EXTRA: 'A Time for Honesty' - A Pastoral Statement by The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark
Our times demand honesty. It is possible to value sincerely one’s Catholic heritage and to revere one’s Catholic forebears and yet not to have Catholic faith.
Faith is a free and personal act inspired by the Holy Spirit, by which we entrust ourselves to the living God and to Jesus Christ his Son and our Lord. While intensely personal, the act of faith is always at the same time ecclesial. This means that the act of faith embraces the Church to which Christ Himself has entrusted His mission. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Whoever says ‘I believe’ says ‘I pledge myself to what We believe.’” In other words, faith, while free and personal, is also a commitment to make one’s own faith the faith of the Church.
It is always a temptation to emphasize the personal aspect of faith with the intent of “reducing” the faith to those elements with which we are comfortable in our life. This is deeply erroneous. The commitment of faith is a commitment to grow not only closer to Jesus Christ but also to continue to grow, sometimes through questions and struggles, into the full faith of the Church.
It is clear in the constant teaching of the Church, and recently articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that protecting the fullness of the proclamation of the faith in any generation is a task entrusted to the bishops of the world in union with the Bishop of Rome. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the bishops are charged in each era and in each culture with proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and maintaining that truth in good times and in bad.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna has pointed out that perhaps the most powerful words in the Creeds of the Church are those that come first: “I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth….” With these words we acknowledge that God is the source of the universe and of our existence. It is God’s world in which we live and it is our task to come to understand and respect that and live in the world as God intended. Authentic Christians know that it is not ours to define our own being in an absolute way, but rather it is ours to discover and live with joy the being in the world, which God has given us.
This is also true for the human conscience. Clearly each human person has a conscience and should follow it because by definition conscience is the intellectual act of judgment of what is right and wrong to do or not to do. It is the last best judgment of what one ought to choose. Thus, conscience must be formed through education and prayer, and be informed by the teaching of Christ. We cannot form our conscience in solitary isolation or simply with reference to cultural practices or convictions. Conscience can only be formed authentically by reference to the truth. Truth and conscience go together. Following an authentic conscience builds the truly human. Following a conscience without reference to truth sets an individual and society adrift on a sea of hopelessness.
There are many implications of these principles. We profess our faith not merely in a formula of words, but rather in the realities to which those words refer. And that certainly applies in the matter of abortion, euthanasia, cloning and other issues which are before the American people and the world public at this time. Long before science made clear that each individual is genetically new and unique from conception, the Church taught that abortion is a great evil. She still teaches this even in the face of the tragedy in our country where respect for the sanctity of human life has been eroded.
There is no right more fundamental than the right to be born and reared with all the dignity the human person deserves. On this grave issue, public officials cannot hold themselves excused from their duties, especially if they claim to be Catholic. Every faithful Catholic must be not only “personally opposed” to abortion, but also must live that opposition in his or her actions. In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More remarks, “I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” Sadly, too few follow the example of St. Thomas More. As voters, Catholics are under an obligation to avoid implicating themselves in abortion, which is one of the gravest of injustices. Certainly, there are other injustices, which must be addressed, but the unjust killing of the innocent is foremost among them.
At the same time, I point out that this is not simply a Catholic issue, but a basic moral issue of justice and human dignity. It applies to all persons. Some justify their actions by saying that they must respect the consciences of others. But this “respect” for another’s conscience should never require abandoning one’s own properly formed conscience. Conscientious ...
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