A right to life and human dignity

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | January 23, 2014

Upholding dignity of life is foundation for church teaching

Upholding the dignity of human life is a theme the church emphasizes during the month of January. Every year the Diocese of Green Bay celebrates respect life Masses to call attention to this theme. In addition, members of the diocese, led by Bishop David Ricken, travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life. This national event attracts thousands of people, young and old, who challenge the legality of taking human life through abortion.

For more than a century, Catholic social teaching has helped guide the church’s emphasis on human dignity and the right to life. Seven key themes of Catholic social teaching help define the church’s understanding and explanation of life’s sacredness. The key themes are:

  • The life and dignity of the human person;
  • Call to family, community and participation;
  • Rights and responsibilities;
  • Option for the poor and vulnerable;
  • The dignity of work and the rights of workers;
  • Solidarity;
  • Care for God’s creation.

It is no surprise that life and dignity of human life is the first theme. Without this foundational theme, all others would be futile.

This teaching holds that human life is sacred and that each person has inherent dignity. As Bishop Robert Morneau stated last January at a respect life Mass, “Calls to advance human rights are illusions if the right to life is subject to attack.”

Pope Francis also linked the defense of unborn human life to the pursuit of social justice. In a Sept. 20 address to Catholic gynecologists, he said that human life, “in all its phases and at every age … is always sacred and always of quality.”

“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord,” said Pope Francis.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago understood that the right to life formed the basis of all other human rights. He coined a phrase to illustrate a consistent ethic of life: the “seamless garment.”

“The case for a consistent ethic of life — one which stands for the protection of the right to life and the promotion of the rights which enhance life from womb to tomb — manifests the positive potential of the Catholic moral and social tradition,” Cardinal Bernardin said during a lecture at St. Louis University in 1984.

There is a hymn heard often at Mass. Its lyrics begin: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” The same can be said for the sacredness of life: Let us value human dignity and let it begin with defenseless, the child in the womb.

Another great religious leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose dedication to civil rights and human dignity we honor every year in January, also understood that equality and justice were linked to the right to life.

Rev. King said that every person is a child of God and “when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.”

Kudos to our diocesan youth who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. May their example inspire all of us to find ways to stand up for the dignity of all human life, from the moment of conception to the end of natural life.

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