Project's Goal: Healing by Happiness
SPOKANE, Wash. — Happiness is key.
That's what Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer and Camille De Blasi believe about turning around the culture of death.
Father Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University, has been turning faith-based and secular-minded people toward a culture of life by helping them embrace the intrinsic dignity of human beings. The steps to true happiness play a central role in that.
The priest's book, Healing the Culture, became the basis for a curriculum used on college campuses nationwide and for the Center for Life Principles at the Washington Right to Life office.
The book now serves a new organization, Healing the Culture, founded by Camille De Blasi, who worked with Father Spitzer at the Center for Life Principles.
Healing the Culture's goal is to promote the dignity of the human person and create a pro-life culture, De Blasi said. She is expanding the educational programs the Center for Life Principles developed for a wider audience of religious and secular groups, including junior and senior high schools, parishes and pro-life organizations.
“Our culture does not value the image and likeness of God in the unborn, the elderly and the disabled because we do not value the image and likeness of God in ourselves,” De Blasi said. “You are never going to transform the culture into a culture of life until you address that issue.”
Father Spitzer's book presents a philosophy of happiness, freedom and the life issues, and a common-sense guide to enhanced meaning and purpose in life, De Blasi said.
He incorporates the four levels of happiness outlined in St. Augustine's Confessions into a logical framework for the contemporary culture, she explained. The lower levels serve man's desire for physical pleasure through the senses and the intellect through talents and accomplishments.
But for man to obtain happiness these levels must serve the higher levels, which lead to participation in good beyond the self for the sake of others and to the ultimate happiness of understanding the need for God and surrendering to his unconditional love.
Young People Get It
Father Spitzer explained what happens: “As people move through the levels, they begin to see that the only way they can have an efficacious life is to get up to levels three and four.”
By level three, they start to see the intrinsic dignity of human beings and the inalienable right to life and liberty that flow from that. Young people grasp the happiness doctrine and immediately change their minds on the life issues, he added.
“It really shocks them because they realize they've been complicit in causing a social marginalization of the unborn, the elderly, a whole group of people,” he said.
When small cultures think that way, it will lead to large cultures thinking that way and will start affecting the media, education, politics, government and the courts. Now is a good opportunity to take back the culture, Father Spitzer said, because pro-abortion people are in a “dogmatic slumber.”
The Life Principles message is readily accepted by a wide variety of people, regardless of denomination or ideology, at Assemblies of God-affiliated Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash., according to associate professor Gary Gillespie. Each time De Blasi speaks in his Human Communications class, he observes the program is intuitively appealing.
“Students tell me they are startled by the insight it provides and immediately internalize the simple truth that we are made for a happiness that comes from living for the higher purposes,” Gillespie said. “For example, those students going into low-paid careers like teaching or church service feel more justified knowing the intangible rewards of pouring their lives into others may be more valuable than the security of a higher salary.”
Greg Schleppenbach, director of pro-life activities for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the Life Principles, like Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), get to the very root of the culture problem. The core of the issue is a spiritual one, he said — an impoverished relationship with God that clouds our ability to respect the dignity of the creature made in his image.
“We get so mired in the details of the everyday attacks on human dignity that we're constantly reacting to the latest manifestation,” Schleppenbach said. “But if you haven't gotten to the root, it will just pop right back up.”
De Blasi has spoken at annual events of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
Schleppenbach said he is more focused now on helping people understand where the attacks on human dignity are coming from. He has also added spiritual elements to the pro-life activities, including Masses and holy hours for life, and prayer and fasting for the cause. These are activities he would have brushed off when he started his work 13 years ago, but now he believes they will change the world.
Oblate of St. Joseph Father John Warburton of Loomis, Calif., has embraced the Life Principles as a way to win the hearts and minds of the youth who often are not even aware there is a culture war going on. After hearing Father Spitzer speak, he had a “road to Emmaus” experience.
“As I heard him tackle these big issues of the day and analyze it so clearly, it was like, ‘Was not my heart burning in me?’” he said.
Today Father Warburton is working with De Blasi to make the Oblates retreat center a Life Principles center for young people. As the director of formation at the Oblates' Mount St. Joseph Seminary nearby, he is also training the seminarians to assist at retreats, which he will direct for confirmation and high-school groups.
“Life Principles shows that something as important as an inalienable right has been taken away, and we didn't even know it,” he said. “Instead of rights you received from your Creator, now they are defined by whatever a majority of Supreme Court justices think.”
Father Spitzer said there is only one conclusion people can make by the fourth level: If it's human, it's a person and it has rights.
“More so than simply protecting life, we want to move people to a notion of personhood that is really sacred,” he said. “Life is transcendental and the beauty of every human being is sacred and loved by God.”
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.
- March 21-27, 2004