (1968), 488.
84. Cf. 2 Cor. 1:19; Rv. 3:14.
85. Cf. The sixth Synod of Bishops' Message to Christian Families in the Modern World (Oct. 24, 1980), 5.
87. Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 7: AAS 60 (1968), 485.
88. Ibid., 12: loc cit. 488-489.
89. Ibid., 14: loc cit. 490.
90. Ibid., 13: loc cit.,m 489.
91. Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 51.
92. Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 29: AAS 60 (1968), 501.
93. Cf. Ibid., 25: loc cit. 498-499.
94. Ibid., 21: loc cit. 496.
95. John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops (Oct. 25, 1980), 8: AAS 72 (1980), 1083.
96. Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 28: AAS 60 (1968), 501.
97. Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Delegates of the Centre de Liaison des Equipes de Recherche (Nov. 3, 1979), 9: INSEGNAMENTI, II, 2 (1979), 1035; and cf. Address to the Participants in the First Congress for the Family of Africa and Europe (Jan. 15, 1981):
98. Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 25: AAS 60 (1968), 499.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let there be life:
Catholic teaching on abortion, other life issues, and human sexuality

It is a common perception in the outside world that, when it comes to moral matters, the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) is harsh, negative, and oppressive, obsessed with sin and controlling people’s lives, imposing its will, and maintaining its power with a bunch of rules and prohibitions. But all of these things are totally false.

Catholic theology - including moral theology - is not a collection of mere opinions. It is not the fruit of a bunch of old men dictating on-high what they think is or ought to be. And it is not a set of arbitrary negative rules dictated or revealed to us by an arbitrary God. It is not a restriction on authentic freedom. Notwithstanding the many “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, and the teachings of the Church against things like extra-marital sex, contraception, and abortion, Catholic moral theology is positive, not negative.

Christ and His Church do not present us with a set of prohibitions and restrictions - they give us joyous "good news," and it is good news that is grounded, first and foremost, in Love and Truth, truth which sets us free. It is grounded in reason. And it is all of these things even if you never actually use the words "Christ" or "God" or "sin," such that it is applicable to believers and non-believers alike.

All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on life issues and human sexuality, is reducible to the supremely positive commandments which were discussed between the Jesus and the Pharisee – “You shall love the Lord thy God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, "love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another." Those are the teachings of Christ and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation - to love God and one another.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Well, who/what is God? Quite simply, He is what He said He is when Moses asked His name, He is the "I am," and He is as described in the Gospel of John, the Logos, meaning Creative Reason. Thus, God is the "Is." He is Ultimate Reality itself; he is Truth itself. So to love God means, among other things, to love Truth. And we come to know and understand truth and Truth by both divine revelation and right reason. God is also Love - caritas - eternally a communion of love in the relation of persons that is the Trinity. God is Love, but we ourselves are not gods. So, we should follow truth and take love into our heart.

And what does it mean to “love one another in truth”? God's love is the highest love, the most perfect love, and it is that kind of true love that we are called to practice. To love perfectly and truly, we must love as God loves. Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness, much less a base desire for physical pleasure. Such true, total, and perfect love is turned outward, not inward, it is a conscious act of the will to subordinate oneself, and to unconditionally and selflessly seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of self for the other’s benefit, whether that love is returned or not and whether or not the other “deserves” to be loved.

Again, to love perfectly and truly, we must love as Christ loves us. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus presents us with His Body, which has been given up for us. Such a love as we are called to demonstrate is not concerned with pleasing oneself and seeking to solely benefit oneself, but is instead a gift of self, totally and completely.

In practical terms, to "love one another" means that we should affirm and respect the truth of the inherent dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence, as children of God made in His image, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should treat others as subjects, not objects; as ends in and of themselves, not as a means to be exploited by us; and as persons, not things to be used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic value, every one of us.

All Catholic moral teaching is grounded in and must comply with these two pillars of Love and Truth. It is not a matter of opinion, it is not a matter of the Pope having the power to impose his own personal preferences. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II taught the Theology of the Body, they were not expressing what they subjectively and arbitrarily thought what should be, they were not engaged in a raw assertion of power. The Pope and the Church are bound in their teachings by Love and Truth.

And one purpose of such teachings is to assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. In doing so, the Church does not really teach anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on men’s hearts and accessible by reason.

Far from thinking that sex is bad and dirty, the Church teaches that human sexuality is a moral good; indeed, it is very good, it is one of the highest goods. Being created by God, it is necessarily a great good. But sex, like any other activity, is a good only insofar as it is consistent with Truth and with Love, that is, when it is consistent with a total gift of self, recognizing both the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality. In other words, in the context of marriage and without the barrier of contraception or even a contraceptive mentality. When it is less than consistent with Truth and Love, then it begins to be something less than good, even if the people involved subjectively believe and insist that they are acting out of love.

As with all things, in the context of our sexuality, we must love as Christ loves. Now, in His love for us and for His Bride, the Church, Jesus gave us the totality of His Body. Jesus is also the Word, the Logos, which means not only Reason or Truth, but a creative power as well, because it is through Him, the Logos, that all things were made. That means that our union with another must be a true love that is free, total, spousal, faithful, and fruitful. Jesus also loves in a Trinity of relations, such that our sexual activity must similarly take place between a husband and wife, one flesh, in union with God if it is to be consistent with authentic love and the truth of who we are as human persons, male and female. We cannot simply put God in the closet or otherwise bar Him from the bedroom and still have our sexual relations be acts of love in truth.

Whether it is sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, embryonic/fetal experimentation, euthanasia, or suicide, the teaching is the same. All of these things are contrary to the Truth. If you eliminate truth, reason, and love from the equation, then all you are left with is a utilitarianism and existentialism that practically demands that one take "charge of the process" as if he were a god himself. It is the philosophy of utilitarianism, the idea that the morality of all things must be determined, not from objective truth (or Truth), but from their usefulness, with one's happiness or pleasure being the ultimate measure of usefulness -- to the extent of allowing, if not compelling, the use of human persons as means to an end, as disposable things -- it is this corrosive philosophy, together with the related idea of existentialism, that we must create our own meaning of existence, which has brought us to where we are today, in a hyper-sexualized materialistic and hedonistic society awash in the blood of millions slain by abortion, the sick and elderly at risk of being medically euthanized daily, and all too many individuals despairing of life and committing suicide.

So, what is the truth of abortion? What is the truth regarding the entity in the womb which is expelled by the act of abortion? As a purely scientific matter, we know what “life” is. It has a specific scientific definition. And we know what a “human” is. Again, it has a scientific definition. And we know what an “individual being” is. This too has a scientific definition. Yet, some continue to insist that science cannot answer the question of the beginning of life. The fact is, science can answer it, science has answered it, and it is only because some do not want to hear the answer that they insist that this is some unknowable and unanswerable question. Rather, it is a matter of scientific fact that the life of an individual human being begins at conception.

It is not a matter of opinion, it is not a matter of wishful thinking, and it is not a matter of religious faith that the entity existing at the time a human sperm penetrates a human ovum is itself (a) human, that is, genetically a member of the species homo sapiens, (b) animate and living, with continued growth, and (c) distinct from either the woman who contributed the ovum or from the man who contributed the sperm cell. In short, a human being, however nascent. This is true whether that human being is floating along the fallopian tube or attaching him- or herself onto the uterine wall or sitting in an IVF petri dish or frozen in liquid nitrogen or about to be harvested by embryonic stem-cell ghouls.

A human being does not begin as something other than human, and only later convert or change into a human state. He or she is and always has been human. Life does not begin magically during the prenatal period. It is only because the entity within the womb is alive at the moment of sperm-ovum union that it begins the process of cellular division and reproduction and taking in nourishment and giving off waste and developing more recognizable organs and features, growing and growing and growing for the next 70-80 years.

To deny the humanity of the unborn child and kill him or her by abortion is contrary to the truth that the entity in the womb is a living human being. To use another person (or ourselves) as merely an object for our sexual pleasure, as if he or she were a toy, and/or to allow ourselves to be controlled by our passions, rather than we controlling them, is contrary to the truth that we are persons and subjects, not objects or things. And to assert that one has the power or right to determine his or her own concept of right and wrong, his or her own morality, as if he or she were a god, and decree that the child in the womb is merely a thing that can be eliminated by abortion, or that killing the sick is an act of "mercy," would likewise be contrary to the truth that we are not gods or equal to or greater than the one God, who is Love and Truth.

Rather, we should love and respect one another as subjects, not as objects or playthings to be exploited for our own pleasure and used up. Babies, be they born or unborn, are not things to be thrown away like garbage. And the old and sick and poor are not useless eaters, taking up needed resources, such that we can eliminate them by euthanasia. There is no such thing as life unworthy of life.

These teachings are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, they are not a denial of “freedom of choice,” but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. These truths are already written on our hearts, but because our ability to reason and discover these truths ourselves has been corrupted by sin and the temptations of the world, in order to help, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in teaching us and explaining these truths.

However, we should be clear in understanding that the teachings of the Church on matters of morality are not a bunch of harsh prohibitions, merely a list of don’t do this, and don’t do that, but are instead a positive exhortation to do this and do that – do love, do live in truth, do live in the light of love and truth in authentic freedom.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI explains it this way:
Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!" We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
--Interview of the Holy Father in Preparation for his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria
August 5, 2006

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When Life Begins, and Converting the Blind Pro-Choicer and Pro-Abortionist

A person is neither forthright nor honest (if only with himself) when he states “we don’t know when life begins” and that “the only people who can say with absolute certainty and total conviction when life begins do so as a matter of faith or belief, not as the inevitable result of a logical process.”

Such statements are patently false. As a purely scientific matter, we know what “life” is. It has a specific scientific definition. And we know what a human is. Again, it has a scientific definition. And we know what an individual being is. Yet again, by scientific definition.

It is amazing that, in this scientific age, where we have all sorts of answers for all sorts of scientific/biological questions, some continue to insist that science cannot answer the question of the beginning of life. The fact is, science can answer it, science has answered it, and it is only because some do not want to hear the answer that they insist that this is some unknowable and unanswerable question. Were it not for the politics, which have become a quasi-religious belief on the part of pro-abortionists, then it would be acknowledged by all that, as a matter of scientific fact, the life of an individual human being begins at conception, that is, when a living human sperm unites with a living human ovum. Now, “life” per se does not begin at conception —- rather, science tells us that it began millions of years ago and is a continuum, but an individual life does begin at conception, not at some unknown and unknowable and magical point later on.

It is not a matter of opinion, it is not a matter of wishful thinking, it is not a matter of faith that the entity existing at the time a human sperm penetrates a human ovum is itself (a) human, that is, genetically a member of the species homo sapiens, (b) animate and living, with continued growth, and (c) distinct from either the woman who contributed the ovum or from the man who contributed the sperm cell. In short, a human being, however nascent. This is true whether that human being is floating along the fallopian tube or hitching him- or herself onto the uterine wall or sitting in an IVF petri dish or frozen in liquid nitrogen or about to be harvested by stem-cell ghouls. The abortion industry and lobby knows this. The abortion lawyers know this. The "emergency contraception" pushers know this. The embryonic stem cell scammers know this. The United States Supreme Court knows this. The abortionist sucking that human life into a jar or jamming a pair of scissors into his or her skull before ripping him or her from the womb knows this. It is simple, basic scientific fact.

A human being does not begin as something other than human, and only later convert or change into a human state. It is and always has been human. Life does not begin magically during the prenatal period. Indeed, it does not even begin at conception. "Life," as life, is, as stated above, a continuum which began millions of years ago. Yet so many abortion advocates argue with a straight face that we don't know and can never know "when life begins" or that an entity is not fully "human" if it is not "viable" (however they decide to define "viability" today or next week or next year). They would apparently have you believe in the spontaneous generation of life, that matter goes from inanimate to animate in some unknowable, mysterious fashion. Absurd? Of course. It is also the law of the land under Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pa. v. Casey.

As a matter of scientific fact, the last case of spontaneous generation of life from inanimate matter happened millions of years ago. Since then, life has been a continuum. “Life” does not spontaneously begin ex nihilo. It is only because the entity within the womb is alive at the moment of sperm-ovum union that it begins the process of cellular division and reproduction and taking in nourishment and giving off waste and developing more recognizable organs and features, growing and growing and growing for the next 70-80 years.

Now that, is fact. Scientific fact. And it is neither forthright nor honest (nor helpful to the cause) to suggest otherwise.

* * *

But it is also true that the pro-life movement has been stuck in this same (non)argument for the last 37 years. The movement, or at least the same ineffective pro-life “leaders” who have brought little more than loss after loss after loss after loss, has been trying the same tactic for the same 37 years to the same effect, not realizing that the scientific argument was won early on.

That is, we keep thinking that if only we can come up with the perfect argument, if only we can come up with the perfect physical evidence, then the other side will be compelled by logic and reason to admit that the entity in the womb is an individual living human person. We keep chasing after this delusion that the fight is all about the humanity of the unborn.

Well guess what??? The truth is that THEY ALREADY KNOW that the entity in the womb is an individual living human person. Most people know that “a baby is alive at conception,” and that abortion involves the killing of a human person. They already know that because the scientific proof is and always has been overwhelming and conclusive. The other side already knows that, even if they publicly refuse to admit it, and continue to purposely engage in falsehoods about it. (Come on, they are the type of people who kill babies —- do you really think, then, that they are going debate and fight this issue honestly, and with logic and reason???)

The question of the humanity and personhood of the unborn was settled scientifically and in the minds of everyone concerned long ago, even if we foolishly continue to fight that battle. The fact is, they already know. The problem is not that they don’t know about the living humanity of the unborn, the problem is that, even though they know, THEY DON’T CARE that abortion and IVF and embryonic research involving killing. At least, they don’t care enough to give it priority over their narcissistic wants and desires.

And even if they did care, we now have the blood of 50 million dead on our hands in this country alone and millions more world-wide. For them to openly admit what they already know deep down would be for them to implicitly admit that they are sadistic monsters, on the scale of a Stalin or Hitler, indeed, far exceeding both of them combined. And that implicit admission is too much for them to take because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, on this earth that can wash away that blood from their hands.

* * *

Now, it is at this point (and only at this point from a strategic point of view) in the pro-life struggle that the Church and the Faith come into play. Until this point, the issue is one entirely grounded in scientific fact and reason. Religion only clouds the issue until this point.

But there are limits to science, and science has reached that limit when it comes to the guilt for the blood of 50 million dead. To a large extent, the other side does not and will not admit to the humanity of the unborn because to do so would be to implicitly admit that they are complicit in the murder of so many innocents. That is too horrible a prospect for them to consider, so they continue to go down the Denial River, because there truly is nothing, absolutely nothing, on this earth that can wash away that blood on their hands.

But there is something, or rather Someone, not of this earth, who can wash away that blood. So, this is where the Church comes in, and only at this point. Instead of the delusional and ineffective tactic of arguing the human personhood of the unborn, which was proved long ago, the Church needs to return to Her mission of offering reconciliation with God, of preaching the possibility of redemption for even sins that are so great as the murder of 50 million innocents, which makes Herod the Great pale in comparison. Only in this way, can the blood be washed off the hands of all those complicit in their deaths. And that possibility of redemption, in turn, leads to the greater likelihood of them openly admitting the human personhood of the unborn.

* * *

In addition to the above facts, there is another indisputable fact -- this war will not be won by pro-lifers. Again, the war against the Culture of Death will not be won by pro-lifers. It cannot be, there are not enough of us.

Oh, it will be won -- eventually -- for the pro-life side, we will see a Culture of Life, but that victory will not be brought about by pro-lifers. Or, rather, it will not be brought about by today's pro-lifers. Instead, it will be won by today's pro-choicers and pro-abortionists . . . for the pro-life cause. It will be won by today's pro-choicers and pro-abortionists becoming tomorrow's pro-lifers. It will be won by them demanding the end of abortion, and other instrumentalities of death, in outrage that they were lied to for so long.

This is the only way the war can be won. There are not enough of today's pro-lifers to do the job. At most, we could win some judicial or legislative battles and force pro-life laws down the throats of everyone else. But that victory would last only until the next election cycle. No, we can achieve permanant victory only by converting the hearts of the enemy. We -- pro-lifers -- cannot win this war, only today's pro-choicers and pro-abortionists can win it, but win it for the pro-life cause.

But they will not be converted, their hearts will not be softened, their intellects will not be enlighted, they will not become tomorrow's pro-lifers so long as they believe that there is no possibility of redemption for the blood on their own hands. One day, they will rise up in anger and outrage at the lies that they were told and they will defeat that lie, but they know now that they have willingly bought into that lie, that they have advanced it. They know in their hearts, as explained above, that it is a lie. They know that they are complicit.

But if they can be redeemed, if their being sadistic monsters can be forgiven, then they can risk being honest to themselves, they can admit to themselves and others, "yes, the entity in the womb is a living human being." Their hearts will have been softened, their lives and perspectives will have been turned around, i.e. converted. And that will be the beginning of the end of the Culture of Death.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Serpent's Lie is Repeated and Death Follows

Today, we preach the Gospel of Life, praying for the day when the culture of death is defeated.

The modern-day slaughter of the innocents in the United States began with the United States Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which not only legalized abortion -- legalizing the killing of babies in the womb -- but it had the legal effect of dehumanizing the unborn. It was a case that not only allowed babies in the womb to be killed with impunity, but it denied them their very humanity. And, like the serpent before Eve, that case also perverted the idea of freedom of choice.

Matthew 2:13; 2:16-18.

When [the Magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. * * * When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the Magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.***

The Constitution does not define "person" in so many words. * * * the word "person," as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. * * *

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. * * *

In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense. * * * In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.

Later, the Court expanded upon this fallacious concept of "freedom of choice" by echoing words that had been uttered at the beginning of human history, repeating the lie that one could be like a god, with the freedom, the power, to choose one's own truth, one's own conception of right and wrong, good and evil:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-8.

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The LORD God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." * * *

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?"

The woman answered the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad."

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) --

Our cases recognize "the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." . . . Our precedents "have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter." . . . These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State. . . .

The destiny of the woman must be shaped to a large extent on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.

Roe v. Wade, which made abortion not only legal, but a “fundamental constitutional right,” involves not only the outright killing of innocents, but attempts to justify that killing by objectifying and dehumanizing the victims. That decision and following cases explicitly say that some members of the human family are less than fully human persons and can be thrown away like medical refuse.

The so-called right to abortion, or “freedom to choose” abortion, is founded on a lie disguised as freedom. In a very real sense, the lie that fuels abortion and the rest of the culture of death is the very first lie – a corruption, not only of God's gift of life, but his gift of free choice – it is the lie whispered by the serpent in Eve's ear, "You can be a god. Eat of this fruit and you yourself can choose what is right and wrong. You can choose your own truth, your own reality. You can choose the child to be a human life worth protecting, or you can choose it to be a parasite to be expelled from your body." Indeed, the language used in Casey is nearly identical to that used by the serpent.

But this so-called “right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” is completely divorced from transcendent Truth. We are not, we cannot be, gods unto ourselves. Existence is what it is. We have free will, but we cannot choose our own truth, we cannot choose our own reality. And, as with that first lie, the lie of today that is abortion, and cloning, and embryonic experimentation, and physician-assisted death for the sick and elderly, as with the first lie, these modern lies have taken an enormous toll.

By embracing the lie that is Roe and Casey, countless men and women have placed their own souls at risk. Like Adam and Eve, they have succumbed to the lie that they themselves can "choose" the morality of their actions. They believe that the forced expulsion of unborn children from the womb is not killing if they merely choose for it not to be. They believe that the termination of life within the womb is not a grave sin if they choose for it not to be. They are wrong, and in their choice, they separate themselves from their faith, from the truth, and from God.

Nevertheless, redemption is still possible. Although countless Adams and Eves have embraced the lie and eaten the fruit, saying “no” to God and obtaining only death, redemption is still possible because the New Eve, the Mother of Mercy, said “yes” to God. Thus, even now, after millions of innocents lie slain, God and his Holy Church stand ready with open arms to forgive the sins of the world, including the atrocity of abortion, including those who commit it, and those who are complicit in it by their active or tacit support.