Pope Francis’ much-anticipated apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, does not disappoint. It is an incredible work that is full of good advice for both families and church leaders, delivered with theological richness and pastoral sensitivity. Do read the whole thing if you can.
A lot has already been written on many of the key elements of the document, but what struck me while reading it is how clearly Pope Francis connects family concerns with social concerns. He argues that families are only able to flourish if our societies are set up to support them.
This approach called to mind a great quote by St. John Paul II, who said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Part of Pope Francis’ emphasis in Amoris Laetitia could be summed up by flipping that idea around: As society goes, so goes the family. They are complementary ideas.
Here are ten quotes from the exhortation that connect particular social issues and our call to work for justice to family life. I’ve listed them by theme, and include each quote’s paragraph number in brackets.
1. Dignity of Work
Labour also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of one’s family: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children!” (Ps 128:5-6)….This having been said, we can appreciate the suffering created by unemployment and the lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of Ruth, Jesus’ own parable of the labourers forced to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life. [24-25]
2. Care for Creation
Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kg 21) and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice (cf. Lk 12:13; 16:1-31). 
3. Affordable Housing
The lack of dignified or affordable housing often leads to the postponement of formal relationships. It should be kept in mind that “the family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community”. Families and homes go together. This makes us see how important it is to insist on the rights of the family and not only those of individuals… At times families suffer terribly when, faced with the illness of a loved one, they lack access to adequate health care, or struggle to find dignified employment. 
4. Forced Migration
Furthermore, forced migration of families, resulting from situations of war, persecution, poverty and injustice, and marked by the vicissitudes of a journey that often puts lives at risk, traumatizes people and destabilizes families. 
The problems faced by poor households are often all the more trying. For example, if a single mother has to raise a child by herself and needs to leave the child alone at home while she goes to work, the child can grow up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to personal growth. In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. 
6. Women’s Rights
In this brief overview, I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights…The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making. 
7. Protecting the Unborn
Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being. 
Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society and a point of contact between the public and private spheres. Married couples should have a clear awareness of their social obligations. With this, their affection does not diminish but is flooded with new light. As the poet says:
“Your hands are my caress,
The harmony that fills my days.
I love you because your hands
Work for justice.
If I love you, it is because you are
My love, my companion and my all,
And on the street, side by side,
We are much more than just two”. 
9. The Family as a School of Mercy
“The family is thus an agent of pastoral activity through its explicit proclamation of the Gospel and its legacy of varied forms of witness, namely solidarity with the poor, openness to a diversity of people, the protection of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need, commitment to the promotion of the common good and the transformation of unjust social structures, beginning in the territory in which the family lives, through the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy”. [310; quoting the Synod Fathers]
10. The Family as Transformer of the World
When a family is welcoming and reaches out to others, especially the poor and the neglected, it is “a symbol, witness and participant in the Church’s motherhood”. Social love, as a reflection of the Trinity, is what truly unifies the spiritual meaning of the family and its mission to others, for it makes present the kerygma in all its communal imperatives. The family lives its spirituality precisely by being at one and the same time a domestic church and a vital cell for transforming the world. 
In a recent column for Religion News Service, Marcia Pally, who describes herself as “emphatically pro-life,” argues that all of the legal efforts to regulate or ban abortion over the past 40 years are “hokum.” She writes “Laws limiting abortion don’t pay for sonograms or day care, and they don’t feed or educate children.”
If the most important pro-life goal is to reduce the number of abortions, she writes, it’s better to focus on and address the host of complex issues that help drive up the abortion rate, such as poverty, an overly complicated adoption process, and the lack of access to things like paid parental leave and quality healthcare. We should abandon the pursuit of legal restrictions on abortion because they don’t work — not until we’ve had a big cultural shift, anyway.
Pally’s column reminds me of an argument I’ve heard from those who oppose stricter gun control measures. Some gun control opponents say that tighter restrictions on gun rights won’t work because there are already lots of guns out there and those bent on doing harm will find a way to arm themselves. Better to focus instead on improving mental health services, or keeping violent video games from kids. We should abandon the pursuit of legal restrictions on gun ownership because they don’t work — not until we’ve had a big cultural shift, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong — focusing on root causes and the web of related issues that contribute to abortion and gun violence is essential. But not at the expense of addressing the issue head-on with targeted legislation. Laws restricting abortion access and gun ownership do reduce abortions and gun violence. They’re not silver bullets, but they’re important pieces of the puzzle.
Whenever I think about the role of narrow, limited legislation within a broader movement for social change, I remember this quote from a speech Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at Western Michigan University in 1963:
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.
As all pro-life and social justice advocates discern how to best spend our time, we shouldn’t make an “either/or” decision about broad social change vs. targeted legislation. Instead, as is so often the best option for Catholics, we should choose “both/and.”
Charles Camosy, PhD, is a professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx and author of the brand-new book Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. He will be the featured speaker at the first Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Lecture (Monday, May 11, 7:00 pm, Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, Mullica Hill, free admission), where he will discuss the Catholic vision of justice that extends protection to all human beings, from the moment of conception until natural death, including every moment in between.
A fabulous teacher, Dr. Camosy makes complex theological concepts accessible to all, and he has contributed essays to USA Today, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
He took the time to answer a few questions for The Ampersand. Learn more about the lecture and register to attend here.
MJL: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed written just after the 2013 verdict against abortion-provider Kermit Gosnell, Dan Henninger wrote, “No other public policy has divided the people of the United States for so long and so deeply. Abortion is America’s second civil war.” Why do you think this is true?
CC: It radically divides everything from our families, to our parishes, to our political process. It and goes to the heart of two very fundamental values in our culture: (1) the equal standing of women in our culture and (2) the protecting of vulnerable prenatal children from death. When the stakes are understand to be so high, one can see why the debate turns out this way.
MJL: In another interview you did, you said this: “I think every prenatal child, regardless of how she was conceived, is a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law. Period. That’s simply what justice requires.” Many people would disagree with you on that, obviously, and digging in to the argument would take far more space than we have. But can you lay out the core reasoning behind your argument that every prenatal child has a right to life?
CC: Well, before going to the prenatal child, I like to think about intuitions about the neonatal child — the newborn. Should the newborn child, “regardless of how she was conceived, [also be considered] a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law”? Absolutely. We would think someone a monster who thought differently.
But notice that it is really difficult to explain why a newborn child is a person without saying that a prenatal child is also a person. Both are living organisms, members of the Homo sapiens family. Both are neither actually rational, self-aware, capable of moral choice, or anything else that makes humans more significant than pigs or dogs. But both have the potential for such things that other animals do not have.
Indeed, sometimes when a baby is born prematurely she is less developed than a baby who is still inside her mother. (Interestingly, secular philosophers like Peter Singer are increasingly more confident in arguing that the right to abortion also implies the right to infanticide because they too see the connection between reasoning about prenatal and neonatal human life.) What we say of one we ought to say about the other, and if newborn children have a right to life as a matter of justice, then so do unborn children.
MJL: Some critics say that pro-life advocates don’t do enough to support mothers, fathers, and children after birth. What can Catholics do to respond to those who say that pro-lifers are only “pro-birth” and not really pro-life?
CC: The first response is that such critics are correct. We don’t do enough. Many people do great things, but we absolutely don’t do enough. Every parish with a pro-life ministry, for instance, should also have a ministry to pregnant women and single mothers in difficult circumstances. That same organization should be putting hard core pressure on local politicians to increase social supports for women. Jesus commands Christians not only to be nonviolent, but to actively support those most vulnerable and least among us.
MJL: In your just-released book, you discuss statistics that surprise some people: In many surveys, women are more likely than men to support abortion restrictions. Why do you think that is?
CC: It is complex, but part of the reason is that women understand better than men that abortion does not lead to women’s social equality. In fact, paradoxically, it could lead to more inequality. One reason why our culture doesn’t give women mandatory paid maternity leave and other supports for having children is, frankly, because we believe they could have had an abortion. Our patriarchal culture insists that equality for women means that they basically have to remain non-pregnant; that is, they have to be like men. Pro-lifers know that true social equality for women means–not abortion–but giving women the resources necessary to choose to not kill their child.
MJL: Often in the Church, one can find painful divides between “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” You suggest a both/and approach. What are some signs of hope for you that progress toward the both/and can be made?
CC: Fifty percent of Millennials refuse to identify as either Republican or Democrat. They support “liberal” causes like health care reform and paid maternity leave, but they also support the “conservative” pro-life position in favor of protecting prenatal children. This is true also of Hispanics. Both demographics are the future of this country, and this future looks to be a very different and more hopeful one.
MJL: As a scholar, what interests you most about coming out to a parish and sharing your work with a non-academic audience?
CC: Far too often, academics are interested in having inside baseball conversations among themselves, but my work in bioethics and moral theology really does connect with the concerns of people outside the ivory tower. Indeed, if it didn’t, I’m not sure I could justify my time in working on these issues. Theologians are working for the Church, not just the academy, and this means reaching outside ourselves and engaging with other audiences. Indeed, my experience is that these audiences have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them.
Learn more about Dr. Camosy’s lecture and register to attend here.
There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.
First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.
Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.
Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.
Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:
1) God takes sides; we should, too.
I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”
This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.
2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.
I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”
I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”
If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.
3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.
In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”
I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.
After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.
This letter from Bishop Dennis Sullivan originally appeared in the Friday, May 16 edition of the Catholic Star Herald.
Last week, a deeply troubling Internet video of a woman filming her own abortion at a clinic in Cherry Hill spread quickly throughout the country. It has received wide publicity.
As the video originated here in the diocese, this is an especially important moment for us to reflect on our Catholic belief in the sanctity of every human life.
This belief has its roots in the very first chapter of Scripture, when we read in the Book of Genesis that God created man and woman in his own image and likeness. In other words, each and every human person bears the mark of God in a unique and beautiful way. Each and every person is a beloved creation of our Heavenly Father – from the initial moment of life onward.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis frequently talks about what he has called “the inestimable value of all human life.” Last summer, in a message to Catholics in Britain, he wrote: “Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Tragically, it is all too clear that we live in a world where reverence toward the most vulnerable is often absent. “Our faith stands in marked contrast” to this grim reality, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaims in a document called Communities of Salt and Light. “At a time of rampant individualism, we stand for family and community. At a time of intense consumerism, we insist it is not what we have, but how we treat one another that counts. In an age that does not value permanence or hard work in relationships, we believe marriage is forever and children are a blessing, not a burden.”
As disciples, we imitate God’s love for each person when we put these values into action, building what Saint John Paul II called a “culture of life.” We build a culture of life when we support crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies. We build a culture of life when we welcome new life, no matter the circumstance. We build a culture of life when we advocate for public policies that lift up families struggling to make ends meet.
During this Easter season, our celebration of Christ’s Resurrection reminds us that we are a people of hope. Even in the midst of darkness and sin, the Light of Christ shines. May the power of God’s love over death inspire all people of good will to work toward a culture of life in our diocese and beyond.
On Sunday, the Catholic Church will canonize Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. It’s worth taking some time to read up on them and the canonization at the USCCB’s special site for the historic day, or dip into any of their great books.
In this space, I’d like to highlight three quotes from each saint-to-be that demonstrate their shared, deep commitment to the promotion of human dignity and social justice. They are truly two Life & Justice Saints.
First, Pope John XXIII.
1) “Individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution.” Mater et Magistra, no. 219.
In Mater et Magistra, his 1961 encyclical on Christianity and social progress, Pope John XXIII boils all of Catholic social teaching down to this principle. When we evaluate any of our social institutions — governments, businesses, economies, schools, healthcare systems, and so on — we are called to examine how they affect individual persons. Profit or success for those few at the top are not enough.
2) “We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services…” Pacem in Terris, no. 11
In his seminal 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII articulates and explores basic human rights from a Catholic Christian perspective. In the most forceful way up to that point in papal history, John XXIII asserts that all human beings have inviolable rights, including the right to life and the right to live well, because they are created by God.
3) “The common good ‘must take account of all those social conditions which favor the full development of human personality.’…It is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed.” Pacem in Terris, nos. 58, 60
If individual human rights are one side of the coin, the common good is the other side. The phrase “common good” appears 73 times between Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris. Not only do all humans have individual rights, but we all have responsibilities to make sure the rights of others are upheld. In a special way, civil authorities have an obligation to promote the common good through creating social structures that promote the well-being of all.
Now, on to Pope John Paul II.
1) “Solidarity… is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” Solicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 38.
What a compelling, strong stand against our tendency toward individualism. John Paul II makes it clear that Catholicism and any form of libertarianism are not compatible.
2) “The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.” Evangelium Vitae, no. 2.
If “common good” was Pope John XXIII’s favorite phrase, “human dignity” is Pope John Paul II’s favorite. In this encyclical, he shows how the Church’s care for all human life represents our striving to emulate God’s love for each and every person.
3) “Human life belongs only to God: for this reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself.” Evangelium Vitae, no. 9.
In an era that has devalued certain forms of human life, Pope John Paul II reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God — most importantly life itself. As a world, how are we doing at cherishing that gift?
This week especially, we thank God for the gifts of Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and pray that we might have the courage and zeal to promote life & justice the way they did.
The Internet is buzzing today with the release of Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). It is a wide-ranging letter that covers scores of elements of discipleship. You (and I) really should read the whole thing.
Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, who did read the whole thing, is pumped up:
You can read his insightful analysis on his Facebook page.
There are so many themes that demand our reflection and response, but here on this Life & Justice blog, I’d like to point out a few passages that show how, for Pope Francis, a concern for the poor and vulnerable is an essential element of spreading the Gospel. As disciples, our commitment to protecting life at all stages and working to change systemic injustices is not marginal or optional. He writes in paragraph 201 (emphasis mine here and throughout):
No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”.
Starting in paragraph 52, Pope Francis lays out challenges to evangelization and discipleship today. The headings he uses are, “No to an economy of exclusion,” “No to the new idolatry of money,” “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves,” and “No to the inequality which spawns violence.”
Pope Francis writes on the violence of income inequality, and rejects libertarian economics:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.
Here, Pope Francis is not writing about individual or communal acts of charity, as important as they are. Instead, he is emphasizing the Catholic teaching that governments are responsible for helping to correct social structures that perpetuate injustice:
The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.
Pope Francis criticizes “trickle-down theories” of economics that assume that the unregulated economy will bring about greater justice in the world. Instead of people serving as cogs in an economy that will naturally take care of everyone, Pope Francis writes we must regulate our economies to assure they promote the good of all.
Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you [political leaders] to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
Pope Francis also targets social libertarianism. The “me-first” individualism that enables laissez-faire economics also leads to a marginalization of the unborn. He writes in paragraph 213:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.
Catholicism’s assertion that every single human being is the beautiful creation of God leads the Church to a consistent life ethic you just can’t find in any political party today. Pope Francis draws a clear connection between the protection of the poor and the protection of the unborn:
Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.
Why, for Pope Francis, is working for a more just society such an important part of faith? Because for him, faith draws us out from “narrowness and self-absorption” (paragraph 8), into an encounter with Christ found in our sisters and brothers.
In paragraph 183, he writes:
An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses.
In our own journeys of discipleship, may our love for this magnificent planet and our human family grow ever stronger, and may God give us the grace to make the world closer to how He wants it to be.