Archbishop Raymond Burke is the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in the Vatican. This article is adapted from remarks he delivered at InsideCatholic's 14th Annual Partnership Dinner, on September 18, 2009.
It is clear that we are experiencing today a period of intense and critical struggle in the advancement of the culture of life in our nation. The administration of our federal government openly and aggressively follows a secularist agenda. While it may employ religious language and even invoke the name of God, in fact, it proposes programs and policies for our people without respect for God and His Law. In the words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, it proceeds “as if God did not exist” (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, “On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World,” 30 December 1988, no. 34).
At the same time, there is a lack of unity among those dedicated to advance a culture which respects fully the gift of human life and its origin in procreation, that is, in the cooperation of man and woman with God through the conjugal union and through education in the home which they have formed by marriage. Recent statements, occasioned by the Rites of Christian Burial accorded to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, have manifested profound disagreement and even harsh criticism among those who are publicly committed to the Gospel of Life.
As we share the same commitment to foster respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, I wish to offer some fundamental reflections on how to advance the culture of life in our nation. The reflections are not comprehensive. It is my hope that, in some small way, they may help us both to address more effectively the Gospel of Life to the political leadership of our nation and to draw together in greater unity with all who are truly dedicated to promote the respect for human life and the integrity of the marital union and its fruit, family life.
Finally, by way of introduction, I have tried to relate these reflections to the Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, “On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth,” of Pope Benedict XVI, given on June 29th of this year. It seems to me that the development for which God has created man is achieved in the establishment of the culture of life. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
Hence charity and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing these powerful new forces [in the development of peoples], animating them within the perspective of that “civilization of love” whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, “On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth,” 29 June 2009, no. 33; hereafter, Caritas in veritate).
Our tireless promotion of the culture of life, in fact, responds to the deepest longing in every man, and in every society. It anticipates and prepares “a new heaven and a new earth,” which Our Lord Jesus Christ will inaugurate at His Final Coming (Rv 21:1).
The context of my reflections is the truth that the struggle against the total secularization of our nation is, by no means, futile, that is, ultimately destined to failure. Notwithstanding the grave situation, in our nation, of the attack on innocent and defenseless human life and on the integrity of marriage as the union of man and woman in a bond of lifelong, faithful and procreative love, there remains a strong voice in defense of our littlest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters, without boundary or exception, and of the truth about the marital union as it was constituted by God at the Creation. The Christian voice, the voice of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles, remains strong in our nation. The voice of men and women of good will, men and women who recognize and obey the law of God written upon their hearts, remains strong in our nation.
Living outside of the United States of America, living in Europe, I can say, without hesitation, that many who recognize the human bankruptcy of a secularized culture are looking with hope to our nation, with hope that our people will claim anew the God-fearing and Christian foundations of our democracy. God has created us to choose life; God the Son Incarnate has won the victory of life for us, the victory over sin and everlasting death (cf. Dt 30:19; Jn 10:10). We, therefore, must never give up in the struggle to advance a culture founded on the choice of life, which God has written upon our hearts, and the victory of life, which Christ has won in our human nature. In fact, we witness every day the commitment of God-fearing Americans in advancing the cause of life and the family in their homes, in their local communities and in our nation.
With regard to the foundations of our democracy, it is sometimes said that, although the founders of our nation used religious language, their faith was not truly Christian in the sense that it was profoundly influenced by the secularist philosophy of the Enlightenment. In other words, if they believed in God, they understood God to be remote from man and the world, leaving man to his own designs, to his own making of himself and the world. In a particular way, the position that our country is not really founded on faith in God is said to be verified in the language of the Constitution of the United States of America, in which neither the name of God nor reference to His Law ever appear. Such a position is used to assert that the foundation of the union which is our nation does not rest ultimately upon the natural moral law but upon what a majority of the citizens wish at any given time, in accord with a rationalist and secularist philosophy.
Whatever may have been the philosophy of particular founders of our nation, it seems clear that the inspiration for the founding of the nation came from a declared faith in God and in the inalienable rights with which He has endowed man, as expressed in the Action of the Second Continental Congress, that is, The Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that government exists to safeguard the inalienable rights of man, which have their origin in God and are safeguarded by His Law. The representatives of our nation, at its beginning, concluded The Declaration of Independence with an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the World” and, “with a firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence,” pledged their “Lives”, their “Fortunes,” and their “sacred Honor” to each other in support of everything which they had declared. The citizens of our nation, notwithstanding the persistent and strong influence of secularist philosophy, have consistently manifested belief in God and trust in His Providence, which faith and hope also have disposed them, as they disposed the founders of our nation, to give their lives to safeguard the God-given rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” To deny the Christian foundation of the life of our nation is to deny our very history.
Articulating the context in which I place my reflections, I do not, in any way, deny the contribution which other religions and persons of good will have made to the life of our nation. To acknowledge the Christian faith which inspired the foundation of our nation and has sustained our nation is not a declaration of intolerance toward persons who are not Christians. It is, in fact, of the very nature of the Christian faith to love all men, without boundary or exception. The Golden Rule, taught to us by Our Lord Jesus, expresses the Christian embrace of all men, without boundary or exclusion (cf. Mt 7:12). For Christians, the acceptance of others who are not of the Christian faith is not a matter of tolerance, but of love which adheres to the truths of the faith while respecting the beliefs of those who are not Christian, as long as those beliefs are coherent with the natural moral law, that is, coherent with the respect for the “inalienable rights” with which God has endowed every man. Christian love does not have its foundation in blind tolerance of others and of what they think and say and do, but rather in the profound knowledge of others and their beliefs, and the honest acknowledgment of differences of belief, especially in what may compromise the life of the nation.
A second context of my remarks is the essential relationship of the respect for human life and the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered conjugal act retains its integrity. The claim is that the act remains unitive, even though the procreative nature of the act has been radically violated. In fact, it is not unitive, for one or both of the partners withholds an essential part of the gift which is the essence of the conjugal union. The so-called “contraceptive mentality” is essentially anti-life. Many forms of so-called contraception are, in fact, abortifacient, that is, they destroy, at its beginning, a life which has already been conceived.
The manipulation of the conjugal act, as Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence to marriage and family life (Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, “On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring,” 25 July 1968, no. 17). Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and even destructive of individuals and of society itself. One has only to think of the devastation which is daily wrought in our nation by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography. Essential to the advancement of the culture of life is the proclamation of the truth about the conjugal union, in its fullness, and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.
It is instructive to note that Pope Benedict XVI, in his most recent encyclical letter on the Church's social doctrine, makes special reference to Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, underscoring its importance “for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes” (Caritas in veritate, no. 15). Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that the teaching in Humanae vitae was not simply a matter of “individual morality,” declaring:
Humanae vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium vitae (Caritas in veritate, no. 15).
He reminds us of the essential part which a right understanding of our sexuality has in true human development. In treating the whole question of procreation, he underscores the critical nature of the right understanding of human sexuality, marriage and the family. He declares:
The Church, in her concern for man's authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality. It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the “risk” of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by individuals but also by the community (Caritas in veritate, no. 44).
The respect for the integrity of the conjugal act is essential to the context for the advancement of the culture of life. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is necessary “once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person” (Caritas in veritate, no. 44). Correspondingly, he notes that “States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character” (Caritas in veritate, no. 44).
Faith and Political Life
Regarding the faith and political life, there has developed in our nation the false notion that the Christian or any person of faith, in order to be a true American citizen, must bracket his faith life from his political life. According to such a notion, one ends up with Christians, for example, who claim personally to be faithful members of the Church and, therefore, to hold to the demands of the natural moral law, while they sustain and support the right to violate the moral law in its most fundamental tenets. We find self-professed Catholics, for example, who sustain and support the right of a woman to procure the death of the infant in her womb, or the right of two persons of the same sex to the recognition which the State gives to a man and a woman who have entered into marriage. It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself politically in this manner.
Such conduct is also not true to the founding principles of our nation and its government. While the clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the free-exercise of religion, prohibits the imposition of purely confessional practices on the general population, it fosters the teaching and upholding of the moral law, common to all men, which is at the heart of every true religion. What kind of government would require that its citizens and political leaders act without reference to the fundamental requirements of the moral law?
While true religion teaches the natural moral law, the observance of the moral law is not a confessional practice. It is rather a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart. Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law, enabling men of faith to recognize more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognize. For that reason, the founders of our nation acknowledged the importance of religious faith for the life of the nation. The free exercise clause, in fact, aims to protect the teaching and practice of religious faith for the sake of the common good. In his Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:
The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions. The Church's social doctrine came into being in order to claim “citizenship status” for the Christian religion. Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development…. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development (Caritas in veritate, no. 56).
Presently, in our nation, the Christian faith has a critical responsibility to articulate clearly the natural moral law and its demands. Under the constant influence of a rationalist and secularist philosophy which makes man, instead of God, the ultimate measure of what is right and good, we have become confused about the most basic truths, for example, the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, and the integrity of marriage between one man and one woman as the first and irreplaceable cell of the life of society. If Christians fail to articulate and uphold the natural moral law, then they fail in the fundamental duty of patriotism, of loving their country by serving the common good. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the universal natural moral law “provides a sound basis for all cultural, religious and political dialogue, and it ensures that the multi-faceted pluralism of cultural diversity does not detach itself from the common quest for truth, goodness and God” (Caritas in veritate, no. 59). Referring to the fundamental moral defect of our culture, that is, “a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human,” Pope Benedict XVI declares: “God reveals man to himself; reason and faith work hand in hand to demonstrate to us what is good, provided we want to see it; the natural law, in which creative Reason shines forth, reveals our greatness, but also our wretchedness insofar as we fail to recognize the call to moral truth” (Caritas in veritate, no. 75).
Reality of Scandal
Recognizing the responsibility of Christians and of all men of good will to enunciate and uphold the natural moral law, we also recognize the scandal which is given when Christians fail to uphold the moral law in public life. When those who profess to be Christian, at the same time, favor and promote policies and laws which permit the destruction of innocent and defenseless human life, and which violate the integrity of marriage and the family, then citizens, in general, are confused and led into error about the basic tenets of the moral law. In our time, there is a great hesitation to speak about scandal, as if, in some way, it is only a phenomenon among persons of small or unenlightened mind, and, therefore, a tool of such persons to condemn others rashly and wrongly.
Certainly, there is such a thing as pharisaical scandal, that is, a malicious interpretation of the morally good or, at least, morally indifferent actions of another. The term comes from the supposed scandal which Our Lord Jesus caused to the Pharisees by, for instance, healing the man born blind on the Sabbath (cf. Jn 9:13-34).
But there is also true scandal, that is, the leading of others, by our words, actions and failures to act, into confusion and error, and, therefore, into sin. Our Lord was unequivocal in his condemnation of those who would confuse or lead others into sin by their actions. In teaching His disciples about temptations, He declared:
Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin (Lk 17:1-2).
It is clear that Our Lord taught as a primary responsibility, with the gravest of consequences, the avoidance of scandal, namely, of any act or failure to act which could lead another into sin. Our Lord's words are nothing less than vehement.
To ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, for example, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation. The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law (Code of Canon Law, cann. 915; and 1184, § 1, 3º).
It is said that these disciplines which the Church has consistently observed down the centuries presume to pass a judgment on the eternal salvation of a soul, which belongs to God alone, and, therefore, should be abandoned. On the contrary, these disciplines are not a judgment on the eternal salvation of the soul in question. They are simply the acknowledgment of an objective truth, namely, that the public actions of the soul are in violation of the moral law, to his own grave harm and to the grave harm of all who are confused or led into error by his actions. The Church confides every soul to the mercy of God, which is great beyond all our imagining, but that does not excuse her from proclaiming the truth of the moral law, also by applying her age-old disciplines, for the sake of the salvation of all.
When a person has publicly espoused and cooperated in gravely sinful acts, leading many into confusion and error about fundamental questions of respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, his repentance of such actions must also be public. The person in question bears a heavy responsibility for the grave scandal which he has caused. The responsibility is especially heavy for political leaders. The repair of such scandal begins with the public acknowledgment of his own error and the public declaration of his adherence to the moral law. The soul which recognizes the gravity of what he has done will, in fact, understand immediately the need to make public reparation.
If there has always been the danger of giving scandal to others by public and seriously sinful actions or failures to act, that danger is heightened in our own time. Because of the confusion about the moral law, which is found in public discourse, in general, and is even embodied in laws and judicial pronouncements, the Christian is held to an even higher standard of clarity in enunciating and upholding the moral law. It is particularly insidious that our society which is so profoundly confused about the most basic goods also believes that scandal is a thing of the past. One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. Teaching about the relationship of human ecology to environmental ecology, Pope Benedict XVI underscores a contradiction in “the overall moral tenor of society,” which leads us and especially our youth into serious confusion and error:
If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other (Caritas in veritate, no. 51).
One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church. In a society whose thinking is governed by the “tyranny of relativism” and in which political correctness and human respect are the ultimate criteria of what is to be done and what is to be avoided, the notion of leading someone into moral error makes little sense. What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society. Lying or failing to tell the truth, however, is never a sign of charity. A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church's unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life. Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.
Proportionalist Moral Reasoning
At the root of the confusion regarding the moral law is a form of distorted moral reasoning called proportionalism or consequentialism. The Servant of God Pope John Paul II addressed the error of proportionalist moral thinking in his Encyclical Letter Splendor veritatis. At root, the error places all moral issues on the same level, failing to distinguish between intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts which are always and everywhere wrong, and acts which may or may not be wrong, depending on the objective conditions required for the act to be morally right. It is also given to the confusion of ends and means, judging the goodness of an act by the end it achieves, without reference to the immorality of the means used to achieve the end. Pope Benedict XVI makes reference to the harm done in questions regarding technology, when ends and means are confused (cf. Caritas in veritate, no. 71). He also cautions us about the equivocal use of the term, ethics, in questions of development, observing:
Much in fact depends on the underlying system of morality. On this subject the Church's social doctrine can make a specific contribution, since it is based on man's creation “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27), a datum which gives rise to the inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent value of natural moral norms (Caritas in veritate, no. 45).
According to the proportionalist way of thinking, procured abortion, which is always and everywhere wrong, is placed on the same plane with acts of war which may or may not be wrong. A recent article in a Catholic journal of bioethics gives expression to the proportionalist way of thinking. The writer states that he voted for a particular candidate whom he knew was in favor of embryonic stem-cell research, which involves the deliberate destruction of a human life at its beginning, because he agreed with the candidate on other issues, namely “the war in Iraq, universal health care, the importance of diplomacy and dialogue, energy policy, concern for the environment, and global climate change” (W. Malcolm Byrnes, “Confessions of a 'Pro-life' Obama Supporter,” The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, 9 , 241). The candidate for whom he voted was also in favor of procured abortion, including partial-birth abortion, and so-called “same-sex marriage.”
According to the proportionalist way of thinking, each of us has the right to choose what are the most important moral issues. Ultimately, it lacks any relationship to the objective truth of actions. It fails to realize that unless the fundamental moral goods are safeguarded, that is, human life and the sanctuary of marriage, other moral issues, while having an importance, lose their ultimate meaning. In such a way of thinking, for instance, one can accept a program of universal health care, even if it includes the compulsory provision of abortion and the rationing of health care to the benefit of those considered to be “productive,” while providing for the hastening of death for the aged, the weak and those with special needs, that is, for those considered to be “unproductive,” according to the reasoning of whoever has political power.
In this regard, I find the language of values to be less than adequate to our moral discourse. Although I know it is common to speak of moral values, we must remember that the language of values, which comes to us from the world of economics, usually expresses a relative assessment of worth. What is a value to me may not be a value to another. What is really at stake are objective goods, created by God and participating in His own goodness, like human life and the union of man and woman in marriage. They are good in themselves, no matter how I may view them. Only when I am able to view them as they are, according to God's plan, am I able to do what is right and good. Only then I find happiness in a right relationship with others and with the world.
Whatever the good intention of using the image of a seamless garment to talk about the moral issues regarding human life, it has become identified with the proportionalist way of thinking in which, for example, acts of war, the use of the death penalty, procured abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia are viewed as matters of equal moral weight. In other words, the image covers over the distinction between intrinsically evil acts and acts which are not evil in themselves but can become evil, if unjustly taken. The moral questions pertaining to the safeguarding and fostering of human life are all related to one another but they are not of the same weight. To use the image of the garment, they are not all of the same cloth. The use of the metaphor of the seamless garment, while it may have been intended to promote the culture of life, has, in fact, been used to justify the acceptance of acts essentially contrary to a culture of life for the sake of attaining some seeming good. Whatever good intention those who have developed the “seamless garment” argument may have had, it falsely places intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts which are always and everywhere morally wrong, on the same plane with acts which, according to prudent judgment, may not sufficiently safeguard human life.
In a similar way, the language of common ground is employed in the advancement of a proportionalist or consequentialist way of moral thinking. Common ground, rightly understood, is the ground of moral goodness. It is established by what is objectively good. If, on the contrary, it is understood to be the compromise of certain moral truths for the sake of harmony with those who deny a moral truth, for example, the intrinsic evil of procured abortion or euthanasia, then it is a betrayal of the good and can only lead to the harm of self and others, and of society itself.
Sometimes, we hear that we as Christians or as apostles of the Gospel of Life must be careful to get along in society, not to separate ourselves or to appear to be counter-cultural. One wonders how such language squares with the essence of the Gospel, that is, to be “a sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 2:34). At the same time, one cannot help but think of what Christians getting along and being politically correct has meant in other nations whose leaders had embraced an agenda of death and the totalitarianism which advanced it.
In some way, our consciences have become dulled to the gravity of certain moral issues. When insistence on the elimination of legalized abortion in our nation is dismissed as a kind of “single-issue” approach, as the obsession of the “religious right,” which fails to take account of a whole gamut of moral issues, then we have lost the sense of the horror of destroying a human life in the womb. In a similar way, when the denial of nutrition and hydration to the gravely ill is seen as a “single issue,” then we have lost a sense of the horror of failing to give basic care to a brother or sister who has grown weak for whatever reason. It is not a question of a single issue but of what is fundamental to life itself and to society. I recall the words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II:
The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “On the Good and Inviolability of Human Life,” 25 March 1995, no. 58).
Finally, in advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective meaning of the common good. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council described the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, “On the Church in the Modern World,” 7 December 1965, no. 26). The fulfillment of individuals and societies is not some subjective determination by those, for example, who are in power. It is the fulfillment which is written in the very nature of man, in nature itself. It is the fulfillment for which God has created us and our world, not the fulfillment which, at any given time, we may find attractive or useful. It is interesting to note that the English word, fulfillment, translates the Latin word, perfectio, that is, the perfection of the individual or group, according to man's proper nature and end. In The Declaration of Independence the objective fulfillment or perfection which the common good safeguards and promotes is described as “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
In advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective nature of the common good and of the perfection which it makes possible. Not everyone who uses the term, common good, understands its true meaning. In a recent article, a well-known European Catholic theologian, commenting on the Commencement Address of President Barack Obama at Notre Dame University on May 17th of this year, declared:
In fact, the speech to the University of Notre Dame seems strewn with references taken from the Christian tradition. There is, for example, an expression which frequently returns, “common ground,” which corresponds to a fundamental concept of the social teaching of the Church, that of the common good (Georges Cottier, O.P., “La politica, la morale e il peccato originale,” 30Giorni, 2009, no. 5, p. 33).
The common good refers to an objective perfection which is not defined by common agreement among some of us. The common good is defined by creation itself as it has come from the hand of the Creator. Not only does the notion of common ground not correspond to the reality of the common good, it can well be antithetical to it (for instance, if there should be common agreement in society to accept as good for society what is, in reality, always and everywhere evil).
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, the common good “is the good of 'all of us', made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society” (Caritas in veritate, no. 7). The common good corresponds “to the real needs of our neighbors”; it is an act of charity which each Christian is to exercise “in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis” (Caritas in veritate, no. 7). Pope Benedict XVI consoles and urges us onward in seeking the common good:
God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope (Caritas in veritate, no. 78).
It is my hope that these few reflections will help us all to engage with new enthusiasm and new energy in the struggle to advance the culture of life in our nation. The struggle is fierce and the contrary forces are many and clever. But the victory has already been won, and the Victor never fails to accompany us in the struggle, for he is faithful to His promise to us: “[A]nd lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). We know that, if we speak the truth and live the truth, Who is Christ the Lord of heaven and earth, we will foster a culture of life in our nation, a culture in which “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is safeguarded and fostered for all, without boundary or exception.
Let us confide ourselves and our nation to the prayers of the Mother of God, under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so dear to our continent. Through her ceaseless maternal care, she will not fail to bring us and our nation to the truth, to her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I conclude making my own the prayer with which Pope Benedict XVI concluded his latest Encyclical Letter:
May the Virgin Mary — proclaimed Mother of the Church by Paul VI and honored by Christians as the Mirror of Justice and the Queen of Peace protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about “the development of the whole man and of all men” (Caritas in veritate, no. 79).