By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As many of you know, from the point of my ordination and installation as the 11th Bishop of Jackson I have visited and presided at Mass in the vast majority of our parishes.
One of the inspiring moments for me during the liturgy, and there are many, is the offering of the General Intercessions. Consistently in our parishes these petitions pierce the high heavens in the name of Jesus Christ on behalf of the dignity of human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the issues throughout our lives that are an assault on human dignity.
They are legion: poverty, racism, human trafficking, hatred of the stranger in our midst, capital punishment, pornography, terrorism, at home (Las Vegas the latest) and abroad, war, ethnic and religious cleansing, to name just one boatload of onslaughts against the image and likeness of God. We pray to make a difference; we live to make a difference, and we must be grateful to all of our Catholic people, those of other faith traditions and people of no faith or creed who labor on behalf of human dignity, solidarity and justice.
For many, faith drives the commitment; for others, it is the light of reason that arrives at the truth and purpose of human life. Saint John Paul II eloquently addressed the interplay of these two dynamisms within the human person. “Faith and reason are like two wings in which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth so that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
Faith and reason in the pursuit of truth is critically important as we strive to create a culture of life in our nation because it opens the door to collaborate with other believers and non-believers to create a more just and compassionate social order.
Otherwise, we as Catholics, are easily dismissed as foisting our beliefs on others. For example, the Church is unequivocally opposed to physician assisted suicide by whatever name it is promoted. We can point to the wisdom of the American Medical Association in their 1998 statement in opposition to physician assisted suicide.
“We believe that laws sanctioning physician assisted suicide serve to undermine the foundation of the patient-physician relationship, which is grounded in the patient’s trust that the physician is working wholeheartedly for the patient’s health and well being…
We believe that it is possible for people to have the same focus and attention and compassion at the end of life as is exhibited at the beginning of life.
We also feel that this is the way our profession should respond to its patients, not by taking their lives. We believe that it is far more preferable than simply saying: ‘Take these two tablets and don’t call me in the morning because you won’t be here.’
Compassion, in our view, lies in caring not killing. It is true that even stars eventually die. But it is not for us to pull them from the sky before their time. Rather, let us focus our efforts on gently guiding their descent (hospice-palliative care) adhering to the same principles and showing the same compassion and same concern that they enjoyed in their brightest days. All of us, just like those stars, will die eventually. But the value of the human spirit must continue to be respected and must live on.”
How precious are these words! They arise from the light of reason and the Hippocratic oath which is a sacred pledge “to do no harm.” This is not the exhortation of preachers and teachers of the faith, but it is harmonious with our belief in the dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God.
Together we come to the fullness of truth about ourselves, and push back against the culture of death that casts its shadow across the land.
Likewise, we shine the light of faith and reason upon the beginning of life in the womb. As time marches on, modern science is revealing the development and elegance of pre-born human life, and the viability of our brothers and sisters outside of the womb at the outset of the third trimester.
A growing number of young people are embracing the pro-life message that the Church has unwaveringly taught, not necessarily because they believe that we are created in God’s image and likeness, but because reality is staring them in the face. Faith and reason, religion and science are not at odds with each other, but are arm in arm, promoting a culture of life.
All people of good will can understand that an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy can be overwhelming and even traumatic, but a culture of life can redouble its efforts to accompany women and their partners, married and unmarried, to choose life, because it is a beautiful choice.
But the forces of death never sleep. In recent times women who have had abortions are being encouraged to speak of their abortions as a badge of honor while people applaud, rather than speaking about it in confidential and appropriate settings with a family member or friend, a counselor or spiritual director, or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, seeking peace and new life. In Illinois at this moment legislation is being promoted to fund abortions with taxpayer money right up to the point of labor pains. Did someone say ‘culture of death?’
The Church and all people of goodwill are indeed pro-women and this includes women in the womb. As we promote a culture of life, justice and peace we recommit ourselves to overcoming all injustices that ensnare people in despair and isolation, at the beginning and end of life, and at all stages. In the Church, we place our lives and considerable resources in the service of human dignity. With malice toward none, we witness to the beauty, goodness and truth of human life in God’s image. Faith and reason guide us along this noble path.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz