Signs of Spring

The signs of spring are everywhere at this time of year. So are the signs of a springtime of the faith — signs so clear that even secular newspapers are speaking up.

“Area Catholics Flock Back to Church,” says one headline. “Many Return to the Fold,” says another.

And then, there is the one that is particularly appropriate for April 25, World Day of Prayer for Vocations: “U.S. Vocations on the Rise.”

Pope John Paul II has said he expects a new springtime of the faith — but only if Christians co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

Apparently dioceses are cooperating. Their initiatives to gather lapsed Catholics back into the Church, or to bring new ones in, generated the first two headlines.

In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 83 parishes cooperated in Lent to provide 1,100 priests hearing confessions in a Reconciliation Weekend that filled churches with penitents. In similar events in Denver and in Washington, D.C., representatives from marriage tribunals were on hand to help lapsed Catholics explore a return to the sacraments. In Buffalo, N.Y., a “come home hot line” works with families of fallen-away Catholics.

Young men and women are cooperating as well. Commentators continue to be surprised by the great numbers who flock to meet with the Holy Father wherever he goes, just like they did when he visited St. Louis earlier this year.

And their interest is not just a passing one. The vocation headline above is from USA Today, reporting the results of a study by Georgetown University's pastoral research center. The study showed that more men are seeking entrance to the priesthood — and that more of them are from younger age groups.

And then there was the cover story in the April 4 New York Times Magazine. It was a generally admiring look at today's crop of earnest young seminarians.

There is much to learn form all this.

First is the lesson of unity — a unity that can only come from a shared commitment to faith.

In the face of discouraging trends in the Church and the world, the Holy Father has called for a New Evangelization. It is to be carried out like the old — with positive action. As he said recently to pilgrims in Rome, “The communio Sanctorum speaks more effectively to people than the factors that divide. … Our testimony of unity to the world cannot but foster civil unity, contributing to building a more humane, more just and more harmonious society.”

Second, we know that if a springtime of faith is to lead to a full transformation of the culture, it will have to take root also in our Catholic universities.

The Register has been following events in the debate over how Church norms regarding the teaching of theology will be applied in America's Catholic colleges and universities. There are many hopeful signs here. The beautiful document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in which John Paul expresses the Church's vision of the Catholic university, has received wide praise. And the efforts of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, among others, have been opening promising avenues of renewal in the Catholic academic world.

The Association for Catholic Colleges and Universities is due later this month to complete a document laying out its own understanding of how Church norms should be applied in America.

They, too, must read the signs of the times, and we hope the document will reflect the vigor and hope of the Jubilee Church in the spirit of communio that Cardinal George proposed to them.

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Germany Remembers

For two decades, Peter Singer has been a major international voice in biomedical ethics. He is part of an infamous circle of thinkers who advocate not only abortion, but infanticide, particularly in the case of the handicapped. Small wonder then, that his hiring by Princeton University for its bioethics chair set off shock waves on campus and beyond. It's not the first time Singer has triggered an adverse reaction.

In the summer of 1993 a biomedical conference scheduled in Germany had to be canceled when associations for the disabled learned that Singer was one of the conference speakers. They pressured the German hotels and restaurants to refuse accommodations to the conference members. Their fear was that since Singer justified killing disabled infants, it was reasonable to suppose that he justified killing disabled adults as well. And in Germany, they have heard such arguments before.

In the end, the most frightening thing about Singer is not that he is worse than other supporters of abortion, but that he articulates their deepest presuppositions. His argument is that the right to life depends on a religious premise which can now be set aside. This is not an uncommon presupposition behind the thinking of many supporters of abortion and euthanasia.

After all, if a human being is just an incarnated bundle of pleasures and hopes, then when his life lacks these things, it lacks meaning. Philosophy can say much about the importance of the human being apart from his pleasures and personal satisfactions. But the greatest safeguard of human dignity — the strongest case against everything that demeans man, from abortion and euthanasia to racism — is the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God.

We must argue the case for life in every way possible, but we cannot afford to allow that fundamental argument to be silenced.