Potent Antidote to Relativism
While Catholic converts in the pro-life movement say that the Church’s consistent witness inspired them to learn more about the faith, there are cradle Catholics — including national and state political leaders — who openly challenge teachings on abortion and traditional marriage.
In Porta Fidei, his apostolic letter proclaiming the Year of Faith, to begin in October, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that secularism has weakened the moral foundations of Western culture and politics.
“Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people,” he says.
The Holy Father offers an antidote — a muscular catechesis that adheres to Catholic faith and morals — as the centerpiece of the New Evangelization.
In January, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a related statement, which noted that the Pope’s initiative “is intended to contribute to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the Church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the risen Lord, capable of leading those many people who are seeking it to the door of faith.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided general guidelines for national bishops’ conferences that stressed the importance of improving “the quality of catechesis,” anchored in the Catechism.
The document advised that local ordinaries use media to help reach the larger community. The Vatican will establish a dedicated website to highlight promising new programs.
In the coming months we will provide extensive coverage of these initiatives (indeed, we have already done so) and invite Catholic leaders to share their plans with our readers.
As Pope Benedict noted in Porta Fidei, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (Matthew 5:13-16). … We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples” (John 6:51).
Building Order, Not Power
The received wisdom that colors media coverage of the upcoming presidential election is that Americans are cynical and pessimistic about the future and the ability of our democracy to effect change.
But if cynicism truly defines our age, how do we explain the hundreds of thousands of Americans who streamed into the nation’s capital for the March for Life on Jan. 23?
Advocates for “abortion rights” have sought to characterize the pro-life movement as a “war on women.”
The name-calling worked for a while, but, inexorably, the pro-life message has slowly gained ground: A 2009 Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans called themselves “pro-life” and just 42% identified themselves as “pro-choice.”
Pro-life activists can take some credit for the shift in American values, which also signals the moral reflections of a “survivor” generation deeply aware that their own births were contingent on maternal “choice.”
The annual March for Life signals the moral health of our democracy and the strong spiritual roots that nourish the political process.
The past century witnessed the depths to which state-sponsored assaults on innocent life can descend and the failure of “democratic” nations like Germany to check the advance of a culture of death.
Only now has Germany become a country that can “trust itself” again. In the United States, the pro-life movement’s 40-plus-year battle for the defense of human life may have done more good than we will ever know — it may have kept the United States from becoming a nation that no longer “trusts itself.”
Today, we must use our humble beachhead to gain solid victories in the legislatures and the courts. But we must also advance a compelling vision of human freedom and responsibility anchored in fundamental and unchanging truths about the ultimate things.
The malaise that has shaken the nation’s sense of purpose underscores the destructive impact of an unchecked ethos of individual autonomy that has made a morally grounded political consensus so difficult.
As Blessed John Paul II warned in Evangelium Vitae, “If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. … In this way, any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable; everything is open to bargaining: even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life.”
In these pages, Mary Ann Glendon, the Harvard law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, also reflects on the spiritual roots of the political vocation and the need for our national leaders to advance the common good.
She says, “If we think of politics as free persons deliberating about how to order their lives together — rather than just about getting and keeping power — nearly everyone who takes his or her baptismal vocation seriously has some form of calling to participate in that process, as he or she is able.”