By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 9, 2008
When Respect Life Sunday rolls around each year on the first Sunday of October, I often wonder about some folks in the congregation. How is it possible for Catholics to hear the message about life proclaimed and still disagree with it?
It would be tempting to say people are entitled to their own opinions, but when it comes to abortion, the Catholic Church is not offering a mere opinion. The church is saying that abortion is gravely wrong, and if someone asks about the authority underpinning this teaching, the answer is Christ himself.
Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which Jesus would build the church, and he promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
Jesus did not leave his church to chaos and you will notice he never told us, “Whatever your opinion is, that’s fine.”
Instead, throughout the centuries, the popes, who are the successors of Peter, along with the bishops of the church, have been charged with telling the truth about faith and morals.
And from the earliest days, the church has maintained that abortion is a grave sin.
Still, there are people who want to be Catholic while supporting abortion rights. What they are longing for, however, is a contradiction in terms.
By definition, there can be no such thing as a cold-blooded mammal and no such thing as a bird without wings.
Similarly, there can be, at heart, no such thing as a Catholic who supports abortion rights.
Catholicism is a pro-life church, and this is certainly not a new description. As early as the first century after the Resurrection, Jesus’ followers warned others about the sin of abortion in a book called “The Didache” or “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles.”
There, two pathways are described: the way of life and the way of death. In the section about life, the authors emphasize Christ’s teaching about loving our neighbor.
And it is clear that the neighbor includes the baby in the womb, who must be protected.
Thus the book warns: “You shall not slay the child by abortions. You shall not kill what is generated.”
And where did the apostles get this teaching? Obviously, from the one they called rabbi or teacher, Jesus himself.
There are practices in Catholicism that are indeed optional. It is not required that we take a pilgrimage to Lourdes, say the rosary daily, go to confession weekly or appeal to saints as our intercessors.
These are wonderful practices, of course, but they are not fundamental to our faith, as are teachings about life.
Some Catholics say they accept the biological fact that life begins at conception and the theological teaching that it is wrong to take that life. But they are aware of other people who disagree with them.
And these Catholics say they are hesitant about working to change the laws about abortion, because, after all, everyone is entitled to an opinion.
However, think about this point very closely. There have been societies that buried infants alive, which clearly is an abominable practice. Surely people who knew that it was wrong had a moral obligation to stop it from continuing.
What if they had done nothing, saying, “I know it’s wrong, but I don’t want to impose my belief on others?”
And what about people who said, “Slavery is wrong, but it’s just my opinion and I don’t want to impose my belief on others?”
If a pro-abortion person were one day to glimpse the millions of innocents who never had a chance to live, could that person look the children in the eye and say, “Well, it was just my opinion?”
A Catholic who disagrees with the teachings on life might claim, “I’m not actually having an abortion myself, so I’m not doing anything wrong.”
In fact, if we support abortion through our words and actions, and if we give money to pro-abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood, we go against church teachings.
It all comes down to a straightforward decision: Do we want to embrace the way of life or the way of death? Do we truly want to follow Christ and obey the teachings of his church?
Or do we want to turn our backs on him and take another path?
And do we want truly to be a Catholic or a Catholic in name only? In the end, it really is that simple.
Artwork by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at email@example.com.