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CCO Rise Up Address: The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

January 5, 2010
[The following talk was given December 29th, 2009, at the Catholic Christian Outreach, or CCO, Rise Up Conference, held December 28th-January 1st in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Fr. Rosica offered an address, Emmanuel: God With Us in Real Time, and the following workshop.]
Dear Friends,
During my six years as pastor of the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto, I often felt that I was on the front lines of a war zone against life. One of the most difficult aspects of my pastoral ministry at Canada’s largest university was dealing with many young women (and men) who had abortions. The erroneous advice given to young, pregnant women at university-sponsored sex education centres or by Planned Parenthood, directed them to clinics for “therapeutic abortions” for unplanned pregnancies. Those who experienced abortions and came to us at the Newman Centre were human beings who made bad choices, and had been deceived, crushed and terribly scarred in their lives.
An initial sense of “liberation” from termination of the unwanted pregnancy was almost always accompanied by deep guilt, trauma, anguish, nightmares for months, an inability to be around children, prevailing feelings of unworthiness, failed relationships, and sometimes a later inability to conceive. While much of the attention surrounding abortion is on the woman, I also saw first hand the devastating effects that it has on young men who fathered the children.
I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the Pro-Life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. Over the past decade I have given much thought and reflection to what it means to be “Pro-Life.” As a Catholic priest and one who has been committed to upholding the dignity and sacredness of life for my entire life, I have been frustrated by the hijacking of right-to-life issues by the so-called “extreme right.” Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.
Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be Pro-Life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be Pro-Life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.
What also troubles me is that those who claim to be on the “left”, always work hard on matters of human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.
To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI: "Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people...But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society."
We must also recall the powerful words of Pope Benedict XVI addressed to a multitude of young people from around the world last summer during World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia:
Do we recognize that the innate dignity of every individual rests on his or her deepest identity - as image of the Creator - and therefore that human rights are universal, based on the natural law, and not something dependent upon negotiation or patronage, let alone compromise? And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence? (Opening Ceremony, Barangaroo, Sydney Harbour, July 17, 2008.)
Human life has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity. The value at stake is one that every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone.
Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.
Nor can we ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today--the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging population, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.
Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons... all of these things and more poison human society.
It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.
The Venerable Pope John Paul II impressed upon our generation the dignity and sacredness of human life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Life is an extraordinary adventure, a God-given gift to be cherished, treasured, and protected. The late Pope strongly and consistently reminded us that if we are a people of life, we must make room for the stranger and the homeless. We must comfort and care for the sick and dying. We must look after the aged and the abandoned. We must welcome the immigrant. We must defend innocent children waiting to be born. Our efforts must be consistent and speak for themselves.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life "which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples." Benedict writes, "In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress."
"Openness to life is at the centre of true development," writes the Pope. "When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."
Pope Benedict sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: "Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs."
Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture.
In early September of this year, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:
If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us... Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.
Being Pro-Life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.
10 rules for handling disagreement as Christians
Many times we will find ourselves at odds with others over what we think and where we are going in the Pro-Life Movement and even in the Church. Our approaches and understandings of being Pro-Life and of being Catholic may be different. What is essential is that we stand up for life and for Jesus Christ! I am grateful to Archbishop Alan Vigneron of Detroit in the USA who first offered these 10 rules for handling disagreement as Christians to the people of his previous diocese of Oakland, California. They are most appropriate for us today, especially if we are involved in the Pro-Life movement.
1. The Rule of Charity: “Charity is primary.”
This has to be the place to start whenever we disagree with one another: with love. St. Paul said: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1). No matter how wise my insights or astute my plans, they count for nothing if I do not offer them with love. That charity is the first and fundamental requirement for all authentic Christian speech does not mean that such speaking can only be weak, but it does mean that whatever is said ought always to be offered respectfully and for the genuine service of others, especially my hearers. In fact, all of St. Paul’s sage advice in the “Hymn to Charity” in I Cor. 13 spells out eloquently this “Rule.”
2. The Rule of Publicity: “Think with the mind of the Church.”
This rule is simply a translation of the Latin axiom “Sentire cum Ecclesia.” This means that, when we disagree, the final measure for judging what’s on target and what’s off the mark is what the Church thinks, not, ultimately, what you think or what I think – not private opinion, but what the Church has said to all to know. The criterion for our deciding our disagreements is not one’s own private opinions, but the mind of the People of God, what the Church thinks. In order to apply this rule effectively, we need to use a corollary: “Measure everything against the authoritative documents of the Magisterium.” The logical question to follow any call for us to “think with the mind of the Church” is: How do I know what that is? The answer is: “Look in the places where the Church has expressed her mind with authority.” Look in the writings of the Councils and the popes, in the Church’s laws, and in the teachings of her Fathers and Doctors.
3. The Rule of Legitimate Freedom: “What the Church allows is not to be disallowed.”
This rule means that in situations where the Church says that a variety of views or opinions is legitimate, I should not impose my option as a mandate on others. For example: we can receive Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue. Either one is acceptable.
4. The Rule of Catholic Freedom: “There’s something for everybody, but not everything is for everybody.”
This is an extension of the rule above. It applies the same sort of respect for diversity to the wider spheres of our common life. This rule is based on the recognition that “It’s a big Church.” God has given gifts of grace in an almost dizzying variety. Some folks are attracted to the Carmelite Third Order, others gather for charismatic prayer. Nobody has to live the Christian life exactly the way I do. Remember: “Think (and act) with the mind of the Church.” We need to respect every practice or approach that has a legitimate place in the life of the Church, and we cannot make our favorite practice or approach mandatory for others if the Church has not.
5. The Rule of Modesty: “Not all of my causes are God’s causes.”
Yes, it’s true that in many cases we invest our heart’s devotion because that’s what God commands for all his people. But that’s not necessarily so in every instance. Some of my agendas are mine. It’s right to embark on projects with a zealous desire to give God glory, but I have to remember that while it may be his will for me to take this on, there are cases when it’s not his will for everyone else to join me.
6. The Rule of Integrity: “To do evil in order to accomplish good is really to do evil.”
Breaking one of God’s commandments is not the way to advance his Kingdom, ever. If, in the service of Christ, I act in an un-Christian way, I become a highly effective ally of the very forces I set out to combat.
7. The Rule of Realism: “Remember that Satan is eager to corrupt my efforts to build up the Kingdom, and he’s smart enough to figure out a way to do it."
This rule is strong statement about the need for each of us in our disagreements to practice that form of realism, for which the more common name is “humility.” My cause may be right or my view may be true, but I have to watch that their goodness is not corrupted by my infidelity.
8. The Rule of Mystery: “Not all the habits and attitudes which belong to a society governed by a representative democracy are appropriate in the Church.”
In every age there is a tendency – often unconscious – to shape the life of the Church after the pattern of the secular order of the day. In the Middle Ages, the governance of the Church was often configured to the feudal system of the times, sometimes with very harmful consequences. For example, bishops and abbots were identified with the barons of the nobility.
In our own day, we could make a similar sort of mistake: thinking that the responsibility and authority of the Church’s pastors are of the same sort as that of our elected officials. In such mistaken identifications, what is at work is a forgetting that while the Church is, yes, a human reality, she is also a divine reality, a mystery, unlike any other community every known in the history of the world. The Church is neither a democracy nor a monarchy. She is the Church, the Lord’s own creation, constituted according to his will and plan.
9. The Petrine Rule: “Nobody ever built up the Church by tearing down the pope.”
This rule follows quite logically from the one immediately above. The Holy Father’s leadership is part of the Church’s constitution from Christ. Because the pope is not the sort of democratic leader we are accustomed to in civil society, there is a tendency by some observers to characterize his office as a “throwback” to times that we have surpassed, a “burden” for the Catholic people that we would well be freed from. Not so. The pastoral care we receive from the Holy Father is a great grace, St. Peter’s own service of his fellow disciples continuing to this very day. A great pope makes us a better Church.
10. The Eschatological Rule: “The victory is assured; my job is to run out the clock with style.”
Christ is risen – truly, body and soul risen and in glory at the Father’s right. He has conquered sin and death and all the forces that threaten us. Whatever is at stake in our trials or conflicts, the certainty of Christ’s victory is not in doubt. And he promised he would be with us always, until the end of time (cf. Mat. 28:20). He will never leave his Church, and his victory will be ours as long as we abide with him in his Mystical Body. This rule, of course, is not an excuse for giving less than our full effort to spread the Kingdom; that would be a kind of presumption. However, this rule is a call to remember that there is one Savior, and it’s not you or me. Our mission is to serve the Lord in fidelity and hope, and be ready for him to act, for he surely will.
Guidelines for the Internet
Visual and electronic media need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking takes time, needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. Nevertheless these new forms of media have undermined the intellectual discipline that we once had when our main tools of communication were books or print publications. This is not a good development. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. One of the challenges for the Church is that the Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish. Websites and blogs tend to concentrate on negative messages. Christians are known as the people who are against everything. If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.
Allow me to offer some guidelines for Catholics on the Internet who have developed a wide-ranging set of blogs and websites, some of which claim to be “Pro-Life” or “Catholic” websites. Such sites with life issues and a variety of Catholic matters. Many times these sites set themselves above the Church, and do not abide by any journalistic ethics or concern for the unity of the Church, the integrity and truth of the stories. Writers or masters of such sites do not realize the confusion, harm and disunity they bring to faithful Catholics and those who would like to support the causes of life, but are often deterred from doing so because of false information, inflammatory, erroneous stories filled with half-truths, and uncharity that is found in spades on the Internet. To believe in the Gospel of Life means to humbly bring the Gospel message to the world. To believe in the Gospel of Life means that we do will not hate, revile or destroy other human beings as we strive to preserve the dignity of every human life, from womb to tomb: from conception to natural death.
  1. Always remember the superiority of the real world over the virtual world. If you are spending more time interacting with people over the Internet than you do in the real world, then you need to seriously curtail your online activity.
  2. Don’t ever say anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t say in person. If you wouldn’t call someone a terrible name to their face, don’t call them that online (and if you would call them that to their face, perhaps you need to see your confessor). Don’t write anything in anger. If you write a post or comment on a blog or on a forum in anger, be sure to preview it before posting. Then delete it.
  3. Don’t stereotype people. It is very easy to stereotype the people we ‘meet’ over the internet. If someone says he likes the Traditional Latin Mass, don’t assume that he is an ‘angry Traditionalist’ who rejects Vatican II completely. The truth is that most people don’t fall into nice and neat categories. Remember to just debate actual arguments raised, not positions you assume the person also holds. Don’t think you actually know people you only encounter online. You don’t.
  4. Always assume the good intentions of others. If someone writes something that could possibly be interpreted multiple ways, assume the best interpretation. Writing is a difficult task, and often what we write isn’t exactly what we mean. Give people the same benefit of the doubt that you want to be given.
  5. Remember who the real enemy is. It’s not some heterodox blogger or pro-abortion advocate. It’s Satan. Those who do things that support his reign are slaves of Satan, and our duty is not to try to defeat them, but emancipate them and help them become sons of and daughters of their true Father in heaven. We must resist evil in all its forms, but those who advocate for evil need to be converted, not conquered.
  6. Remember that God resists the proud. Just because someone has a keyboard, a website, a screen or a personal blog does not make them a theologian, a canonist, a Church historian or a liturgist. It is easy to look upon them like the Pharisee did to the publican. Instead of quickly jumping in to tell them how they are wrong, first say a prayer for them and then gently lead them to a fuller understanding of the truth.
In conclusion, let us make Pope John Paul II’s beautiful prayer from his Encyclical Letter on the Gospel of Life Evangelium Vitae our own as we continue to work for life wherever we are:
Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life:
Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies
not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely
in order to build, together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God the Creator and lover of life.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Television Network