Who made us?
October 26, 2012
"God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life."
That's the first sentence of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the compendium of Catholic belief released by Blessed Pope John Paul II on Oct. 11, 1992, the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It's a book that belongs on every Catholic shelf.
For those of us a bit gray on top — or more than a bit — that first sentence of the catechism seems very familiar. We were raised on the Baltimore Catechism, that peerless collection of questions and answers that taught us what we believe as Catholics:
Q: Who made us?
A: God made us.
Q: Why did God make us?
A: God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.
There are people who might have drifted away from the faith decades ago, but they can still recite that catechism exchange from their youth in a New York minute. Which is exactly why they should come back home. Like the pop artist Rod Stewart sang in his hit, "You're in My Heart": "You're in my heart, you're in my soul." God is never leaving us, no matter how hard we might try to let him go.
This week, as I continue my reflections with you on pro-life issues in this pro-life month of October, I want to address the issue of the inherent dignity of human life and our understanding of the social gospel — our commitment as Catholics to the common good and how that commitment encompasses all of our teaching on justice and protecting the most vulnerable among us. I will try to "bridge the gap" — bridge the gap between the political culture and political cliches of an election year and the reality of what we believe and try to live as Catholics.
Catholic social teaching
Those lines from the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" and the old Baltimore Catechism clearly describe the fundamental basis of what we call "Catholic social thought." God made us — me, you, every other woman, man, child in this world; and he made us — me, you, every other woman, man, child in this world — so that we can share with him eternal happiness in heaven. We are meant for salvation! It is God's deepest hunger and thirst for us. We are God's creation, meant for him. No ruler, no culture, no class, no boss, no job, no economic system, no "anything else" can supersede or destroy our essential individual human dignity. Because that dignity comes from God.
The foundation of Catholic social teaching is the commitment to the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. It means that we have a fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every life, of every person as a unique creation of God. That is our moral vision, and we see all issues from that clear focus.
Because of that vision, as I noted two weeks ago, we cannot accept direct attacks on innocent human life — abortion, euthanasia, genocide, cloning or medical experimentation on living human embryos. At the same time, Catholic belief in the dignity of human life leads us to oppose those sins of the culture that attack human life, such as torture, unjust war and the unnecessary death penalty.
In addition, we must fight those things that threaten human life — racism, poverty and human suffering both in its causes and in its results. This is the source of the church's 2,000-year dedication to serving the poor, serving the oppressed, serving the orphan, serving the sick, serving the hungry, serving the immigrant, serving the imprisoned, serving anyone in need.
One of our local authors, Mike Aquilina (a former editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic) has just released a wonderful new book, "Yours is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our World" (Servant Books). In it, he outlines the length and breadth of Catholic contributions to the world, contributions motivated solely by faith, solely by service. He speaks of our church that saved civilization, nurtured modern science, inspired great works of art and great literature, and "made women people," rather than the chattel they had been considered in the pagan world.
He also explains how our church is a church of charity — that our church virtually created charity before any government, any organized entity engaged in service to the poorest of the poor. "For most of Western history," Mike writes, "the church has been the main source of help for the poor. It was the same in America: Catholic charity looking after the poor when everyone else was scrambling to make a buck."
The church's social concerns rest not only in direct service, but in creating a society through government, law, economics and policy where the common good and the ability of every person to live out their full potential is recognized. The church hungers and thirsts to create a culture where the dignity of every person — particularly the poor and vulnerable — is recognized as a paramount virtue, and the participation of each and every person is assured.
This is why the church constantly speaks out on a host of issues in the public arena. The Gospel does not accept for the church of Christ a role of silent witness or escape from what goes on in our world. The church is required by our witness to the Gospel to speak out for and with the powerless; the church is required by our witness to the Gospel to speak out for and with whoever is vulnerable, whoever is hurting, whoever is suffering.
That is why the voice of the church is most often heard for those that the rest of society wants to ignore: the immigrant and the imprisoned; the aged and the terminally ill; the disabled and the unborn child. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in"Deus Caritas Est," "love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is essential to the church as the ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel."
Respect for human rights means respect for human dignity. Human rights are grounded in the fundamental human right — the right to life. Human rights also are grounded in those things that allow us to live out that right to life in dignity and decency — food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing.
As we will discuss next week, all these rights are protected by the fundamental right to religious freedom given by God and guaranteed by our nation's Constitution. Without freedom of conscience, without the freedom to express and live out our religious beliefs openly, humanity sacrifices its right to think, its right to act, its right to hope.
It all comes back to who we are and why we are.
Who are we? We are children of God.
Why are we, why do we exist, why have we been created? God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.
That's why we say everything we say. That's why we teach everything we teach. That's why we believe everything we believe.
Who made us? God made us — and that's the greatest news we can't forget.