By Dave Andrusko
A while back Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia delivered a remarkable speech at the Pennsylvania Pro-life Federation Celebrate Life Banquet late last month. What he had to say has stuck with me going all the way back to September 2016 when I first read his remarks. I’d like to offer some very extensive excerpts from the entire speech which the Pennsylvania Pro-life Federation helpfully posted.
Read them carefully. These truly are pearls of wisdom.
For the past 43 years we’ve been living the consequences of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion on demand. And the abortion struggle of the past four decades teaches us a very useful lesson. Evil talks a lot about “tolerance” when it’s weak. When evil is strong, real tolerance gets kicked out the door. This in turn explains a lot about our current cultural climate. To put it simply: Evil cannot bear the counter-witness of truth. It cannot co-exist peacefully with goodness, because evil insists on being seen as right, and worshiped as being right. Therefore, the good must be made to seem hateful and wrong.
The very existence of people who refuse to accept evil and who seek to act virtuously burns the conscience of those who don’t. And so, quite logically, people like the people in this room, people who march and lobby and speak out to defend the unborn child will be – and are – reviled by political leaders and news media and abortion activists who turn the right to kill an unborn child into a shrine for personal choice.
Seventy years ago, abortion was a crime against humanity. Four decades ago, abortion supporters talked piously about the “tragedy” of abortion and the need to make it safe and rare. But not today. Not anymore.
Now abortion is not just a so-called “right,” but a right that claims positive dignity, the license to demonize its opponents and the precedence to interfere with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly and religion. We no longer tolerate abortion. We celebrate it. We venerate it as a totem.
People sometimes ask me if we can be optimistic, those of us who are religious believers, about the future of our country. My answer is always the same. Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous for the believer because both God and the devil are full of surprises. But the virtue of hope is another matter. We have every reason to hope. Scripture tells us we must live in hope, and hope is a very different creature from optimism. Hope is the grace to trust that God is who He claims to be, and that in serving Him, we do something fertile and precious for the renewal of the world.
Our lives matter not because of who we are. They matter because of who God is. His mercy, his justice, his love — these are the things that move the galaxies and reach into the womb to touch the unborn child with the grandeur of being human. And we become more truly human ourselves by seeing the humanity in the poor, the weak, the elderly and the unborn child — and then fighting for it.
… [The Archbishop spoke of how our Movement is falsely but perpetually, being written off as dead. Then]
As I was gathering my thoughts for tonight, a line from Psalm 89 came back to me again and again: [Lord,] make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. The time we have in this world is brief. The choices we make have real substance – precisely because we come this way in life only once, and the world will be better or worse for our passing.
So our presence here together tonight has a meaning much larger than a nice meal and a good conversation about shared values. It’s an opportunity to remember that God put us here for a purpose. He’s asking us turn our hearts to building the kind of world that embodies his love and honors the sanctity of the human children he created.
[He followed with a list of don’ts and a few do’s, including]
[D]on’t let yourselves be bullied into silence.
Democracy depends on people of conviction carrying their beliefs into public debate — respectfully, legally and non-violently, but vigorously and without apology. Real pluralism demands that people with different beliefs should pursue their beliefs energetically in the public square. This is the only way a public debate can be honest and fruitful. We should never apologize for being prolife, or for advancing our beliefs in private or in public.
[D]on’t let divisions take root [within the Movement]. …
[D]on’t create or accept false oppositions.
Dialectical thinking, and by that I mean the idea that most of our options involve “either/or” choices, is deeply misleading. Back during the 2008 presidential election, we saw the emergence of so-called prolife voices that argued we should stop fighting the legal struggle over abortion. Instead we should join with “pro-choice” supporters to seek “common ground.”
Their argument was simple: Why fight a losing battle on the legal, cultural and moral fronts since — according to them — we haven’t yet made serious progress in ending legalized abortion? Let’s drop the “divisive” political battle, they said, and instead let’s all work together to tackle the economic and health issues that might eventually reduce abortions.
Of course, many of these voices turned out to be flacks for the Obama presidential campaign. In reality, the Obama White House has been extraordinary for its refusal to compromise on anything involving so-called “reproductive rights,” and for its belligerent hostility to prolife and religious liberty concerns.
But we need to look beyond the current White House to recent American history. Did Americans take a gradual, social-improvement road to “reducing” racism? No. We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor have I ever heard anyone suggest that the best way to deal with murder, rape or domestic abuse is to improve people’s access to psychotherapy and job training. We make sexual assault illegal — even though we know it will still sometimes tragically occur — because it’s gravely evil. It’s an act of violence, and the law should proscribe it. Of course, we also have a duty to improve the social conditions that can breed domestic and sexual violence. But that doesn’t change the need for a law.
Likewise, if we really believe that abortion is an intimate act of violence, then we can’t aim at anything less than ending abortion. It doesn’t matter that some abortions have always occurred, and that some abortions will always occur. If we really believe that abortion kills a developing, human life, then we can never be satisfied with mere “reductions” in the body count.
[F]inally, don’t hate the adversary. …
And then Archbishop Chaput ended on a note of encouragement that none of us should ever forget:
Pennsylvania is a long way from South Dakota [where he once served as a young bishop]. It has its own beauties and its own problems. But the human realities are very much the same. Pennsylvanians can be a skeptical breed. The cultural, legal and political terrain here can be very rough. It takes people of exceptional character, people with the courage to fight the good fight at great personal cost, to endure and achieve anything good.
A lot of those good people are in this room tonight. Your character, your faith and your dedication to the sanctity of the human person matter. They matter not just now; and not just here in our Commonwealth; and not just for the thousands of people your work influences without even knowing their names. Your commitment to human life matters eternally, because some lives will be lived only because your voice at the decisive moment for a young mother made them possible.
So no matter how tired you get, no matter how hard the work becomes, no matter who praises you or who condemns you, the only thing that finally matters is this: God is good; he never abandons his people; and because of his love, and because of the witness of people like you in the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, the future is ours. And the best is yet to come.
So may God bless the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, and send it the supporters and resources and generous donors it needs, because we’ve never needed its witness and its service to human dignity more than we do today.