September 21, 2007
A Shepherd’s Message
By Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo
The month of October each year is dedicated to Respect Life in the parishes and institutions of our Catholic Faith. The first Sunday of October is Respect Life Sunday. It is the responsibility and joy of all who preach that day to call attention to the unsurpassable dignity of each human person from conception to natural death, a dignity given by God, not conferred by the state or any other human institution. Our preaching and teaching, our witnessing and living the faith, all these are to seek to evangelize the world for life and to trust in the providence of God to oversee and direct our efforts at continual self-conversion to the dignity of human life and at sharing that message with others.
The Catholic Faith has developed a coherent body of social teaching and social doctrine over the past 110 years in the context of modern life. It should be made clear that the Church’s teaching on personal human life is the central point of understanding human rights. In 2004 the Holy See published a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the human person at the very beginning of that Compendium. What is stated there is worthy of attention. Each human person, from the moment of his or her conception, is made in the image and likeness of God. The human person is created in the unity of soul and body; it is within that unity that the person is gifted with reason and freedom, mindfulness and moral agency. The human person is related to the material world but is also open to transcendence, to the world of created things and, beyond that, to the infinite, to God. The person can say “I” and is unique and unrepeatable. The smallness and fragility of human beginnings are an invitation to us all to protect and defend such an awesome reality as personal human existence. It is in this positive light that the condemnation of abortion is so insistently proclaimed by Church teaching. The right to life is the condition for the exercise of any other human right.
This article of Catholic Faith and Teaching deserves special attention in our time. The abortion question will not go away and we will not allow it to go away. Abortion destroys innocent human life, human life that is voiceless and therefore needs constant defense. Such defense must face the sheer magnitude of this moral problem: each year some 46 million abortions are performed world-wide. It is the major social evil of our times and there are many social evils that we face. In the United States there is legal sanction for abortion. The threat against innocent personal human life is thus systematic. It is truly a programmed evil. Our response must be systematic and programmed; we must work for the elimination of this evil and for the end of unjust laws that favor it. Such an evil makes an appeal to the conscience of any informed person, but especially to the conscience of Christians, to work for the elimination of such injustice and oppression. There are other matters of social doctrine that need attention. There are many threats to the human person, threats that arise after the child is born. Our concern for these threats and their elimination is true and good; they cannot move our focus, however, from this single overwhelming assault on the human person. Prayer, witness and action on behalf of innocent human life in the womb deserves our utmost attention as people dedicated to human rights and to the dignity and worth of each human person. Let us be attentive to this matter this month and every month. Our consciences need to be converted and illuminated by the law written in every heart on the unique worth of every human person from conception to natural death.
I still vividly remember my first meeting as a bishop with the Late Pope John Paul II. It was June of 1998 and I went for my first “ad limina” visit to report on the Diocese of Sioux City. At the conclusion of a memorable fifteen minute meeting with him, I still recall his final words before I left: “Remember, it is always about the human person, the human person!!” Sisters and Brothers of this great local Church of Galveston-Houston! It is always about the human person!