What has gone wrong in America?
Murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, subhuman living and working conditions, slavery, prostitution, etc all immediately trigger a reaction. Perhaps our reaction is intensified when a younger person commits the crime itself. When a teenager shoots fellow classmates, as in our day, we as a nation sit dumbfounded and ask how it could have happened. What has gone wrong in American culture when we can no longer protect the ones we love at a high school. In just twenty years or so, the problem of chewing gum in class has been replaced with possession of a weapon or even using it on another student or teacher. In the end, we are only left with a label for these times: the culture of death. While that may be an appropriate term for this age, we can not be complacent to simply let it go on. America was founded upon principles that value life and detest the culture of death in which we live today. Today, America calls for good leadership to reawaken the culture of life. One such role of leadership is that of the public officials.
What is the role of the public official? First of all, it falls to the public official to "safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties (EV #71)." These inviolable rights are to be respected and acknowledged and not created nor destroyed by public authorities. In fact, it is the weakest of society that needs the most protection and preservation of these rights. Unborn children, having no voice of their own, must have their right to life acknowledged and respected by those of us with voices. Another responsibility of the public official, is to serve the common good. The common good is defined by the Church in her Catechism as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily (#1906)." It requires respect for all persons, the social well being and development of each, as well as, peace and security of a just order. Food, clothing, shelter and many other necessities are required by each person, because each has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being (EV #71)." These innocent lives are the weakest of society, and it falls to the State to defend their rights as a primary duty (EV # 101). Finally, the public officials in serving the common good and safeguarding natural rights, aim to create peace and order within society. This order has its root in God himself. God has created all of us and placed within us His law. This eternal law participating within reasonable man is properly called the natural law. Public officials aim to create order in society by appealing to the highest law, that of God. Morality is very much a part of the State. For example, the State forbids theft. God in the Decalogue, has said "thou shall not steal." The State appeals to the highest law, God, and promotes this law for the common good for just order. As Americans we must remember that Democracy is not a substitute for morality (EV 70). In fact, democracy must serve and be subjected to the moral law, if it is to succeed. At the core of democracy is the right to life and the dignity and freedom of each person.
America was founded upon principles rooted in God. Right from her birth, America recognized the authority of God and the responsibility to recognize the rights of all human beings. John Dickinson, one of the framers of the Constitution, had this to say, " Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals, but come from the king of kings, and the Lord of all the earth (NCCB # 13)." In fact, the very words of the Declaration of Independence state, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (NCCB #13)." Here we have at the foundation of America, recognition of inalienable rights, granted by the Creator, not the State. These rights as John Dickinson remarked, are pre-existing. No State or authority can create or destroy the natural right to life, granted only by the Creator. Every human being is endowed with the rights, freedom, and a dignity that God has placed upon us all.
All men are created equal, and as a result, discrimination based on sex, race, creed, and today, age, is unjust. We have all been made in the image of God , as the book of Genesis reads: "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them [Gen 1:27]." Since we have been made in the divine image, human life is sacred and inviolable. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that human life in the womb is sacred and made in the image of God: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you [Jer 1:5]." Created by God, human life is sacred and to be respected from the moment of conception to natural death. For this reason, it is an offense to the Creator to kill an innocent human being in the womb, as well as, to assist in a suicide of a terminally ill patient. "In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it (EV #73)." It is illicit to promote these crimes against humanity because they violate the basic right to life and dignity of the human person. Many think they are helping women seeking abortions or the terminally ill desiring to end suffering by suicide, but in reality, we only denying them the dignity that is theirs. The women seeking an abortion, despite the hardships of a pregnancy, is being denied the dignity of motherhood. The greatest gift of a new life is being seen as a curse under the guise of hardships and present burdens. The terminally ill patient is denied the dignity of conforming their life more intimately to Christ on the cross and reconciling himself with God and neighbor. Suffering is seen as a curse rather than a way to draw closer to the Creator. We are sons and daughters of God, and we need to see in every person, that very image imprinted at conception.
The right to life is the most fundamental right we have as human beings. No other right can begin to make sense without this first right. Disrespect for human life today is due, in part, to the neglect of the rights of the unborn. A whole generation is growing up with the ideology that ones autonomous choice is the determining factor whether another should live or die. Materialism and individualism rank higher than self sacrifice and common good for many today. As a result, it makes no difference, if you are an unborn child or a fellow classmate in high school. If you are an inconvenience or burden to another, you can be eliminated. We need to promote this fundamental right to life from the moment of conception to natural death or the whole human race is in jeopardy. In addition, this right to life is a natural right endowed by the Creator on all human beings. As a result, abortion and other crimes against life are not religious issues, but rather human issues. As brother and sisters, sons and daughters of God, we share the responsibility of making sure this right to life is recognized for all.
Finally, human freedom is another principle on which America is founded. We cry out that this is the land of the free. America truly is a great nation, in which freedom is her trademark. However, this freedom is under threat now as we speak. God has made it possible to grasp objective truths, despite the relativism of today. The truth about not killing another innocent human being is not a matter of personal opinion.. We all have the right to life and it is objectively wrong to deliberately kill another innocent human being. Our freedom is only such that we act in accord with objective truths. I do not have the freedom to kill another person or steal another persons property. While this seems to restrict freedom, on the contrary, the more I follow the truth, the more free I become. Laws must be based on truth. If laws are not in accord with right reason, as the case with legal abortion, than they are unjust laws. We are not bound to follow unjust laws since that would be to act against right reason and ultimately truth.
So, after seeing what our country is founded upon and how our modern day is drifting from these principles we are forced to rebuild the culture of life. The first solution I propose is that of evangelization. The family must be the primary target here. The family, as the domestic Church, has the responsibility of educating and instilling moral values within the offspring. Family values based upon Gods law will help the common good achieve peace and order in society. In relation to education of the family, the vocation of motherhood needs to be promoted. In our day, motherhood is looked upon as a curse, rather than a blessing. Here, the media can help by stopping pornography and the degradation of women. This perception of women as objects only cheapens respect and dignity owed and ultimately motherhood and the family come under attack.
Secondly, legislation has to change when unjust laws are in existence. A society with unjust laws will not survive. A reform of laws such as legalized abortion and the continued fight against euthanasia and mercy killing must take place. Just as slavery was unjust and the laws were changed, so must abortion laws change. Regardless of majority opinions, unjust laws must be reformed, by the very fact that they are against right reason and ultimately Gods eternal law. Slavery is now forbidden, despite racism that persists. However, hearts have changed and education can continue to take place.
Finally, services must be provided. The pregnant woman must have services available for counseling and prenatal care. Financial assistance, as well as adoption agencies must be provided for unwed pregnant mothers. Care for the elderly must be provided and promoted as well. Work places should provide just salaries, as well as, schedules that provide ample time for ones family and Creator.
In conclusion, public officials have been given an awesome task to serve the common good and preserve peace and order within society. However, we must remember that all rights, order, and truth comes from God. Public authorities are to remember that they are Gods steward first and foremost. There can be no personal thought versus public thought. Pilate thought he washed his hands of the blood of Christ, an innocent man. When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves [Mat 27:24]. " He was personally opposed, but the public majority wanted Christs death, and so he allowed it, although he could have remained strong in the face of opposition. Today, we have many public officials who have tried to divorce their personal thought from their public thought. This is a grave error, because we are called to act in truth despite the majoritys wishes. The truth is that all life is sacred and every human being is to be respected from the moment of conception to natural death. To deny these rights is to deny God the title of Creator and apply it to oneself. In closing, it takes great courage to stand in the face of opposition. However, we have the help of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to stand strong against the culture of death. America needs strong leadership and if she is to prosper and truly be the home of the free, we as a nation must rebuild the culture of life.
John Paul II, EvangeliumVitae. Random House, Inc, NY, 1995.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, (English edition: St. Pauls
Books & Media. Unite States of Ameica, , 1994).
NCCB, Living the Gospel of Life: A challenge to American Catholics, 1998.
John Sistare, Seminarian, North American College, Rome, May, 1999
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