Summary of today’s show: As we close in on Election Day, we celebrate our 400th episode by beginning in earnest our formation as Catholics in the public square. Scot Landry and Michael Lavigne start by tackling the 1998 document from the US bishops called “Living the Gospel of Life”, which Archbishop Charles Chaput calls “the best tool anywhere for understanding the American Catholic political vocation”. Scot and Michael look at the first half of the document today and Scot will continue on Tuesday with Fr. Chris O’Connor.
Listen to the show:
Watch the show via live video streaming or a recording later: BostonCatholicLive.com
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Michael Lavigne
Links from today’s show:
- “Living The Gospel Of Life: A Challenge To American Catholics”, A statement by the Catholic bishops of the United States
Today’s topics: Living the Gospel of Life
1st segment: Scot Landry noted that today is the 400th episode of The Good Catholic Life and he congratulated and thanked everyone involved with the show, including the listeners. Today is also the official feast day of Blessed John Paul II and our studio is named in his honor. He read the prayer from Mass for this feast. The reason it’s his feast day is because it was the inauguration of his papacy in 1978.
Scot said we also welcome two newspaper editorials today from the Boston Herald and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette opposing Question Two on assisted suicide.
Scot said there was also a great StandUp for Religious Freedom rally in West Roxbury over the weekend. He said he also spoke at St. Mary’s in Dedham on a panel to discuss the topic of religious freedom and the intersection of faith and public life.
On today’s show, we begin in earnest our formation as we prepare for the election on November 6. In preparing over the weekend, Scot said he was reading Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, which recommended the US bishops’ document “Living the Gospel of Life” as a blueprint.
Scot quoted from the introduction to the book:
A very good guide to Catholic citizenship and public leadership already exists . The pastoral statement Living the Gospel of Life, issued in 1998 by the U.S. Catholic bishops—though it had to survive a great deal of internal friction and wrangling first—remains, in my view, the best tool anywhere for understanding the American Catholic political vocation. “Catholics already know that politics exists to serve the common good. But what is the common good? It’s a thorny question. Some problems are more complicated than others. Some issues have more gravity than others. Some methods to achieve a good end are wrong in themselves. We can never choose them without coarsening the society we inhabit.
Public officials have a special responsibility in sorting these things out. This is why the health of our public life requires men and women of strong moral character in political service. No community understands this better than the Catholic Church, from centuries of both good and ugly experience. The genius of Pope John Paul II’s great 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), is not that it gives us a specific, sectarian blueprint for building a moral society. It doesn’t. Rather, it offers a common architecture for humane political thought and boundaries for government action that cannot be crossed without brutalizing human dignity. When the U.S. bishops issued Living the Gospel of Life, they applied the best of John Paul’s encyclical to the American experience. Not surprisingly, no other document ever issued by the American bishops on political responsibility has the clarity, coherence, and force of Living the Gospel of Life. The only sadness is that so few Catholics seem to know about it. In fact, if this book does nothing more than lead more people to read and act on Living the Gospel of Life, it will have partly served its purpose.
Scot welcomed Michael Lavigne and they discussed how they were surprised by this document from the bishops that they’d never heard of before reading the Archbishop’s book. Today and tomorrow on TGCL they will discuss this document to help form us how to balance the things we hear from our faith and from the public square and prioritize what’s most important.
Michael said part of our responsibility as Catholics is to be educated and informed and use whatever we can get our hands on to help us as we vote on Election Tuesday.
2nd segment: Scot moved right to the first part of the document:
“Your country stands upon the world scene as a model of a democratic society at an advanced stage of development. Your power of example carries with it heavy responsibilities. Use it well, America!”
Pope John Paul II, Newark, 1995
- When Henry Luce published his appeal for an “American century” in 1941, he could not have known how the coming reality would dwarf his dream. Luce hoped that the “engineers, scientists, doctors … builders of roads [and] teachers” of the United States would spread across the globe to promote economic success and American ideals: “a love of freedom, a feeling for the quality of opportunity, a tradition of self-reliance and independence and also cooperation.”1 Exactly this, and much more, has happened in the decades since. U.S. economic success has reshaped the world. But the nobility of the American experiment flows from its founding principles, not from its commercial power. In this century alone, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died defending those principles. Hundreds of thousands more have lived lives of service to those principles — both at home and on other continents — teaching, advising and providing humanitarian assistance to people in need. As Pope John Paul has observed, “At the center of the moral vision of [the American] founding documents is the recognition of the rights of the human person …” The greatness of the United States lies “especially [in its] respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life in all conditions and at all stages of development.”
- This nobility of the American spirit endures today in those who struggle for social justice and equal opportunity for the disadvantaged. The United States has thrived because, at its best, it embodies a commitment to human freedom, human rights and human dignity. This is why the Holy Father tells us: “… [As] Americans, you are rightly proud of your country’s great achievements.”3
- But success often bears the seeds of failure. U.S. economic and military power has sometimes led to grave injustices abroad. At home, it has fueled self-absorption, indifference and consumerist excess. Overconfidence in our power, made even more pronounced by advances in science and technology, has created the illusion of a life without natural boundaries and actions without consequences. The standards of the marketplace, instead of being guided by sound morality, threaten to displace it. We are now witnessing the gradual restructuring of American culture according to ideals of utility, productivity and cost-effectiveness. It is a culture where moral questions are submerged by a river of goods and services and where the misuse of marketing and public relations subverts public life.
- The losers in this ethical sea change will be those who are elderly, poor, disabled and politically marginalized. None of these pass the utility test; and yet, they at least have a presence. They at least have the possibility of organizing to be heard. Those who are unborn, infirm and terminally ill have no such advantage. They have no “utility,” and worse, they have no voice. As we tinker with the beginning, the end and even the intimate cell structure of life, we tinker with our own identity as a free nation dedicated to the dignity of the human person. When American political life becomes an experiment on people rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting. We are arguably moving closer to that day. Today, when the inviolable rights of the human person are proclaimed and the value of life publicly affirmed, the most basic human right, “the right to life, is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium Vitae], 18).
Scot said the document refers to the book by Henry Luce on “The American century”. So much happened in the US after World War II, but not everything was good. The con was a growth of American cultural that was tied to utilitarianism and the decline of individual rights in the face of productivity and cost effectiveness. Scot said we are human beings, not human doings, and what we can do has no bearing on our value. We are loved by God just for being. Michael Lavigne said Aquinas said we love the good in the other.
Scot said the document could not have been blunter about who are the losers in this ethical sea change. This group has no voice of their own and we have to be their voice, not just Catholics, but all Catholics of good will. Michael said he and his wife do that in a small way by giving a name to their unborn children to talk about them as living persons even before birth. How can we be the voice of all these people in whatever of life we are in at this time?
Scot said we talk a lot about human rights in our society, but we have to include the right of the unborn and the right of those with terminal illness. Michael said no other rights matter if we don’t protect the right to life from conception to natural death. He said he used to use Evangelium Vitae when he taught high school students. It tells us that the world should be a place where the gift of life is defended at all moments.
- The nature and urgency of this threat should not be misunderstood. Respect for the dignity of the human person demands a commitment to human rights across a broad spectrum: “Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition.”4 The culture of death extends beyond our shores: famine and starvation, denial of health care and development around the world, the deadly violence of armed conflict and the scandalous arms trade that spawns such conflict. Our nation is witness to domestic violence, the spread of drugs, sexual activity which poses a threat to lives, and a reckless tampering with the world’s ecological balance. Respect for human life calls us to defend life from these and other threats. It calls us as well to enhance the conditions for human living by helping to provide food, shelter and meaningful employment, beginning with those who are most in need. We live the Gospel of Life when we live in solidarity with the poor of the world, standing up for their lives and dignity. Yet abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others. They are committed against those who are weakest and most defenseless, those who are genuinely “the poorest of the poor.” They are endorsed increasingly without the veil of euphemism, as supporters of abortion and euthanasia freely concede these are killing even as they promote them. Sadly, they are practiced in those communities which ordinarily provide a safe haven for the weak — the family and the healing professions. Such direct attacks on human life, once crimes, are today legitimized by governments sworn to protect the weak and marginalized.
- It needn’t be so. God, the Father of all nations, has blessed the American people with a tremendous reservoir of goodness. He has also graced our founders with the wisdom to establish political structures enabling all citizens to participate in promoting the inalienable rights of all. As Americans, as Catholics and as pastors of our people, we write therefore today to call our fellow citizens back to our country’s founding principles, and most especially to renew our national respect for the rights of those who are unborn, weak, disabled and terminally ill. Real freedom rests on the inviolability of every person as a child of God. The inherent value of human life, at every stage and in every circumstance, is not a sectarian issue any more than the Declaration of Independence is a sectarian creed.
Scot said in paragraph 5 the bishops outline the many ways that today we tamper with the inviolability of the dignity of human life, but they outline abortion and euthanasia as the worst because they go after the weakest of them all. He thinks the bishops are talking to self-proclaimed social justice Catholics who aren’t opposed to abortion or euthanasia.
Michael said they outline all the areas of social teaching, but the queen of all of them is dignity of human life. The rest are meaningless if you don’t stand for life. Scot said the bishops aren’t asking us to choose between them, but to be for all of them. But there are Catholics over the past four decades who’ve said they are personally opposed to abortion but don’t want to stand for them in public life.
Michael said they remind us that these actions which were once crimes and are now legal are opposed to the divine law. Scot said many Catholics say that it’s what the priests or religious in their parishes or schools told them. The document isn’t pointing fingers, but calling us to change and to find our way again. Michael said the bishops are acknowledging how bad formation has been in recent decades and calling us anew.
- In a special way, we call on U.S. Catholics, especially those in positions of leadership — whether cultural, economic or political — to recover their identity as followers of Jesus Christ and to be leaders in the renewal of American respect for the sanctity of life. “Citizenship” in the work of the Gospel is also a sure guarantee of responsible citizenship in American civic affairs. Every Catholic, without exception, should remember that he or she is called by our Lord to proclaim His message. Some proclaim it by word, some by action and all by example. But every believer shares responsibility for the Gospel. Every Catholic is a missionary of the Good News of human dignity redeemed through the cross. While our personal vocation may determine the form and style of our witness, Jesus calls each of us to be a leaven in society, and we will be judged by our actions. No one, least of all someone who exercises leadership in society, can rightfully claim to share fully and practically the Catholic faith and yet act publicly in a way contrary to that faith.
- Our attitude toward the sanctity of life in these closing years of the “American century” will say volumes about our true character as a nation. It will also shape the discourse about the sanctity of human life in the next century, because what happens here, in our nation, will have global consequences. It is primarily U.S. technology, U.S. microchips, U.S. fiber-optics, U.S. satellites, U.S. habits of thought and entertainment, which are building the neural network of the new global mentality. What America has indelibly imprinted on the emerging global culture is its spirit. And the ambiguity of that spirit is why the Pope appealed so passionately to the American people in 1995. “It is vital for the human family,” he said, “that in continuing to seek advancement in many different fields — science, business, education and art, and wherever else your creativity leads you — America keeps compassion, generosity and concern for others at the very heart of its efforts.”5 That will be no easy task.
Scot said section 7 is one of his favorites. It states clearly that every Catholic is called by the Lord to proclaim his message, some by word, some by action, but all by example. We’re all, as Catholics, at times the spokesman for the Catholic Church as people ask us about the Church’s teachings. We’re called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not our own beliefs. Michael related how he ran for school committee in his town at 23 years old and how he worked to make sure his Catholic faith added to his work as a school committeeman whatever the topic, whether on the subject of busing or the distribution of birth control to students.
Scot said in section 8, we hear how the US influences the world. He said many pro-life groups point out how the US exports abortion around the world. He mentioned the example of the Philippines which is very Catholic and has very low levels of adultery, sexually transmitted disease, and unwed pregnancy, yet the US is trying to get into that country to bring birth control there. He said that in the US, 51% of the population is pro-life, and he argues it’s because of the increase of scientific data and efforts, like better ultrasounds.
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
- Nations are not machines or equations. They are like ecosystems. A people’s habits, beliefs, values and institutions intertwine like a root system. Poisoning one part will eventually poison it all. As a result, bad laws and bad court decisions produce degraded political thought and behavior, and vice versa. So it is with the legacy of Roe vs. Wade. Roe effectively legalized abortion throughout pregnancy for virtually any reason, or none at all. It is responsible for the grief of millions of women and men, and the killing of millions of unborn children in the past quarter century. Yet the weaknesses of the Supreme Court’s 1973 reasoning are well known. They were acknowledged by the Supreme Court itself in the subsequent 1992 Casey decision, which could find no better reason to uphold Roe than the habits Roe itself created by surviving for 20 years.6 The feebleness and confusion of the Casey decision flow directly out of Roe’s own confusion. They are part of the same root system. Taking a distorted “right to privacy” to new heights, and developing a new moral calculus to justify it, Roe has spread through the American political ecology with toxic results.
- Roe effectively rendered the definition of human personhood flexible and negotiable. It also implicitly excluded unborn children from human status. In doing so, Roe helped create an environment in which infanticide — a predictable next step along the continuum of killing — is now open to serious examination. Thanks ultimately to Roe, some today speculate publicly and sympathetically why a number of young American women kill their newborn babies or leave them to die. Even the word “infanticide” is being replaced by new and less emotionally charged words like “neonaticide” (killing a newborn on the day of his or her birth) and “filicide” (killing the baby at some later point). Revising the name given to the killing reduces its perceived gravity. This is the ecology of law, moral reasoning and language in action. Bad law and defective moral reasoning produce the evasive language to justify evil. Nothing else can explain the verbal and ethical gymnastics required by elected officials to justify their support for partial-birth abortion, a procedure in which infants are brutally killed during the process of delivery. The same sanitized marketing is now deployed on behalf of physician-assisted suicide, fetal experimentation and human cloning. Each reduces the human person to a problem or an object. Each can trace its lineage in no small part to Roe.
- Obviously Roe is only one of several social watersheds which have shaped the America of the late 1990s. But it is a uniquely destructive one. In the 25 years since Roe, our society’s confusion about the relationship of law, moral reasoning and language has created more and more cynicism in the electorate. As words become unmoored from their meaning (as in “choice” or “terminating a pregnancy”), and as the ideas and ideals which bind us together erode, democratic participation inevitably declines. So too does a healthy and appropriate patriotism.
- At Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Pope John Paul spoke prophetically when he said: “Today the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in truth; the truth that is intrinsic to human life created in God’s image and likeness, the truth that is written on the human heart, the truth that can be known by reason and can therefore form the basis of a profound and universal dialogue among people about the direction they must give to their lives and their activities.”7
Scot said the idea o a nation as an ecosystem is new to him and that there’s a relationship between law, language, and moral reasoning that affects how the ecosystem works. That has a lot of upstream and downstream consequences. Roe v. Wade had a lot of effects on our ecosystem. Michael said it’s a very prophetic statement by the bishops in the late 90s that as we continued to erode the foundation of our country, then nothing else will matter. The destruction we see in families is an example. As we devalue life in the womb, we see child abuse, broken families, divorce, teen pregnancy and all that has gone up after we legalized abortion.
Scot said he took a great class in college from a survivor of the Holocaust whose aim in life was to teach everyone he could the strategies the Nazis employed. What he took most from the class was the use of language by the Nazis to dehumanize the Jews, to scapegoat them for problems. They devalued a whole group of people by the use of language. Some of things we see in the abortion debate or in assisted suicide do the same. When we call it a fetus or a clump of cells rather than a baby, we dehumanize that baby. Proponents of assisted suicide don’t call it suicide, but death with dignity. As it was described on the ballot, it’s described with the euphemisms. Michael said when you use euphemisms you’re usually covering up for something that was morally wrong.
“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
- We believe that universal understandings of freedom and truth are “written on the human heart.” America’s founders also believed this to be true. In 1776 John Dickinson, one of the framers of our Constitution, affirmed: “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.”8 The words of the Declaration of Independence speak of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and proceed to make the historic assertion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …” Today, more than two centuries of the American experiment have passed. We tend to take these words for granted. But for the founders, writing on the brink of armed revolution, these phrases were invested not just with their philosophy but with their lives. This is why they closed with a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” The words of the Declaration of Independence illuminate the founding principles of the American Republic, principles explicitly grounded in unchanging truths about the human person.
- The principles of the Declaration were not fully reflected in the social or political structures of its own day. Then human slavery and other social injustices stood in tension to the high ideals the Founders articulated. Only after much time and effort have these contradictions been reduced. In a striking way, we see today a heightening of the tension between our nation’s founding principles and political reality. We see this in diminishing respect for the inalienable right to life and in the elimination of legal protections for those who are most vulnerable. There can be no genuine justice in our society until the truths on which our nation was founded are more perfectly realized in our culture and law.
- One of those truths is our own essential creatureliness. Virtual reality and genetic science may give us the illusion of power, but we are not gods. We are not our own, or anyone else’s, creator. Nor, for our own safety, should we ever seek to be. Even parents, entrusted with a special guardianship over new life, do not “own” their children any more than one adult can own another. And therein lies our only security. No one but the Creator is the sovereign of basic human rights — beginning with the right to life. We are daughters and sons of the one God who, outside and above us all, grants us the freedom, dignity and rights of personhood which no one else can take away. Only in this context, the context of a Creator who authors our human dignity, do words like “truths” and “self-evident” find their ultimate meaning. Without the assumption that a Creator exists who has ordained certain irrevocable truths about the human person, no rights are “unalienable,” and nothing about human dignity is axiomatic.
- This does not make America sectarian. It does, however, underline the crucial role God’s sovereignty has played in the architecture of American politics. While the founders were a blend of Enlightenment rationalists and traditional Christians, generations of Jews, Muslims, other religious groups and non-believers have all found a home in the United States. This is so because the tolerance of our system is rooted in the Jewish-Christian principle that even those who differ from one another in culture, appearance and faith still share the same rights. We believe that this principle still possesses the power to enlighten our national will.
Scot said the Michael that learning the history of an organization forms the culture that helps you to work together without having the reinvent the wheel. These founding documents help us to fight for the principles on which our country was founded. Michael said the Declaration of Independence was based on nature’s law, what we can know with just our human brains, that is the value of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Scot noted that the HHS mandate violates our first freedom in the Bill of Rights, our right to live our religion in the public square in our social service agencies, our hospitals, and our ministries. The right to define what our religion requires of us comes from God, not the state. Michael noted that Blessed John Paul lived under the threat to religious freedom.