Friday, May 6, 2011

Archbishop Chaput address to Notre Dame students

Archbishop Charles Chaput, of Denver (USA), gave the keynote address at the student-organised Right to Life lecture series at the University of Notre Dame recently.   The Archbishop chose ‘Politics and the Devil’ as the theme of his address to the gathering.     It is a lengthy document, and I hope that in having chosen a small number of excerpts from it I have not in any way detracted from the entire message.

‘All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our behavior.  The same applies to our public policies, including the ones that govern our scientific research.  There is no such thing as morally neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy.  Every law is the public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do.  The question that matters is this.  Which moral convictions of which somebodies are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future – including the way we do our science?
‘The answer is pretty obvious: if you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will.  That is the nature of a democracy.  A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square – respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies.  Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of somebody’s idea of the common good.  And politics always and naturally involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large.  So if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs.
‘We also need to remember that most people – not everyone, of course, but most of us – root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs.  What we believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and women, the structure of good human relationships, and our idea of a just society.  This has very practical consequences, including the political kind.  We act on what we really believe.  If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them. …

‘The moral and political struggle we face today in defending human dignity is becoming more complex.  I believe that abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime.  We can’t simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children.  We can’t build a just society, and at the same time legally sanctity the destruction of generations of unborn human life.  The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us.
‘Of course, working to end abortion doesn’t absolve us from our obligations to the poor.  It doesn’t excuse us from our duties to the disabled, the elderly and immigrants.  In fact, it demands from us a much stronger commitment to materially support women who find themselves in a difficult pregnancy. …

‘I have two final thoughts.  First, nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter how small, is ever unfruitful or forgotten.  Our actions touch other lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in this world.
‘Don’t ever underestimate the beauty and power of the witness you give in your pro-life work.   One thing we learn from Scripture is that God doesn’t have much use for the vain or the prideful.  But He loves the anawim – the ordinary, simple, everyday people who keep God’s Word, who stay faithful to his commandments, and who sustain the life of the world by leavening it with their own goodness.  That’s the work we are called to do.  Don’t ever forget it, if you speak up for the unborn child in this life, someone will speak up for you in the next, when we meet God face to face.
‘Second, a friend once shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fella that’s in the right, and keeps a-comin.”  The message is true.  Virtue does matter.   Courage and humility, justice and perseverance, do have power.   Good does win, and the sanctity of human life will endure.  It will endure because if “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), then the odds look pretty good, and it’s worth fighting for what is right."