Since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its fateful decision in Roe v. Wade, U.S. citizens have been treated to a slew of arguments designed to sustain public support for legal abortion.
Proponents have asserted that the procedure was a necessary evil to fight poverty and advance gender equality. We were told that the unborn child was not a human being. More recently, talking points have shifted to present abortion as a matter of "woman’s health."
Yet, amid all the spin, the dark, disturbing truth of abortion has touched the consciences of Americans of all ages. An estimated 58 million unborn children have died since the Supreme Court 1973 ruling in Roe, and, for many people, conversion of heart has followed their direct experience with the emotional and spiritual devastation abortion has wrought on all those who come in contact with the procedure — mother, father, sibling, grandparent, physician, nurse and abortion-business worker.
Now, as "marriage equality" gains ground across the nation, Catholics in the United States must decide whether we will stand by and allow the same painful process to play out. Will we permit the redefinition of marriage to exact a great human toll until the pain cannot be ignored any longer and we are forced to reverse course?
If we do not want to wait to deepen our engagement with the culture, we need to acknowledge that Catholic leaders, educators and ordinary believers have a great deal of work to do. Thus far, public-opinion polls suggest that the Church has not effectively catechized its own flock, and the majority of young Catholics now support "marriage equality" as a matter of fairness. A case in point is the recent furor that erupted in Seattle, where students at a Catholic high school protested the departure of a vice principal after administrators learned he had married his same-sex partner. A national campaign has been launched to demand the vice principal’s reinstatement, and the school’s president and chairman of the board have resigned in the wake of the controversy.
But Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle has defended the school’s decision, and, in a Jan. 15 statement, he said the ensuing debate offered "an opportunity to help our students learn even more about Catholic teaching."
Ten days later, during his Jan. 25 homily at the Mass preceding the Walk for Life West Coast, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called on young Catholics to practice "heroic virtue" as powerful cultural forces seek to redefine marriage and stigmatize those who resist this trend.
"The truth needs a voice, and you, my dear young people, are that voice for the next generation. And your voice must be heard so that — just as you now understand the harm that abortion does to women despite the lies perpetrated by the abortion industry — future generations will understand that the natural truth of marriage benefits everyone and discriminates against no one; no one is harmed and everyone benefits when government enshrines in the law the right of everyone to have a mother and a father."
In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone referenced Pope Francis’ strong words about the evil of abortion as a symptom of a "throwaway" culture, and he suggested that the nation’s shifting views about the nature and purpose of marriage are "manifestations" of the same problem.
"A baby in the womb is thrown away because at least one of the two people who brought that baby into the world has thrown the other away, has rejected the other as someone worthy of commitment, self-surrender and unconditional love," he said. "This is what marriage is and is for: not a privileged social status, not a government recognition of people’s love life, not a special relationship one stays in as long as one is deriving some immediate benefit from it; but a self-surrender of husband and wife to each other for the sake of the children they bring into the world — just like Christ and the Church, as St. Paul teaches us."
He further noted that "marriage equality" is but the latest threat to a vital social institution anchored in vows of fidelity, permanence and fruitfulness. "[T]his has been going on in our society for a very long time now; actually, for at least as long as the abortion-rights movement has been in existence," he said. His point served as a reminder that the failure to effectively teach the fullness of Catholic teaching on contraception and divorce and remarriage has made it more difficult to address confusion about same-sex "marriage."
But how can young Catholics become the voice of truth for their generation when they do not know or understand Catholic teaching on marriage? And what will it take for the Catholic community to marshal all of its spiritual, moral and institutional powers to fight for marriage in the United States by presenting an integrated, joyful vision of love, life and marriage?
"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God," Jesus said (Matthew 5:8). The virtue of chastity is part of the good news of the Gospel, but it is seldom championed.
Catholic schools are known for fostering a commitment to social change in their students, but the subject of chastity is not so popular at many schools. Yet, as the Catechism teaches, our sexuality "becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman" (2337).
This is the time for an examination of conscience, spurred by the knowledge that we can only pass on the truth that chastity is the path to joy, freedom and fulfillment if we first believe it ourselves. And if that reflection requires a boost of urgency, let the doubting Thomases recall our long and harrowing path since Roe v. Wade and ask themselves, "Do we really want to wait for proof that a redefinition of marriage has and will harm the next generation of Americans?"