Catholics are poised to take on a historic role in America that can transform the future of our country. If we do the right thing now, we won’t just restore the sanctity of life to its proper place as the fundamental right upon which all others depend — we will also make Catholics the most important force preserving and promoting the American ideal.
Or perhaps we will do nothing, watch our country slip further away from its principles, and leave our children a worse world than the one we have enjoyed.
Our final editorial in a series on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a federal ban on partial-birth abortion comes, appropriately, as Pope Benedict XVI returns from his trip to Brazil, a trip marked by his words promoting life.
American Catholics can learn important lessons in hope from his visit there. He taught that faith, and only faith, will win the battle for the heart of a nation.
That was the lesson of the crowds that flocked to see him — more than 400% larger than expected — and it was the subject of his address to bishops, in which he compared the enduring presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the fleeting fads of Marxism, capitalism and other ideologies.
“God is the foundational reality,” he said. Attempts to build on any other reality are destined to fail; the foundational reality of God will outlast them all. Those who choose to ignore fundamental realities are always surprised by their own defeat. We can count on that same dynamic in America, too.
The Supreme Court made abortion legal in all 50 states in 1973 — when pictures of children in the womb were almost unheard of. But simultaneously, medical science — and fetal photography — were developing at an amazing pace.
Today, the curtain has been lifted. We know that, in an embryo as small as a pinpoint, DNA has already determined whether the child is a boy or girl, how tall she’ll be, and what field position he’ll be best suited for in baseball. And today, many American parents see their children’s faces for the first time in ultrasound photos.
Reality is overtaking the abortion debate. Each year, a larger majority of Americans reports to pollsters that they are pro-life. It is only a matter of time before revulsion against abortion will reach a critical mass — a “tipping point,” to use a marketing phrase. At that point, predominant cultural attitudes toward abortion will swing so far so fast, it will appear to have changed “overnight,” whereas in reality this respect for life will have been growing incrementally for years.
If this sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. God is always performing the same trick. From the fall of Adam to the crucifixion of Christ to the age of martyrdom in the Church, the forces of evil keep convincing themselves that at last they have won. And they are always learning that they have put all their eggs in the wrong basket as God neatly turns their own momentum against them.
When this happens in America, Catholics will find themselves in a leading cultural role, for three reasons.
First, because Catholic theology uniquely understands the interrelationship between natural law and divine revelation, the power of persuasion will be on our side. Just as Thomas Aquinas was the great defender of both theology and common sense, the Church today uniquely understands aspects of natural law the world has forgotten: Our teachings on abortion, marriage and even contraception are defenses of what man can know without Scripture. Like the Declaration of Independence, Catholic moral thinking examines “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Second, Catholics will dominate in the future of America because of sheer numbers. Immigration from Mexico and family sizes mean the old Protestant America is throwing itself off a demographic cliff. Tomorrow’s America will be far less Protestant and far more Catholic.
And last, Catholics will have a prominent role in the future of America because we are the Church founded by Christ on the rock of Peter, the one Church that Christ promised would prevail against the gates of hell. Certainly, other Christian denominations rightly worship God, as the Second Vatican Council said. But Christ founded one Church, not many denominations, and our doctrines have the best expression of the “foundational reality” of God that will prevail.
What does this “Catholic future” mean for Catholics today? It certainly shouldn’t mean that we can feel proud or presumptuous. After all, previous generations of Catholics had these same advantages and squandered them scandalously and ignominiously — often precisely while they were feeling most triumphal.
It doesn’t mean that our fight will be easy, either — in the age of martyrdom, it never is. Rather, these “Catholic advantages” mean we have a grave responsibility to promote the culture of life and to defend the family — and that, no matter how hard the fight gets, we shouldn’t lose heart. God always wins.