That “shining city on the hill”
On January 9, 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy spoke these memorable words during an address to the General Court of Massachusetts:
“… I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. “We must always consider”, he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us”. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us – and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill – constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities. … History will not judge our endeavors – and a government cannot be selected – merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these. For of those to whom much is given, much is required …”
Years later, on January 11, 1989, in his farewell address as he left the White House, President Ronald Reagan took up that theme of the “city on the hill” once again:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
The shining city on the hill has become a dark place and many of the inhabitants of the land and indeed the whole world are appalled over what is happening. Now is the time for some deep, critical introspection and reflection on what is taking place in America and in the world. Who and what can bring a country back together after so much acrimony, hostility, division and bad, erratic behavior of political leaders?
How easy it is for Catholics in the United States and around the world to be cynical or discouraged at what we have experienced throughout the recent presidential electoral campaign in America, but neither attitude is helpful to the cause of truth, freedom and good citizenship. Our Catholic Christian faith tells us that God will provide what we need to do his will. Catholics who are faithful citizens have the ability – with the help of God’s grace – to make choices that are morally sound even if they appear to be politically incorrect.
The Church’s consistent ethic of life
Pope Francis rejects the frequently misunderstood notion that there are a special set of non-negotiable values regarding life issues: “I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values.” For those who claim that the abortion issue is the only item on the political agenda, such an attitude is not the complete pro-life position held by the Roman Catholic Church. Those who claim to be pro-life must be sure that their ethic for life is a consistent one. The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness, the dignity of the human person. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, unjust immigration policies and laws, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.
If citizens take into consideration these important principles and the full meaning of what it means to be “pro-life,” they cannot fail in their duty as faithful citizens or loyal Catholics. The sacredness and dignity of all human life is found at the center of all issues, including the urgent matters of abortion, euthanasia, care for creation, war and peace, the preferential option for the poor, true economic justice, immigration reform and the responsibility to make difficult moral choices.
Why March for Life?
Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies human solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Human life has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. There is no question that abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders.
Immigration issues are also critical pro-life issues in our day.
In the coming days, tens of thousands of people – many of them young men and women – descend upon Washington on January 19, 2018 for the annual “March for Life.” A similar event will place in Canada on May 10, 2018. The theme of this year’s US March is “Love Saves Lives”. It is important to stop and reflect upon what we do as individuals and as a community to stand up for life – ALL human life. Building a culture of life and ending abortion is the duty and obligation each and every person. Starting with the family or neighborhood, our collective efforts will change hearts and minds, save lives, and build a culture of life. But there are other critical life issues on our agendas that require our strident, vocal and unified efforts.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on openness to life
In Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2009 landmark encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Charity in Truth), the Holy Father addressed clearly the dignity and respect for human life “which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples.” Benedict wrote, “In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.” “Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” writes the Pope. “When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”
Benedict rightly summed up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.” The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be “pro-life.” We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.
What does it mean to be authentically pro-life?
As Christians, being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, filled with conviction, speaking the truth with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and center! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. The litmus test for being pro-life is not only attending rallies or marches during the year in major cities of the world. The real test is what we do for life the remaining 364 days of the year, and what efforts, great and small, do we embrace to consistently and systematically oppose any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, violations of human dignity, and coercions of the will. How can we advocate for those who endure subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, human trafficking and disgraceful working conditions and so on? All of these things and more poison human society. We must strive for a strong, consistent ethic for life.
Who of us, if we are truly claim to be a faithful, Catholic Christian, is not deeply disturbed by the state of the world today? Our common home has become a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. During his brief but highly significant pastoral visit Sweden last year, Pope Francis proposed six new beatitudes for the modern era on the Feast of All Saints:
“Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others,
and forgive them from their heart;
“Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized,
and show them their closeness;
“Blessed are those who see God in every person,
and strive to make others also discover him;
“Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home;
“Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others;
“Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.”
May these words of Pope Francis be a guiding light and source of instruction, inspiration, consolation and hope to the people of the United States during these days. May they help us to be agents of unity as America moves forward. May they inspire us to march for life across America and Canada. May they compel us to realize that our welcome and love for the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable among us will save lives.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada. He can be reached at: [email protected]
ON THE NET:
Excerpted from: “Love Save Lives” – A Reflection for All Who March for Life: http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=79074