By Cardinal Justin Rigali
There are aspects of our lives which we may refer to as perduring. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word perdure as: “to continue to exist.” We may say that a perduring element of life is like a stream that runs through a forest. Regardless of the season or the weather, the stream runs through the forest. Sometimes the stream may flow freely, sometimes its water may be frozen, sometimes it may be rained upon or snowed upon, sometimes the sun may shine on it, making it sparkle like diamonds. Regardless of the circumstances, it is always running through the forest in some way.
Married love or a commitment to a virtuous life may be seen as perduring, because these commitments should run through a person’s mind and will, even when that inspanidual may be thinking of or doing something else.
In the months preceding our recent national and local elections, we have heard a great deal about the concepts of faithful citizenship and respect for life. These realities are so important that it is necessary to recall that they should be perduring elements in our minds and hearts and not just terms employed at election time. Just as the challenges associated with these responsibilities continue to exist, our commitment to them must also continue.
The Gospel presents a new challenge at each time in history
Part of the beauty and the challenge of the Gospel is that it is always fresh and new. Its truths are eternal and apply in every age but because the challenges of each moment in history and indeed, the challenges of each inspanidual life, are different, each person at each moment in history receives a unique call to fulfill the Gospel in a new way. Our response calls for a perduring witness to the faith that is part of the Christian life.
Pope John Paul II applied this to our own particular age and its great defining moment and overriding issue: the issue of life. In a prayer which he addressed to the Virgin Mary, he wrote: “Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely.”
We may say that this particular challenge of our age in history is “ever ancient,” as Saint Augustine calls the truths of our faith. This ancient challenge is enshrined in one of the first five books of the Bible, the Book of Deuteronomy. God says: “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Saint Augustine also reminds us that these same truths are “ever new.” They are ever new in the challenge that they set before us. The words are the same. The commandment is the same. The challenge is the same. The blessing and the curse are the same. However, the circumstances are now ours.
A continuing, yet new challenge
In this fight for the dignity of life, which we have been waging for so long now, and which has become so critical in our own days, another challenge is on the horizon. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it comes very near the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court. We say not surprisingly because when an action or a policy is based upon what is intrinsically wrong, the situation never gets better, it only gets worse. What is promoted as an exception, often using the emotions of the moment as an effective tool, is eventually determined to be a necessity. Remember that in Nazi Germany, the extermination of so many Jewish people began not by calling for their death but by calling for a boycott of their businesses in the interest of a “greater good:” the so-called welfare of the German nation.
As Chairman of the United States Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, I called attention to our next great challenge in a statement I made for Respect Life Month this October. This challenge involves a proposal before Congress that is so radical in its aims that it is hard to imagine it being supported in any civilized society. I repeat here what I said in that Statement:
“Today, we face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The ‘Freedom of Choice Act’ (“FOCA”) has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January. FOCA establishes abortion as a ‘fundamental right’ throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could ‘interfere’ with that right or ‘discriminate’ against it in public funding and programs.
If FOCA became law, hundreds of reasonable, widely supported, and constitutionally sound abortion regulations now in place would be invalidated. Gone would be laws providing for informed consent, and parental consent or notification in the case of minors. Laws protecting women from unsafe abortion clinics and from abortion practitioners who are not physicians would be overridden. Restrictions on partial-birth and other late-term abortions would be eliminated. FOCA would knock down laws protecting the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals with moral objections to abortion, and force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States.
“We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives. We cannot subject more women and men to the post-abortion grief and suffering that our counselors and priests encounter daily in Project Rachel programs across America.”
Let us not grow weary
The major national elections are over but our responsibilities to the Gospel, “ever ancient and ever new,” continue. It is natural to become discouraged at times in working and living as followers of Jesus. If we feel that way, we are in very good company. Saint Teresa of Avila reportedly said to our Lord: “Lord, it is no wonder you have so few friends. Look at how you treat them!” One of my favorite Scriptural quotes, which many of our priests have heard me use, is: “Let us not grow tired of doing good…” I don’t always have the opportunity to quote the rest of the sentence: “…for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). In this time, as we continue to be confronted with threats to life itself, we cannot deny reality. Reality is of God. The devil is the “father of lies,” because he is the opposite of what is truly real. We have seen reality. We know what abortion is and we know what it does. To deny it or to pretend that everything is fine or to absolve ourselves of our inspanidual responsibilities because an election is over, is to accept a lie.
Saint Peter predicted this, saying: “In their greed they will exploit you with fabrications” (2 Peter 2:3). If we allow ourselves to accept a lie at the very foundations of reality, we will eventually accept anything. Whatever may have been lacking in us is of the past, Saint Paul tells us: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Pope Pius XII, in another critical moment of history, said: “Action, not vain regrets!”
November 13, 2008