Peter Kwasniewski

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Why pro-life Catholics should strive for a higher and deeper life

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

October 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — When people in the world hear the expression “pro-life,” they typically think of one and only one issue: abortion. When Christians hear “pro-life,” they might expand the definition to those who are opposed to the murder of human beings at all stages, whether in the womb, in infancy, or on the deathbed. When Catholics hear the expression, a further nuance should be present: those who take into account not only the worst abuses of human freedom but also the more subtle causes of the anti-life mentality, such as sexual hedonism, feminism, contraception, the divorce mentality, and parent absenteeism.

All of this is true as far as it goes. But there is more to being pro-life than this. The roots go deeper and the branches spread further.

Since man is a rational animal, human life is necessarily a rational life, which cannot be lived without some intellectual component. Every person is either well educated or badly educated; no one who lives to adulthood can avoid having his mind formed in some fashion, for better or for worse, be it in contact with natural truths and elevated by the Gospel, or suffering from ignorance and poisoned with errors. Sometimes, as we know, truth and error, insight and ignorance, are messily mingled. The quality of our intellectual life, its resonance with the primal truth that is God, is not incidental to our flourishing as creatures made to His image and likeness. The healthiest periods of human history have been those nourished by a truthful vision of God and man, with the God-man Jesus Christ at their center, even as the most harmful social movements — think of the hard and soft totalitarianisms of the modern era — have their roots in philosophical errors that spread like a contagious disease. We cannot realize our human potential or be mature Christians unless we cultivate our intellectual life in the great disciplines, from literature to philosophy, from the empirical sciences to the queen of all sciences, sacred theology. To be far-seeingly pro-life is to be pro-intellectual life.

Because man is rational, he is also cultural. Not only does he sense, think, and know; he also imagines that which is not, and makes a world around him with his hands. He brings works of art into being, from humble homes to glorious temples, from furniture and utensils to mosaic-covered domes. He is architect and builder, poet and singer, painter and sculptor. Just as an intellectual life is unavoidable, so too is a cultural life: we cannot avoid making our world, and we will make it either beautiful or ugly, life-affirming or life-negating. Our arts will give testimony and bodily form to the noble ideals or base appetites that guide us. Certain pagan civilizations produced lofty art from a lofty vision of the harmony of the cosmos and the nobility of man. In its Latin and Byzantine spheres, Christian civilization surpassed the best accomplishments of the pagans. Anti-Christian and post-Christian civilization has sunk far below the level of both pagans and believers, as it sputters out in mass-produced tourist trinkets, humorless parody, and nihilistic self-indulgence. This, however, is a hostile environment for natural and Christian truth. In the fine arts and the useful arts, Wisdom builds herself a home on earth. Without the inspiration of a true artistic vision, we grow weary on our journey, we cannot see our way forward. It is like abolishing the sun, the moon, and the stars. To be fully pro-life, then, is to be pro-cultural life. A good culture emerges from, creatively celebrates, and dynamically sustains the love of human life.

The highest activity of the human person is to turn his mind and heart to God, His first beginning and last end, and to worship Him: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory,” as we sing in the ancient hymn of the Gloria. We worship God not only because we are needy beings who seek good things from Him or the removal of evils, but above all for His sake, because He is the sovereign Truth, He is all-good, He is beautiful and supremely lovable. To worship God in spirit and in truth, as He deserves and as we were made to do, we must call upon all of our spiritual and bodily resources, bringing all of ourselves and all of creation to His heavenly throne. Religious worship is a solemn, public turning to God, which originates in our intellectual nature and expresses itself in the language of culture, the vocabulary of the arts in all their immediacy and grandeur. Liturgical worship is this very same thing when its principal actor is Jesus Christ, who offers and is offered, together with His Mystical Body, the Church: “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever, Amen.” If man the rational animal and the builder of culture follows his natural and supernatural bent, he will always find his way to the threshold of the temple and enter its gates with rejoicing, laying his sacrifice upon the altar with and for his Lord.

That is why to be pro-life in its most profound sense is to be pro-liturgical life. As the Second Vatican Council says about the baptized: “Participating in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and culmination of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It” (Lumen Gentium §11). “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium §10). The font from which all her power flows ... The power to welcome children, to love them into the Church, to care for them over all the years; the power to value every human person, well or ill, hale or handicapped, conscious or comatose, embryonic or elderly; the power to build a culture of life, a culture of beauty, a culture of intellect consecrated to the truth—all this flows from the Holy Mysteries. Without the Church’s liturgy, we fail to grasp the infinite dignity God has bestowed on us in Christ. We miss out on the flesh-and-blood encounter with the Source of Life, Life incarnate, Life outpoured for eternal life.

Correctly understood, then, the pro-life movement is pro-human life, pro-intellectual life, pro-cultural life, and pro-liturgical life. When we see this movement in its full breadth and depth, we see the prerequisites of our vision, the scope of our struggle, the source of our strength, and the glorious destiny of our toil.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College in California and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he serves as professor and choirmaster.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published five books: Wisdom’s Apprentice (CUA Press, 2007); On Love and Charity (CUA Press, 2008); Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014); and most recently, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Angelico Press, 2017). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has also been published in Czech, Polish, and German, will soon appear in Spanish and Portuguese, and is being translated into Italian, French, and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a board member and scholar of The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, and a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies. He has published over 500 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

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