“Life is a gift, not an accident.” The future belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally

By Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Editor’s note. Charles J. Chaput, who is now retired, was the Archbishop of the diocese of Philadelphia from 2011 until earlier this year. The following is a lengthy excerpt from the Tocqueville Lecture he delivered  at the University of Notre Dame on September 16, 2016. I can’t imagine a better time than now to repost his remarks.

…Life is a gift, not an accident.  And the point of a life is to become the kind of fully human person who knows and loves God above everything else, and reflects that love to others.  That’s the only compelling reason for a university that calls itself Catholic to exist.  And it’s a privilege for Notre Dame to be part of that vocation. …

That word “mercy” is worth examining. Mercy is one of the defining and most beautiful qualities of God. Pope Francis rightly calls us to incarnate it in our own lives this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a word we can easily misuse to avoid the hard work of moral reasoning and judgment. Mercy means nothing – it’s just an exercise in sentimentality – without clarity about moral truth. 

We can’t show mercy to someone who owes us nothing; someone who’s done nothing wrong. Mercy implies a pre-existing act of injustice that must be corrected. And satisfying justice requires a framework of higher truth about human meaning and behavior. It requires an understanding of truth that establishes some things as good and others as evil; some things as life-giving and others that are destructive. …

People too worried or self-focused to welcome new life, to bear and raise children in a loving family, and to form them in virtue and moral character, are writing themselves out of the human story. They’re extinguishing their own future. This is what makes the resistance of so many millennials to having children so troubling.

The future belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally. …

We now live in a country where marriage, family and traditional religion all seem to be failing. And – inevitably — support for democracy itself has dropped. Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. millennials think that it’s vital to live in a nation ruled democratically. Nearly a quarter of those born in the 1980s or later see democracy as a bad way to run a country. And nearly half of Americans surveyed feel that experts, not government, should “make decisions according to what they think is best for the country.” Undemocratic feelings have risen especially among the wealthy.  

This didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen by accident. We behaved ourselves into this mess by living a collection of lies. And the essence of those lies is summed up in the so-called “mystery clause” of the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey Supreme Court decision upholding the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision.  Writing for the majority in Casey, Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is the perfect manifesto of a liberal democratic fantasy: the sovereign, self-creating self. But it’s a lie. It’s the very opposite of real Christian freedom. And to the degree we excuse or cooperate with it, we make ourselves liars.  …

Abortion poisons everything. There can never be anything “progressive” in killing an unborn child, or standing aside tolerantly while others do it.

In every abortion, an innocent life always dies. This is why no equivalence can ever exist between the intentional killing involved in abortion, infanticide. and euthanasia on the one hand, and issues like homelessness, the death penalty and anti-poverty policy on the other. Again, all of these issues are important. But trying to reason or imply them into having the same moral weight is a debasement of Christian thought.